[P6353] Re-thinking Cultural History “Institutionally”

Created by Hussam R. Ahmed
Wednesday, 12/01/21 11:30 am


Studies of cultural and literary production in the Middle East often focus on individual works and their canonical creators. This analysis rarely considers the institutions within which cultural actors are situated. With few exceptions (Jacquemond, Winegar, Kane), the history of state and private institutions with which Arab educators, writers, and journalists negotiate constantly has received little attention. Although it is challenging to locate and access research materials to reconstruct these institutional histories, they can enable scholars to understand their subjects and interlocutors not as great men and women whose ideas float above their political, economic, and personal circumstances, but as deeply embedded in human struggles and specific constraints.

This multidisciplinary panel has invited five scholars to rethink the ways in which cultural and educational institutions produce, and are underpinned by, thought embedded in practice. The panel asks what these institutions do and how institutional and bureaucratic conditions affect cultural production. The panelists reflect on their methodological approaches and respond to the challenges of writing institutions into the history of cultural production. We ask: How does writing such a history impact the type of sources scholars seek? Can institutions help us think through “genre” as a means of constructing and negotiating meaning? What categories and paradigms does this institutional focus force scholars to re-think and even re-configure?

To answer these questions, each paper explores cultural actors within particular cultural or educational institutions. Paper 1 shows how efforts to institutionalize education in late nineteenth-century Beirut and Mount Lebanon shaped educational thought and produced gendered visions for civilizational renewal across geography, nationality, and sect. Paper 2 traces the institutionalization of philosophy in interwar Egypt through the careers of philosophers employed at Cairo University and al-Azhar simultaneously, revealing the entangled histories of modern Arabic philosophy education and Islamic reformism. Paper 3 examines how the Information Administration, an organ within the Ministry of National Guidance, shaped official narratives about the 1952 revolution in Nasser’s Egypt. Turning the focus to the margins of formal institutions, paper 4 explores the contemporary world of literary informality in Cairo and the way it appropriates and subverts the institutional practice of honoring (al-takrim). Paper 5 shows how al-Ahram became a platform for public opinion making in the 1950s by promoting Hassanein Heikal’s “easy” journalistic accounts at the expense of “rigorous” academic research. Each paper demonstrates that the relationship between these cultural actors and their institutions was fluid, contested and co-constitutional.


Anthro; Hist; Anthro; Hist; Anthro; Hist; Anthro; Hist; Anthro; Hist




Angela Giordani

(Columbia University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Chihab El Khachab

(University of Cambridge)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Hussam R. Ahmed

(Maynooth University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Organizer; Presenter;

Susanna Ferguson

(Smith College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Giedre Sabaseviciute

(Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;