Demonstrating History: The 1950s

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:
Demonstrating History: The 1950s

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The decade that followed the events of July 1952 critically altered the conventional assumptions of post-World War I Egyptian historiography. Subscribing to the idea that the task of historiography is mainly that of studying shifts in historical representation, scholars emphasized the changing image of several rulers and popular leaders. Though the issue of changing historical images was the most visible historiographical trait of post-1952 Egypt, more significant developments in the conceptualization of the past took place during this era. Attentive to the weight of these conceptual changes, this chapter argues that the hermeneutic process of analyzing historical evidence was replaced with the tendency to demonstrate the historic value of present political acts. The first section covers the appropriation and transformation of al-Rāfiī's national epic and of Amīn Saīd's Pan-Arab histories into a new brand of revolutionary historiography. This epic and these histories treated the past as a mere series of analogies and metaphors whose object was to demonstrate the glorious achievement of the postcolonial moment of triumph. The second section shows that this evasion of a critical engagement with the past was turned into a practical philosophy of history that favored a historic act in the present over the understanding of the historical past. The third and fourth sections supplement the central argument by dealing with changes in the structure of the intellectual elite and the viable networks that secured its existence. The last section examines in great detail the writings of a second generation of Marxist historians.

Keywords: Egyptian history; Egyptian historiography; political acts; revolutionary historiography; Marxist historians

Chapter.  15175 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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