University of Tasmania
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Textual representations of the socio-urban history of Baghdad : critical approaches to the historiography of Baghdad in the 18th and 19th centuries

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posted on 2023-05-27, 08:33 authored by Al-Attar, I
This thesis focuses on historiography, which is the study of history and methodology of the discipline of history. The problems of historical theory and the role of critical theory in historical understanding are the main objectives of this study. The thesis explores the urban history of Baghdad in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to posit alternative historiographical methods that involve non-conventional textual representations as historical evidence. These textual representations include poetry, travelogues and narratives around non-monumental everyday urban places, all of which are often ignored in conventional history writing. Conventional approaches to historiography are normally single-layered and limited, and contain gaps or 'absences' of distinctive local historical themes and spaces that are smoothed over by grand narratives. The alternative method in historiography suggested in this thesis emphasises the need for closer ties between history and literary criticism. It interprets literature in relation to knowledge, and it discloses their philosophical connections to the 'overlooked' meanings in urban history. Although the alternative method comprises strong links to literary analysis, the thesis seeks a combination of both scientific and speculative philosophies, and an addition of extra concepts, towards the generation of specific historiographical concepts and themes. Baghdad provides an excellent vehicle to investigate the general problem of historiography, with its complex history of conquest and colonisation, its long history of creative writings and the vague representation of its urban spaces in current historiographical studies. Although this thesis explored the entire history of Baghdad, the period of interest is the Mamluk period between mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. In addition to the transformation and change that shaped Baghdad's urban history, this period significantly produced rich poetry and historical narratives that embraced plentiful themes of the urban development of the city, which have been overlooked in conventional historiography. These themes include the measures of beauty of Baghdad, the attractive and interlocking qualities of the Tigris River, Karkh region and markets, the multiple meanings of gardens and learning centres, and the social and leisure significance of houses. The thesis focuses on the poetry of the prominent scholar and poet Sheikh Kadhem Al-Uzari, the historian and religious scholar Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Al-Suwaidi, and the poet and chief of the writing bureau in Baghdad Sheikh Saleh Al-Tamimi, in addition to a number of texts by other scholars in that period. The thesis also focuses on the travelogues of mainly four travelers who wrote significant observations of Baghdad during this period, namely; the surveyor Carsten Niebuhr, the entomologist Guillaume Antoine Olivier, the British resident Claudius Rich and the traveler and writer James Silk Buckingham.The thesis also refers to the writings of philosophers such as Edward Said, Hans Georg Gadamer and Michel Foucault for philosophical frameworks to outline the alternative method of interpretation of these texts. The analysis of poetry and narratives composed by Baghdadis in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and of travelogues of the same period, is 'another' method in historiography that is intended to support and complement the existing understanding of the city's history, and to attain a more dialogical interface with the past. In this way, historiography becomes a more critical influential discipline in historical studies.


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