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Engaging Books Series: Stanford Press on Knowledge Production

Posted on July 29, 2016 by Tadween Editors | 0 comments

 

 

 

ENGAGING BOOKS SERIES
Stanford University Press Selections On Knowledge Production

 

This is a new series that features books by particular publishers on a given theme, along with an excerpt. The first installment involves a selection from Stanford University Press on the theme of Knowledge Production. Other publishers’s books will follow.

 

Table of Contents

By Zachary Lockman
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media
Scholarly Praise
Additional Information
Where to Purchase
Excerpt
Call for Reviews

By Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media
Scholarly Praise
Additional Information
Where to Purchase
Excerpt
Call for Reviews

Edited by Michael E. Bonine, Abbas Amanat, and Michael Ezekiel Gasper
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media
Scholarly Praise
Additional Information
Where to Purchase
Excerpt
Call for Reviews

 

Field Notes: The Making of Middle East Studies in the United States

By Zachary Lockman

About the Book

Field Notes reconstructs the origins and trajectory of area studies in the United States, focusing on Middle East studies from the 1920s to the 1980s. Drawing on extensive archival research, Zachary Lockman shows how the Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford foundations played key roles in conceiving, funding, and launching postwar area studies, expecting them to yield a new kind of interdisciplinary knowledge that would advance the social sciences while benefiting government agencies and the American people. Lockman argues, however, that these new academic fields were not simply a product of the Cold War or an instrument of the American national security state, but had roots in shifts in the humanities and the social sciences over the interwar years, as well as in World War II sites and practices.

This book explores the decision-making processes and visions of knowledge production at the foundations, the Social Science Research Council, and others charged with guiding the intellectual and institutional development of Middle East studies. Ultimately, Field Notes uncovers how area studies as an academic field was actually built—a process replete with contention, anxiety, dead ends, and consequences both unanticipated and unintended.
 

About the Author 

Zachary Lockman is Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and of History at New York University. He is the author of Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism (2004, 2010). He has written extensively on labor and classes in Palestine and Egypt, including Workers on the Nile: Nationalism, Communism, Islam, and the Egyptian Working Class, 1882-1954, with Joel Beinin (1987). His main research and teaching focus is the socioeconomic, cultural and political history of the modern Middle East, particularly the Mashriq. http://meis.as.nyu.edu/object/ZacharyLockman.html

In the Media

Read an interview with Zachary Lockman from Inside Higher Ed.

Scholarly Praise for Field Notes

“Zachary Lockman's labors in the foundation records makes Field Notes a must read for understanding the history of the social sciences and the building of area studies. And his wry style and sharp, carefully drawn conclusions makes reading the book a true pleasure.”

—Robert Vitalis, University of Pennsylvania, author of White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations

“Fairminded, thorough, and thoughtful, Field Notes is essential reading for scholars in Middle East studies who want to learn the origins and fate of their field. With a broad vision and deep research, Zachary Lockman has much to teach anyone interested in the past, present, and future of international studies in the United States.”

—David Engerman, Brandeis University

“In considering the creation of the interdisciplinary field of Middle East studies in the United States, Zachary Lockman provides a dystopic vision from the commanding heights of the war games planners and petroleum executives to ‘the lower parts of Max Weber.’ Bristling with ideas and criticisms, Field Notes deserves to be placed alongside the life cycles and vicissitudes of Latin America, East Asia and Africa area studies in the making and unmaking of the twentieth century American empire.”

—Edmund Burke III, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam

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Additional Information

March 2016
376 Pages
$29.95 (list price)
Cloth ISBN: 9780804798051
Paper ISBN: 9780804799065
Digital ISBN: 9780804799584
 

Where to Purchase 

Stanford University Press

Amazon

Excerpt

“We Shall Have to Understand It”

. . . at the minute the Arabic world is not drawn to our alarmed attention as is the Far East, but everything indicates that within the next couple of decades we shall have to understand it. We should not wait until the need is too obvious, for by that time it will be too late to do anything.

—Mortimer Graves, 1936 or 1937 

The Second World War has been described as the metaphorical “midwife” or “mother” of area studies, the historical conjuncture which brought it into being as a distinct mode of organizing the production and dissemination of scholarly knowledge.1 There is clearly some truth in this depiction, but postwar area studies in the United States also had significant prewar antecedents that provided important visions of, models for and experience with regionally focused academic research, training, networks, programs and institutions which would later contribute to the formation of area studies. Moreover, as with area studies in the decades that followed the war, these initiatives were supported, indeed made possible, by funding from several of the country’s richest foundations, often working through a new kind of academic organization that connected them with the objects of their beneficence.

The Rise of the Great Foundations

The enormous, indeed unprecedented, accumulations of wealth which led to the creation of the Carnegie and Rockefeller “families” of philanthropic institutions were the product of the rapid industrialization which the United States experienced after the Civil War, accompanied by the rise of powerful corporations which came to dominate entire sectors of the American economy as virtual monopolies and generated vast wealth for those who controlled them. Around the turn of the century Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), who had built a business empire that at its height encompassed much of the country’s steel industry, began establishing a number of philanthropies with distinct missions. For our purposes the most important of these was the Carnegie Corporation of New York, founded in 1910 with an endowment of $135 million (the equivalent of over $3 billion in 2015) as the main vehicle through which Andrew Carnegie’s vast fortune would be disbursed for philanthropic purposes. John D. Rockefeller Sr. (1839–1937), who had built the Standard Oil empire and at the beginning of the twentieth century was reckoned the richest person on earth, followed Carnegie’s example by donating large sums to educational institutions and to medical research. He went on to establish the Rockefeller Foundation, formally chartered in 1913 “to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world,” with an endowment totaling $100 million. As of 1934 the Carnegie Corporation had an endowment of $157 million (equivalent to about $2.8 billion in 2015) and was distributing about $4.7 million ($83 million) in income each year. The Rockefeller Foundation, close behind with an endowment of $154 million ($2.7 billion), was distributing almost $12 million ($213 million) in income annually.2

Carnegie and Rockefeller no doubt regarded themselves as altruists. But much of the American public saw them as “malefactors of great wealth,” as President Theodore Roosevelt put it in 1907, and their new philanthropic enterprises were established in part to ameliorate their founders’ negative public image as well as to avoid the looming threat that their vast fortunes, widely perceived as ill-gotten, might be subjected to heavy taxation. More broadly, this wave of philanthropy can be seen as part of an effort to mitigate the deleterious consequences of the economic and social transformations that the United States was experiencing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and to combat the rising tide of resistance to the enormous economic and political power now concentrated in the hands of the owners and managers of the giant corporations and banks. As Edward H. Berman has put it, those who created and led these foundations hoped to achieve the stabilization of the rapidly evolving corporate and political order and its legitimation and acceptance by the majority of the American population; the institutionalization of certain reforms, which would serve to preclude the call for more radical structural change; and the creation through educational institutions of a worldwide network of elites whose approach to governance and change would be efficient, professional, moderate, incremental, and nonthreatening to the class interests of those who, like Messrs. Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller, had established the foundations.3

They thus shared substantial common ground with the Progressive movement of the period, which sought to address widespread social distress and discontent through moderate social and political reform led by an enlightened elite, to be achieved by the deployment of scientific (including social-scientific) and technical expertise to address social problems and by the provision of enhanced educational opportunities.

During and after the First World War, key leaders at the great foundations, and at the organizations and institutions they funded (and had often created), also embraced an increasingly internationalist perspective.4  They were particularly concerned about the leading role which they believed the United States, as a rising global power, could and should—indeed, must—play on the world stage, and so they sought to instill in Americans a greater awareness of what they regarded as the country’s global responsibilities.5 Hence the creation, with Rockefeller and/or Carnegie funding, of such entities as the Foreign Policy Association (1921), the Council on Foreign Relations (1921), the Institute of Pacific Relations (1925), which would play a key role in promoting the study of modern and contemporary Asia, and the Yale Institute of International Studies (1935).6

Notes

1. This is the clear implication of, for example, Bundy, “Battlefields of Power,” as well as of much of the scholarly literature framing area studies as in essence a Cold War phenomenon.

2. Ferdinand Lundberg, America’s 60 Families (New York: Vanguard Press, 1937), 325, 326. Throughout this book I use the online CPI Inflation Calculator of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl), which uses the average Consumer Price Index for a given calendar year to determine its 2015 equivalent.

3. Edward H. Berman, The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983), 15. The brutal response of Carnegie and Rockefeller to their own workers’ demands for justice and equity had of course helped fuel the anticapitalist sentiment and the demands for fundamental social change that their philanthropic work now sought to combat. Examples include the violent suppression of the strike at Carnegie Steel’s Homestead, Pennsylvania, plant in 1892 and the 1914 massacre by National Guard soldiers of striking coal miners and their families evicted from the Rockefeller-owned company town of Ludlow, Colorado. Like all great fortunes, those that funded the new foundations were stained by blood.

4. In so doing they built on several decades of scholarly and public discourse about race and empire—discourse which, as Robert Vitalis has shown, was later written out of the story that the academic field of international relations told of its origins. See Robert Vitalis, “The Noble American Science of Imperial Relations and its Laws of Race Development,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 52 no. 4 (October 2010): 909–938, and more fully his White World Order. As Vitalis notes, Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, began life in 1910 as the Journal of Race Development. 

5. See Inderjeet Parmar, Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012)

6. The Institute of Pacific Relations is particularly noteworthy, since like the post-Second World War area studies centers it focused on a specific (if extremely expansive) geographic region and sought to produce interdisciplinary, policy-relevant knowledge. However, unlike the postwar area studies centers, it was not university-based but a freestanding institution supported entirely by foundation funding, and its scope explicitly encompassed the United States as well as all the countries of what would much later come to be called the “Pacific Rim” (and beyond). See Paul F. Hooper, “The Institute of Pacific Relations and the Origins of Asian and Pacific Studies,” Pacific Affairs 61 no. 1 (Spring 1988): 98–121, and Vitalis, White World Order, ch. 4.

(c) by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University. All rights reserved. Published by Stanford University Press, www.sup.org. No reproduction or any other use is allowed without the publisher's prior permission.

Call for Reviews

If you would like to review the book for the Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya, please email us at info@TadweenPublishing.com
 

 

Anthropology’s Politics: Disciplining the Middle East

By Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar

About the Book 

U.S. involvement in the Middle East has brought the region into the media spotlight and made it a hot topic in American college classrooms. At the same time, anthropology—a discipline committed to on-the-ground research about everyday lives and social worlds—has increasingly been criticized as "useless" or "biased" by right-wing forces. What happens when the two concerns meet, when such accusations target the researchers and research of a region so central to U.S. military interests?

This book is the first academic study to shed critical light on the political and economic pressures that shape how U.S. scholars research and teach about the Middle East. Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar show how Middle East politics and U.S. gender and race hierarchies affect scholars across their careers—from the first decisions to conduct research in the tumultuous region, to ongoing politicized pressures from colleagues, students, and outside groups, to hurdles in sharing expertise with the public. They detail how academia, even within anthropology, an assumed "liberal" discipline, is infused with sexism, racism, Islamophobia, and Zionist obstruction of any criticism of the Israeli state. Anthropology's Politics offers a complex portrait of how academic politics ultimately hinders the education of U.S. students and potentially limits the public's access to critical knowledge about the Middle East.
 

About the Authors

Lara Deeb is Professor of Anthropology at Scripps College and the Chair of the Department of Anthropology. She has written extensively on the Shi’i population of Lebanon, including the book An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon (2006). She has been awarded the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Collaborative Research Fellowship, the Wenner-Gren International Collaborative Research Grant, the Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award for Social Sciences from the Middle East Studies Association, and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. http://www.scrippscollege.edu/academics/faculty/profile/lara-deeb

Jessica Winegar is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University. She has written extensively on the state and culture of Egypt, including Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt (2006). She has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies, Social Science Research Council, Fulbright, and the Mellon Foundation, and postdoctoral fellowships from the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, and the School for Advanced Research. http://www.anthropology.northwestern.edu/people/faculty/winegar.html#

In the Media 

Read an interview with the authors on Jadaliyya.

Anthropology’s Politics will be of interest to those keen to understand the intellectual roots of the discipline. It explains how the field is embedded in geopolitics. For those used to thinking of academic work as the life of the mind, untouched by the murkiness of real life, the book is revelatory.”

—Yasmin Nair, The Electronic Intifada

Scholarly Praise for Anthropology’s Politics 

Anthropology's Politics provides an invaluable and stunning wake-up call about the most urgent challenges facing academia today. Provocative and incisive, this book is a must-read for anyone concerned with U.S. empire, neoliberal corporatization, and the political dynamics that shape higher education in the United States.”

—Nadine Suleiman Naber, University of Illinois at Chicago

Anthropology's Politics breaks a profound silence by examining how overbearing political forces shape the work of American anthropologists working on the Middle East and North Africa. Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar show how work in certain regions is discouraged, how research on important political topics is devalued, and how scholars are dissuaded from using their professional knowledge to contribute to policy discussions and advocate for political action. This is an invaluable book that shatters a large and imposing disciplinary wall.”

—David Price, Saint Martin's University

“Incisive, forthright, and necessary. This unflinching account of the challenges that confront anthropologists, and anthropology's institutions, when engaging the politics of the Middle East is a must read for scholars in any field who are concerned with our professional responsibilities and our human obligations.”

—Ilana Feldman, George Washington University

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Additional Information 

November 2015
288 Pages
$24.95 (list price)
Cloth ISBN: 9780804781237
Paper ISBN: 9780804781244
Digital ISBN: 9780804796842 

Where to Purchase

Stanford University Press

Amazon

Excerpt

Becoming a Scholar

Budding scholars do not just pick their discipline and regional focus out of a hat. Nor do they end up studying what they study solely as the result of personal choice, as dominant US ideologies of individualism might suggest. Rather, national and global politics interweave with specific life trajectories and academic trends to shape the process of becoming a certain kind of scholar, across the humanities and social sciences. US global dominance since World War II, shifting demographics in US society, and social movements—alongside changing academic and theoretical responses to these conditions—influenced decisions to choose anthropology as a disciplinary home. Growing US engagement with MENA led more scholars to focus on the region. Such forces, and the tensions they produced in life trajectories, were a common thread through a range of experiences, any of which could be a primary force shaping a person into an anthropologist and a MENA scholar: from living through the Vietnam era to witnessing racist backlash during the 1990 Gulf War; from participating in the 1960s feminist movement to protesting apartheid in the 1980s; from growing up bicultural or in a diverse immigrant community to partaking in Orientalist popular culture; from hearing Zionist discourse at the family dinner table to traveling to the region for work, religious, or personal reasons; and from experiencing 9/11 during one’s college years to living in a country saturated with the effects of the War on Terror’s intensified military interventions. 

When experienced during formative periods in nascent scholars’ lives, these events not only shaped subsequent career foci, but also contributed to feelings of generational belonging, often sparking shifts in approaches to anthropology as well as to academic, national, and global politics. Race and gender intersect with this generational variation, as political forces affected region-related and white scholars differently. A majority of white scholars were initially drawn to discipline and region through dominant US Orientalist frameworks of demonization and/or co-optation, often via fantasy or ideas about anthropology as the exoticized study of the other. In contrast, most region-related scholars were attracted to anthropology and MENA as a result of immigration experiences that included intensified othering and surveillance of their communities across the decades. They tended to view anthropology as the discipline most suited to simultaneously understanding their cultural background and critiquing dominant US narratives about the region and its peoples. As white scholars were trained in critical approaches to imperialism within anthropology, they came to hold similar views of the discipline’s potential to unpack both their own and dominant US ideas about MENA.

The idea that anthropology is conducive to political engagement, even activism, has also pulled people into the discipline differently across generations. At first, female as well as region-related scholars saw anthropology as useful for analyzing and fighting structures of inequality. This perspective grows increasingly common among all scholars who enter the field after the end of the Cold War, a shift that parallels theoretical shifts (from Marxism to poststructuralism) that deconstructed homogeneous, bounded notions of the culture concept and focused more concertedly on formations of power. Over time, Palestine becomes the main lens through which this overt political pull into discipline and region is expressed (or refused) in anthropologists’ narratives—no matter where in the Middle East or North Africa a scholar works.1 Certainly, deepening US state involvement in MENA, together with escalating neoconservative approaches and the rampant stereotyping and warmongering of right-wing media, pushed people not only to want to use anthropology’s critical tools to understand the region better, but also increasingly toward a more politicized anthropology. These conditions also contributed to the creation of a set of funding and institutional structures, as well as social networks, that enabled people to become anthropologists of MENA and sometimes motivated the social production of such scholars. 

The Role of Funding, Institutions, and Networks

It would be impossible to pursue a burgeoning interest in anthropology or MENA Studies without funding for language training and fieldwork, departments with faculty interested in mentoring promising undergraduate and graduate students, broader academic networks, and institutions with which to affiliate in the field. Across generations, these factors molded the ways that all our colleagues committed to their scholarly interests, especially as these support structures increased in tandem with both US interventions in the region and MENA anthropology itself.

Language training was usually necessary for field research, and the availability of funds for this training frequently drew people into specific regional foci within anthropology. Prior to the 1970s, language study was often funded by National Defense Foreign Language (NDFL) Fellowships, which later became the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Program grants. The Middlebury Summer Immersion Program in Arabic and the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) at the American University in Cairo have emerged as two of the most popular programs since that time.2 CASA was founded in 1967, the year of the second Arab-Israeli war and the height of the Cold War, in which Egypt was a strategic site. The program has been funded by the US Department of Education, Fulbright (run through the US Department of State), and the Ford and Mellon Foundations. Students have also received FLAS funding to attend CASA as well as other programs in the region and summer language schools in the United States. The same is true for Middlebury; that Arabic program launched in another significant year: 1982, on the heels of the US-Iran hostage crisis and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In 2006, a few years into the War on Terror, the US Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship, funded by its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, began funding participation in Arabic immersion programs in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Oman. Residential language immersion programs like Middlebury and CASA have done more than teach anthropologists language. They have nurtured their interest in the region by linking them with other graduate students and future MENA specialists, creating interdisciplinary academic cohorts. For one of our interlocutors, Middlebury triggered interest in the region because “it was always a human and personal and contemporary thing that brought [other students] to the study of Arabic.”

Notes

1. As one of our reviewers suggested, some of our interlocutors may have narrated, retrospectively, the centrality of Israel-Palestine politics in their academic trajectories as a way to organize an idiosyncratic personal trajectory into a common geopolitical one. Whatever the cause, the centrality of the issue in so many interviews is notable. 

2. CASA opened a branch in Damascus for a brief time; it closed after the civil war in Syria began in 2011. The Arabic Summer Immersion Program at the University of Texas at Austin has also begun to compete with Middlebury and CASA for popularity. 

(c) by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University. All rights reserved. Published by Stanford University Press, www.sup.org. No reproduction or any other use is allowed without the publisher's prior permission.

Call for Reviews 

If you would like to review the book for the Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya, please email us at info@TadweenPublishing.com

 

 

Is There a Middle East?: The Evolution of a Geopolitical Concept

Edited by Michael E. Bonine, Abbas Amanat, and Michael Ezekiel Gasper 

About the Book

Is the idea of the “Middle East” simply a geopolitical construct conceived by the West to serve particular strategic and economic interests—or can we identify geographical, historical, cultural, and political patterns to indicate some sort of internal coherence to this label? While the term has achieved common usage, no one studying the region has yet addressed whether this conceptualization has real meaning—and then articulated what and where the Middle East is, or is not.

This volume fills the void, offering a diverse set of voices—from political and cultural historians, to social scientists, geographers, and political economists—to debate the possible manifestations and meanings of the Middle East. At a time when geopolitical forces, social currents, and environmental concerns have brought attention to the region, this volume examines the very definition and geographic and cultural boundaries of the Middle East in an unprecedented way.
 

About the Editors

Michael E. Bonine was Professor and Head of the Department for Near East Studies and Professor of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona. “Dr. Bonine achieved international recognition for his work on urbanization of the Middle East and other arid lands.” http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/tucson/obituary.aspx?pid=155611683

Abbas Amanat is Professor of History and International and Area Studies at Yale University and Director of the Yale Program in Iranian Studies at the Yale MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. He researches the modern Middle East, especially early modern and modern Iran, Shi'ism and the Persianate world. http://history.yale.edu/people/abbas-amanat

Michael Ezekiel Gasper is Assistant Professor of History at Occidental College. He has been named as a Carnegie Scholar and a Mellon New Directions Fellow. His research is primarily in the representation and performance of communal, religious, and national identity. http://www.oxy.edu/faculty/michael-gasper

In the Media 

"Its interdisciplinarity and the mixture of established and emerging scholars are [a] significant strength, ensuring that both specialist and student readers are likely to find something new."

—Joanna Long, Social & Cultural Geography

"This well-edited work focuses on geographically prescribed definitions of one of the most heavily contested and tumultuous parts of the world . . . [and clarifies] the definition of the region by insiders and outsiders . . . Recommended."

—D. J. Timothy, CHOICE

"The chapters comprising the volume reconfirm the indeterminacy and historical evolution of the Middle East as a geographical concept."

—Joel Beinin, Journal of Islamic Studies

Scholarly Praise for Is There a Middle East?

"Given how much debate surrounds the expression 'the Middle East,' it is all the more surprising that there has not been a single volume to address the range of questions raised by this vague and unhelpful term until now. Is There a Middle East? does an excellent job filling in this gap. There is nothing comparable."

—Eugene Rogan, St Antony's College, Oxford, author of The Arabs

"The term 'the Middle East' has evoked anxieties and questions for over a century. This original volume illustrates that it is ultimately more fruitful to consider the effects of this unwieldy and profoundly political category than to debate its definition. A far-reaching book that presents new arguments on the production of the concept and the meanings associated with the Middle East. It is a useful and reflective introduction to the field of 'Middle East Studies."

—Arang Keshavarzian, New York University

 

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Additional Information

November 2011
344 pages
$24.95 (list price) 
Cloth ISBN: 9780804775267
Paper ISBN: 9780804775274
Digital ISBN: 9780804782654
 

Where to Purchase

Stanford University Press

Amazon

Excerpt

Introduction: Is There A Middle East?

Problematizing a Virtual Space

Abbas Amanat

When the first television network started broadcasting in Tehran in 1958, its adopted motto was “The first private television in the Middle East.” For many Iranian viewers the novelty of the new medium brought with it the idea that their country was a part of a larger region called the Middle East. Iranians aside, this of course was not the first encounter with the term. One can find references in geographical textbooks of the 1950s to the oil fields of the Middle East, or to the wartime Anglo-American Middle East Supply Center established in 1941 to aid the Allies’ war effort in the region. The 1956 Suez War was often labeled in the headlines as a Middle East crisis, while the luxuriously produced journal Aramco World, first published in 1949, displayed glimpses of the region’s natural beauty and material culture. The accidental way the Middle East nomenclature entered our geographical horizon enabled many specialists in the West, beginning especially from the late 1950s, to increasingly identify themselves with the nascent field of Middle East studies, then barely distinguishable from Oriental studies or Islamic studies.

Decades of scholarship and teaching about this region and its history, society, culture, and politics does not seem to have resolved the Middle East as a puzzling entity. Under its rubric we teach courses, organize conferences, publish books, define our field, and wage academic brinkmanship. In the harsher world of geopolitical realities, real conflicts have been fought in the Middle East, from World War II and the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Persian Gulf wars and Afghanistan. Such conflict seems indelibly tied to the notion of the Middle East as a playing field for the Cold War, which involved, often inadvertently, many of the countries of the region. The often unfavorable view of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the Western media and of course anxieties in recent years over the real or assumed threat of religious militancy further perpetuated the ambiguity. Today the ongoing popular movements of protest in the Arab world (and prior to that the Green Movement in Iran in the spring of 2009) cast on the region an entirely new light stressing a greater degree of social homogeneity and a shared quest across the region for democracy, openness, and political accountability.

Yet a century of increasing usage of the Middle East as an organizing principle, and its ever-growing boundaries, stretching today (at least for some observers) from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Morocco, have not clarified many conceptual issues related to this elusive term. The long overdue task of problematizing it from geographical, historical, cultural, and sociopolitical perspectives hence is the focus of this volume. It can be argued that the countries of Western Asia and North Africa that are put together on the map as the Middle East neither constitute a continental landmass nor sufficiently bind together by any unifying characteristics. Marshall Hodgson’s well-known “Nile to Oxus” stretch, which he considered as the Islamic heartlands, represents a plausible geocultural entity that was carved in the midst of the Eurasian landmass together with a part of Africa. Yet Hodgson was the first to admit that this “venture of Islam” was above all about sharpening of diverse cultural identities, emerging ethnolinguistic communities, sectarian divisions, and modern national identities. 

Although today the Nile to Oxus world roughly matches the boundaries of the Middle East (that is if one excludes Central Asia and North Africa), there is much that can be said about the circumstances leading to the rise and prevalence of the term Middle East. We may ask, for instance, why the old legal notion of dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam) was never translated into sustained geopolitical boundaries on today’s regional and world maps—what Hodgson called the “Islamicate.” Is it because Islam could no longer operate as a unifying principle perhaps as early as the sixteenth century when the Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal, and Uzbek territorial empires each appeared independent from the other as “guarded domains” (mamalik-i mahrusa) in the historical and geographical works in Persian and Turkish? The European cartographers too honored these imperial divisions. For a long time, moreover, along with the imperial notion of the “guarded domains,” a range of indigenous terms such as mulk (kingdom), mamlakat (realm, country; at times mamlakat-i Islam or more recently mamalik-i Islami), ard or sarzamin (land), and iqlim (climate) served their purposes without an apparent need to conceptualize a broader notion of regional territory before the twentieth century and reconfiguration by Western imperial imagining.

As has often been noted, the “east” (mashriq) and the “west” (maghrib) of the Islamic world up to the twentieth century remained intrinsic: the latter exclusively a reference to North Africa, and the former a vague reference to Iran and eastern neighboring lands, the so-called Persianate world of Marshall Hodgson as opposed to the Arabic cultural and linguistic world of Arabia, Mesopotamia (Bayn al-Nahrayn, Iraq), Syria (Shamat), Egypt, and North Africa. The West, in reference to Europe (or more specifically to western Europe) continued to be identified as the land of Franks (Arabic: al-Afranj; Persian: Farang; Turkish: Ferenj) following nomenclature that came about after the early Islamic empire’s contacts with the Carolingian empire of the Franks. Before the age of Muslim discovery in the nineteenth century, there were also the Russians (Urus), the Slavs (Saqalib), and other a host of non-Westerners known to Muslims. They included Christian Abyssinians, the Muslims of Western China (khata) and China proper (khutan and chin) stretching beyond as far east as Japan, and of course the Hindustan (“province” of India), which was envisioned, as were many other lands surrounding the Islamic empires, as a province attached to the outside of the Islamic core. This indigenous geopolitical culture, confident of its own place in the world, seldom felt the need for differentiating between the Islamic empire (or Muslim empires of early modern times) and Christendom or the heathen world of the “Other.”

(c) by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr. University. All rights reserved. Published by Stanford University Press, www.sup.org. No reproduction or any other use is allowed without the publisher's prior permission.
 

Call for Reviews

If you would like to review the book for the Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya, please email us at info@TadweenPublishing.com

 

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