[P6426] Canonizing Egypt: Contesting national culture through and beyond text

Created by Nicholas Mangialardi
Wednesday, 12/01/21 2:00 pm


Discussions of canonization most typically hinge on literary texts; and yet canonization processes, in which certain cultural material, perspectives, narratives, and works are selectively included or excised, are at work in a much broader set of cultural contexts. This panel examines processes that aimed to define Egyptian national culture in the mid-twentieth century, from the 1930s through the 1960s. We look beyond the conventionally literary to consider cuisine, music, film, sport, and dance.

Common themes addressed by the papers include the use of modern forms of knowledge production to forge links to Egypt’s ancient heritage, the international politics of the Abdel Nasser regime, and the tension between text and embodied practice. Two papers address the way that practices were recorded and organized in new ways in textual form: cookbooks for middle-class housewives written by Abla Nazira and her contemporaries, and songbooks that presented Egypt’s musical heritage in new forms of notation. The next two papers consider sport and dance in the specific context of the post-1952 regime and its international politics, and the final contribution examines tensions between commercial and political interests with an exploration of Egyptian films that did not fit the mold of critically acclaimed canonization. As a whole these papers challenge dominant framings and periodizations of modern Egyptian cultural history.

From a range of disciplinary perspectives we ask a number of shared questions: which people and institutions were the gatekeepers of different “canons” in mid-century Egypt? How did their priorities reflect the interest of politics, morality, or order? How were they resisted or opposed by individuals or markets? How do gender, race, class, regional origin, and other forms of difference manifest in these processes? How do processes of canonization relate to narratives around “quality,” “frivolity,” and the classed constructions of taste? How have these processes contributed to contemporary understandings of what it means to be Egyptian –– and who has a role in shaping those understandings? By considering a range of cultural forms we shift scholarly conversations about nationalism, cultural politics, and difference into the realm of the embodied, the affective, and the spectacular, considering media through which elites and the masses alike engaged in remaking their understandings of Egyptian identity and belonging.


Hist; Hist; Hist



Anthony Shay

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

Anny Gaul

(University of Maryland College Park)
Anny Gaul is a cultural historian of food and gender in the Arabic-speaking world. Her research uses food and kitchens to explore how abstract ideas like middle-class domesticity and national identity felt and tasted over time, with a focus on Egyptian...
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Nicholas Mangialardi

(Williams College)
Nicholas Mangialardi is a scholar of Arabic literature and music whose research focuses on modern Egypt. He is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Arabic Arabic Studies at Williams College, where he teaches courses in Arabic language and culture....
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Paul Tchir

(University of California, San Diego)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Ifdal Elsaket

(Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;