Orientalism, the Classics and Egypt III, or why you must be in Alexandria on March 11

Orientalism, the Classics and Egypt III, or why you must be in Alexandria on March 11

Will you (or are you searching for the perfect excuse to) be in Egypt on March 11? Do please come and join us at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina for the third Orientalism, the Classics and Egypt (OCE) day-long seminar. This year’s event will focus on the reception of Egyptian culture and heritage in academia and beyond. We promise a day of energising debate and hilariously-awful stories about colonial scholarship, as well as a supportive, collegiate atmosphere, for scholars at all stages of their career. The speakers and titles are listed below, together with a description of the OCE workshop series. Full details of the programme and venue will be announced closer to the time. This will be a bilingual event, in Arabic and English, with translation available.

Katherine Blouin, Usama Ali Gad and Rachel Mairs

The program is available here

Speakers and titles:

Dr Hakem al-Rustom, University of Michigan, USA: Internal Orientalism: The Case of Ottoman and Kemalist Orientalism

Dr Magda Elnowieemy, University of Alexandria, Egypt: What is Egyptian in Egyptian Classical Scholarship?

Dr Monica Hanna, The Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport, Egypt: Decolonizing Heritage

Dr Rachel Mairs, University of Reading, UK: Archaeologists, Tourists and the Arabic Language in the Nineteenth Century

Dr Myrto Malouta, Ionian University, Corfu, Greece: Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus as Post-Colonial Criticism

Dr Franziska Naether, University of Leipzig and Egyptian Museum-Georg Steindorff, Germany: Oh Faraó! Reception of Egypt in Brazilian Carnival

Event abstract

The concept of Orientalism was developed by the literary scholar Edward Said who, in his seminal work Orientalism (1978), defined it as “the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it : in short, Orientalism [is] a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient”. Said’s Orientalism dedicates only a minimal space to ancient history. His short discussions of Aeschylus’s Persians, Euripides’ Bacchae and Herodotus’ Histories (p.21, 56-58) are meant to root Orientalist representations in the ancient Greek world. Said’s superficial treatment of this important topic represents a weakness within his work. Yet this alone cannot explain why, if we exclude the field of reception studies, his concept and the scholarly debates it triggered have so far had a much more limited impact on the work of historians of the ancient Mediterranean than they have on other disciplines within the Humanities and Social Sciences. This phenomenon must be understood as the symptom of a belated engagement with (if not a certain resistance to) postcolonial theory within the field and, as Phiroze Vasunia pointed out regarding Classics, of its “failure to acknowledge [its] colonial genealogy”[1]. Nevertheless, the relevance of Orientalism to the study of ancient Mediterranean history expresses itself on two, interconnected levels that have profound socio-cultural implications: Our understanding of ancient imperialisms and dynamics of “Othering”; our grasp of the interconnectedness of modern historiography, imperialism, and modern identity-making. While things are slowly starting to change, a great deal of work remains to be done.

Forty years after the release of Orientalism, this Egypt-based yearly workshop aims to bring together scholars from the Middle East, Europe, and North America, in order to reflect on the many ways in which Orientalism has shaped the field of “Classics” and its relationship to Egypt’s territory, history, and heritage.

This year’s event is made possible through the generous support of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the British Academy

[1] Vasunia, Ph. 2003, “Hellenism and Empire: Reading Edward Said”, Parallax, 9 (4), 88-97.


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