Panel 6I

Cultural Connections and Transitions

15.00 – 17.00
Chair: Lily Pearl Balloffet, Western Carolina University

Establishing Cultural Connections between the Middle East and the Maghreb through Popular Television Series

Maja Dolinar, University of Ljubljana

The mass media are responsible for the spread of information about common origin and are central in articulation about national and transnational processes with the local. As nation formation is a process of cultural and political construction, where mass media play a central role, we can say that television and television series in particular, play an important role in defining one’s sense of identity. National audiences in the Maghreb are being drawn into the national sociocultural spaces of the Middle East that offer news, entertainment and discussion. In a cultural context, where traditionalism, patriarchy, religious values and plain habit rule over gender roles, the very fact that broadcast media recognize no boundaries and can pass through borders means that within private space women can increasingly access a range of images and information, to be viewed together or alone, to be reacted to or acted upon. The main focus of the paper will be on the influence of popular television series from the Middle East on the formation of the sense of cultural similarity and on establishing connections between the Middle East and the Maghreb. Based on extensive ethnographic evidence from Morocco, collected in 2011-2013, the main focus will be on how cultural connections between the two regions are being formed and maintained. The paper will thus provide important reflection of the influence of the circulation of media content on the socio-political imaginary and cultural relationships between the Middle East and the Maghreb.

The Poetics of Sunnism: Arabic Literary Networks in the Crusades-Era Mediterranean

Nathaniel A. Miller, University of Cambridge

In her seminal The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, Carole Hillenbrand has noted that some Arabic sources for the Crusades have been repeatedly translated and studied, while others have been ignored. Such is the fate of ?Im?d al-D?n al-I?fah?n?’s (d. 1201) 10-volume poetry anthology, Khar?dat al-qa?r wa-jar?dat al-?a?r (Pearl of the palace and annals of the age). Al-I?fah?n? was also Saladin’s secretary, and his biographical works on Saladin have been translated or commented on by H.A.R. Gibb, Nasser Rabbat, and more recently, Lutz Richter-Bernburg. D.S. Richards has also dealt with al-I?fah?n?’s oeuvre as a whole. The Khar?da, however, has been left largely unstudied, although Hillenbrand has relied on it.  The Khar?da is organised by geographical region, and the biographical information on the poets provides a rich mine of prosopographical data, including their movements between urban cultural centres, their relationships with patrons and other political figures, and their literary influences and affiliations. My paper will provide a map of these social and cultural networks, with an eye to their disruption by the Crusader presence. My working hypothesis is that this disruption was utilised by Sunni Zangid and Ayyubid political leaders—both textually in the Khar?da and within an economy of patronage—to construct a normative Sunni cultural system in the face of both the Crusaders and the Ism???l? Shiite Fatimids. Ultimately, ?Im?d al-D?n in his literary works is not gesturing opportunistically towards a Sunni ideological dogma; rather he is engaged in constructing a more powerful and perduring textually transmissible affective stance.

Through Diasporic Eyes: Arab Filmmakers in Latin America, 1925-1945

Lily Pearl Balloffet, Western Carolina University

This paper traces the history of the “Oriente Film” Company, a group of Syrian and Lebanese cinematographers who worked in the Middle East and Latin America from the 1920s through the 1940s. They filmed documentaries of both the natural and human landscapes of the Arab-speaking Eastern Mediterranean, and South America. Their works began as silent films accompanied by live orchestras, and evolved into “talkies” that incorporated interviews and narration of Middle Eastern diaspora communities in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil. These were largely community-funded cultural projects that sent the filmmakers on lengthy international tours of South America, where they marshalled monetary support for their art from Arab-Latin Americans across the continent. These documentaries provide an important  glimpse into the view that these Arab-Argentine filmmakers had of the differences in character between distinct Arab Diaspora communities across South America. Furthermore, tracking their filming and screening circuits allows us to illuminate a network of Middle Eastern communities across Latin America that communicated and collaborated with one another to foster cultural production in the diaspora. While historians and anthropologists have made significant strides in delineating the political and intellectual networks that defined the transnational public sphere of the Mahjar, these models for analysis tend to marginalize the history of certain groups such as women, artists, and rural populations. This paper addresses said gap in the literature by bringing all three of these marginalized groups from the periphery to the centre of this history of filmmaking and philanthropy.