Popular Culture in the Modern Middle East


How can we characterize the relationship between culture and modernity in the Middle East? Is there even (or has there ever been) such a thing as “popular culture” in such a multi-layered and diverse region? This intermediate seminar examines the cultural history of the Middle East from roughly the late-18th century to the present, taking culture as a crucial lens through which to view broader political and social transformations in the region. Along the way, we will also examine some theoretical and comparative scholarship on the formation and interpretation of cultures on various levels—as well as the constitution of mass society and media—and consider its relevance to the historiography of the modern Middle East. Topics to be covered include: coffeehouses and local neighborhood life; poetry, oral tradition and story-telling; nationalism and the fraught formation of national cultures; the impact of colonialism on Arab, Ottoman, and Persian cultural identities; diglossia and the tension between formal and colloquial Arabic cultural production; literacy, print media, and the issue of reading publics; popular cinema and cultural intimacy; celebrity; radio, television, and the rise of transnational pan-Arab culture; social networking and new media; music videos; and the role of art and culture in the “Arab Spring.” Basic familiarity with the Middle East is preferred though not required.