SUMMARY:This panel attempts to address the widespread urban life practices in pre-modern Baghdad, as shown in geographical treatises or books on professions, epistles, market inspectors ’manuals, and historical accounts.
Urban life practices cover a large spectrum, as large as the big cities developing in the Middle East, during the Abbasid caliphate’s Golden Age. Known professions as usually enumerated by market inspectors also include oculists, surgeons, preachers, astrologers, public letter writers, and brokers of slaves. Book industry comprises another side of this culture as it includes bookbinding, copying, and circulation. Along with books of geographers and historians aimed at describing Baghdad's splendor, literature also touches on some significant physical features of urban life, its people, transactions, and sites of performance. It often provides significant reflections on the urbanization processes in pre-modern times. Many of these references to urban life appear in writings by prominent 9-13th century writers. Compendiums also have sections on city topography, while historical annals devote pages to multiple aspects of daily life and its physical manifestations. Narrative builds on these practices, and the barbers or tailors of the Arabian Nights showcase a rich and busy urban life. The same thing appears in Abu al-Mutahhar al-Azdi’s Hikayat Abi al-Qasim al-Baghdadi or the compendiums dedicated to music and courtly amusements. In other words, written documents present us with a rich life in Baghdad that was the Islamic world's driving force.
Thus, while we read al-Jahiz's epistle on slave girls al-Anbari Kitab al-Buldan, ibn Tayfur or al-Masudi's descriptions of the city, or different treatises such as those of Ibn Tufayl or Ibn Abi Awn, we are in the presence of a large body of writing that speaks of physical objects, spaces, and lifestyles. By addressing all these in a lively conversation, we can generate further discussions of the meeting ground between social science and humanities, also identifying the pre-modern big cities from the Middle East in their glorious days as the consortium for different arts and everyday life practices.
The panel looks forward to developing nuanced perspectives informed but not necessarily confined by contemporary urban development theories and literary theories.
SPONSOR:Organized under the auspices of the Journal of Arabic Literature