Amuletic Archives: Writing Magico-Material Histories of the Middle East

Jan 26, 2021 03:00 PM PT

This talk demonstrates how historians can use modern amulets as archival sources to partially reconstruct the complex constellations of objects, practitioners, and laborers that made up, what I call, the political and spiritual economies of healing in Egypt and the late Ottoman World. It complicates a well-entrenched historiography that argues the metaphysical powers of magical objects and otherworldly beings of the medieval and early modern periods were replaced by those of a disenchanted modern state. I begin by providing a brief case study from turn-of-the-twentieth-century Egypt to show the potential and possibilities for using amuletic archives to re-write histories and historiographies of science, medicine, technology, and political economy. To conclude, we will examine a selection of object archives from Ottoman Istanbul, interwar Egypt, and Mandate Palestine—along with the paper archives that sometimes survived and/or accompanied them—to discuss methods for ‘reading’ magical objects as archival materials.

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