A Review of “Archives, Museums and Collecting Practice in the Modern Arab World”

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Kent]On: 17 December 2014, At: 14:20Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Archival OrganizationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wjao20

    A Review of Archives, Museums andCollecting Practice in the Modern ArabWorldPetra M. Sijpesteijn PhD aa Leiden University , Leiden , The NetherlandsPublished online: 28 Feb 2014.

    To cite this article: Petra M. Sijpesteijn PhD (2013) A Review of Archives, Museums and CollectingPractice in the Modern Arab World, Journal of Archival Organization, 11:1-2, 122-124, DOI:10.1080/15332748.2013.878119

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15332748.2013.878119

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  • 122 Book Reviews

    that I will be referencing Purcells volume to guide my own workand myown academic archives.

    Alison StankrauffSchurz D. Library

    Indiana University South BendSouth Bend, Indiana

    NOTE

    1. ACENSUS was a survey taken of the archival profession in 2004. Further informationis available at http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/acensus-archival-census-education-needs-survey-in-the-united-states.

    ARCHIVES, MUSEUMS AND COLLECTING PRACTICE IN THE MODERNARAB WORLD. Sonja Mejcher-Atassi and John Pedro Schwartz (Eds.). Farn-ham, Surrey; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012, 248 pp., $99.95 (hardcover).ISBN: 9781409446163.

    There is a definite trend in academia to study the circumstantial evidenceof our sources, those traces that for a long time were deemed to be merelythe byproducts that obscured rather than enlightened the understandingof the objects under study. The marginalia in manuscripts, exposition andpresentation spaces, as well as library and museum architecture have allbecome valued sources of information for the life and afterlife of theseobjects. Similarly, the awareness that collections and archives are not staticobjects but constantly changing under influence of dynamic interactions withtheir audience and composers or authors of the collection has resulted inmany research projects. But although this is true for collections and collectingefforts in the Western world, the Middle Eastwhere museums and archiveswere late to arrive and have long been formed and considered under strongWestern colonial influencehas been largely ignored.

    This pioneering work applies the findings and questions raised in thedeveloping field of collection studies to the modern Middle East. It is a col-lection of ten articles covering case studies from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine,Iraq, the Gulf, and Jordan and dealing with different kinds of institutions,including museums, archives, libraries, both private and (made) public butalso collecting efforts expressed in bibliographical and educational projects.The contributors come from different disciplinarypolitical science, history,art history, archaeology, anthropology, comparative literature, Middle East-ern studiesand institutional backgrounds, including art traders, museumconservators, artists, and academics. This has resulted in a full and variedpicture of how the formation, maintenance, exploitation, and appreciation

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  • Book Reviews 123

    of textual and other collections differ over time and place in the Arab worldand what this tells us about the function of the past and its artifacts in lo-calized and shared discourses of identity. Each article is followed by a shortbibliography and a combined index at the end of the book facilitates findingcommon themes as does the thematic division of the articles. There are mul-tiple well-produced black and white pictures incorporated into the individualarticles that are presented together in a list of illustrations at the beginningof the book.

    In an extensive and insightful introduction, the editors, Sonja Mejcher-Atassi and John Pedro Schwartz with their combined experiences with com-parative literary, Middle Eastern and social sciences studies, present the issuesinvolved. Their starting point is to examine collections of textual and materialartifacts as processes or practices and not just as things (p.1) so that theirbook complicates the monolithic conception of Arab society and cultureby situating cultural practices and products within their specific, social andmaterial contexts (p. 2). This then is the central theme of the book andit allows for a dynamic and non-essentialist approach taking into accountand learning about specific social, material, and historical circumstances andconditions.

    The studies are divided into three sections. The first section, Local Rep-resentations of Modernity, examines how collections and collectors shapeidentities of past and present observers and observed through their com-pilations. The consideration that Western modernity is only one of manythat allows for the examination of the construction of national Arab paststhrough modern collection projects. Nadia Bou Alis contribution on lexico-graphical projects in late nineteenth-century Egypt and Lebanon (Collectingthe Nation: Lexicography and National Pedagogy in al-nahda al-arabiyya)is an example of this type of investigation. The impact of the image of thepast on the actions of collectors and art dealers are dealt with in two arti-cles, discussing how competitive and differing images of the nations past inLebanon continue to lead to the loss of its archaeological heritage (HeleneSader, Between Looters and Private Collectors: The Tragic Fate of LebaneseAntiquities), while due to the specific historical circumstances of Palestinianheritage in the Middle East, Tawfik Canaans collection of amulets now atBirzeit University fulfills an important role in Palestinian national identitythinking (Vera Tamari, Tawfik CanaanCollectionneur par excellence: TheStory Behind the Palestinian Amulet Collection at Birzeit University).

    In the second section, Collecting Practices, Historiographic Practices,three articles show how selections of cultural material reveal shifting ideasabout the past and present. Examining the books and other paper objectsat Cairos Ezbekiyya book market (Lucie Ryzova, The Good, the Bad, andthe Ugly: Collector, Dealer and Academic in the Informal Old-Paper Marketsof Cairo), Lebanese history school books treatment of the 1989 Taif peaceagreement (Betty Gilbert-Sleiman, The Reform of History School Textbooks:

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  • 124 Book Reviews

    Collecting Conflict Memories in a Peace-Building Process 19962001) andthe architectural context of a newly opened museum on Beiruts most recenthistory (Sophie Brones, The Beit Beirut Project: Heritage Practices and theBarakat Building) the authors show how textual and material artifacts aswell as their containers and presentations are constantly selected, used, re-used, discarded, or adjusted to fit changing contexts and ideas about what itis that should be preserved about the past.

    The last four articles form the final section, From Institutional to ArtisticPractices of Collecting and show how the assembly of objects for privateand public collections is deeply involved in the struggle to return locallyproduced artifacts to the region in the sense of use and form, as well asinterpretation and meaning. Describing modern art collecting in the Gulf(Emily Doherty, The Ecstasy of Property: Collecting in the United ArabEmirates), Iraq (Nada Shabout, Collecting Modern Iraqi Art) or Jordan(Sarah A. Rogers, The Formation of the Khalid Shoman Private Collectionand the Founding of Darat al Funun) and consequences of collecting, theauthors show how collectors and consumers are finding new, indigenousforms for capturing materials.

    While reading these studies, one wonders how helpful it is to study theArab-speaking world in separation of the rest of the Middle East. Are theexperiences and conditions in the Arab Middle East different from others?Without wanting to dismiss the specific context of the case studies discussed,it seems even that many questions raised could be fruitfully compared withthe situation in other parts of the world, including the Western world. Ofcourse the value of this book lies in exploring for the first time the situationin the modern Middle East, but more attention for the relation between thegeneral and the specific would have enriched the book even further.

    In conclusion, this book is a valuable addition to the field of collec-tion studies and to modern Middle East studies, offering for the first timea coordinated and focused view on the topic that appeals to scholars fromdifferent backgrounds. Connecting their findings to the findings and theoriesof collection studies, heritage and cultural studies, but at the same time em-phasizing where the experiences in the Middle East differ, the authors offerimportant comparative insights and a different and new focus on individualand shared social, historical, and cultural processes in the modern MiddleEast. The book provides important insights into the specific cases presentedwhile offering a theoretical framework contributing to collection studies ingeneral and collection studies in a Middle East context. Heritage, finally, theauthors show, is a great lens through which to study historical processes ofnational identity discourses in the Modern Middle East.

    Petra M. Sijpesteijn, PhDLeiden University

    Leiden, The Netherlands

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