CMES-Medieval Studies Lecture on Medieval Middle Eastern Studies


Wednesday, November 6, 2019, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


Barker Center 110 (the Thompson Room), 12 Quincy Street

Samuel England (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Arabic Classes and Classics in the Opera House. Co-sponsored by the Committee on Medieval Studies and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

The officials who designed Egypt’s Opera House in the nineteenth century predicted that it would anchor the performing arts economy in the Middle East, citing La Scala in Milan as their glorious model. The research presented here suggests that the Opera functioned more as an instrument for visiting and revising the medieval Arabic language than as a cosmopolitan bridge to modern Europe. This lecture scrutinizes the ideal of the imperial opera in order to ask larger questions of identity among urban, colonial audiences. How do seemingly non-literary projects like theater programming, publicity, and architectural drafting affect citizens’ relationship to the written past? What role does pre-modernity play in the period that scholars now consider the central moment of Arab modernization, just prior to the First World War? The construction of the Opera House, it will be argued, helps us to answer such questions, and ultimately places “the Middle Ages” in a context that modern historians have not yet provided.