Transnational History: Middle Eastern and North African Perspectives
Cyrus Schayegh, Princeton University
For the last decade, a growing number of regional specialists of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have started to draw upon transnational and global perspectives. The organizers of this roundtable believe that the point has now come to take stock; to reflect on how the field of MENA history has changed – or not – as a result of this interest; and, most importantly, to debate the potentialities and limitations of transnational history, and how our own work, on MENA, can be brought to bear with greater effect on this broader field.
We believe that a roundtable would an ideal format to pursue these questions. (Also, we think that such a roundtable could touch on the theme of the AHA2015 Annual Meeting – history and other disciplines – by addressing, amongst other aspects, the changing relationship between area studies and history.)
More specifically, we are hoping to frame the discussion around questions which could include, but need not be limited to, the following:
- An exceptional site?– Does the MENA possess certain particularities – its geographical position at a continental crux; its sustained tradition of urban life; its resource richness; its religious promiscuity; its several littorals – which give its historians a particular ‘in’ to specific sub-fields of transnational history writing?
- Rethinking / deconstructing ‘region’ – Conversely, could our longstanding understanding of the constructedness of terms like ‘Near East’ / ‘Middle East’ / ‘MENA’ / Islamic center’ etc. be fed into debates about the spatial and geographical aspects (underpinnings?) of transnational history?
- The sea and the land– Can we use the MENA to revisit debates about the relationship between maritime and landed spaces? And might our regional perspectiveon this land of many seas (or is not it?) allow us to rethink the putative distinction between oceanic and earthbound transnational histories?
- Imperialism– is there something specific about (the) MENA experience(s) – e.g. the late stage at which imperialism fully arrived in some of its parts (Mandates), or the fact that of all imperially controlled areas of the world it is closest to Europe and historically most directly bound up with it – that would give MENA historians particular vistas onto the manifold transnational aspects of imperialism?
- Issues of periodization: can historians of the MENA contribute to discussions about periods and about he question whether the term transnational should be used only for the modern period or pre-modern periods, too?
- Disciplinarity: Conversely: is ‘our’ region so broad, and are our research concerns so different, that there is little intellectual added value to this discussion? (This might touch on the issue of area studies and their relevance or lack thereof.) Might it be better to split up and discuss specific methodological/conceptual issues with non-MENA specialists in the same sub-field? (Say: other historians who ‘do’ ocean studies, or migration, or city studies, etc.)