The Arab conquest of Egypt (639-641) spun Egypt out of the orbit of Constantinople and the Byzantine empire. With the Ottoman seizure of power in 1517, Egypt was once more the appanage of Constantinople (henceforth Istanbul). “Medieval Egypt” therefore covers the period of Egypt’s rise to political preeminence in its own right, with Cairo being for two centuries the seat of the third Islamic caliphate. No longer imperial province, Egypt became a center and crossroads for commerce, for the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish ‘Peoples of the Book’, for scholarship and learning, for nomadic Bedouin, Nile villagers, and cosmopolitan Cairenes, as well as for Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Turks, and Sudanese.
This course will proceed chronologically, addressing the achievements and challenges of the major dynasties, with special focus on how persons and communities found their place in the cultural and religious mosaic of the region. Topics for investigation and discussion will include:
- the communicative intent of the arts and architecture in a society of different faiths and cultures,
- craft production and commerce,
- popular and state religious practices,
- education and learning, and
- the negotiation of distinct legal jurisdictions and traditions.
Cairo, medieval Egypt’s most celebrated legacy, will be a locus point throughout the term, but we will also be studying the rural settings in which the majority of the people lived. Readings will include both secondary texts and primary sources (literary, historical, and documentary).
A midterm and final exam, three essays (4-5 pages), and short assignments on the readings.
All are welcome, thought students should have a familiarity with the reading and analysis of historical sources. Prior coursework in African or Middle Eastern history is not a requisite.
A combination of lecture and discussion, based on close readings of assigned sources.