Historicizing Ottoman Egypt: 1890–1906

Yoav Di Capua

in Gatekeepers of the Arab Past

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780520257320
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944817 | DOI:
Historicizing Ottoman Egypt: 1890–1906

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This chapter argues that, beginning in 1890, a series of conceptual changes occurred in three central dimensions of reality: time, space, and subjectivity. These changes led to the gradual historicization of the Egyptian worldview. At the very core of this process was the realization that in order to get a grip on current affairs one needs to know their histories as part of a general process of development. Once historicization—this automatic extrapolation of the past to the future—was acknowledged as a more modern form of thinking, an entire genre of historical writing, namely, the chronicle, was considered to be out of touch with reality and hence obsolete. Consequently, writers began to compose historical compositions that were in part modern and yet continued the premodern Islamic tradition. Thus, when dealing with the contemporary era, these hybrid compositions had a single subject that progressively developed over time and a well-defined space that framed this subject. In that sense these were modern compositions. However, when dealing with the premodern era, these works adhered to the ideal of recording all possible events (natural disasters, social events, and marvelous deeds) in all places and in accordance to a standard temporal order of days, weeks, or years. In that sense, they were more like premodern works. Over time, slowly but surely, the historicized modern narrative emerged triumphant, and the chronicles disappeared.

Keywords: Egyptian history; Egyptian historiography; time; space; subjectivity; historicization; chronicle; modern narrative

Chapter.  21976 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Asian History

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