Amuletic Archives: Writing Magico-Material Histories of the Middle East

What amulets tell us about the past

Historiography of the Middle East

Amuletic Archives: Writing Magico-Material Histories of the Middle East

Talisman Display Case at Egyptian Geographical Society's Ethnographic Museum (Photo by Taylor Moore, Cairo, 2016; cropped)

Lecture with Taylor Moore (UC Santa Barbara, History)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021
3:00 PM (Pacific Time)

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This talk demonstrates how historians can use modern amulets as archival sources to partially reconstruct the complex constellations of objects, practitioners, and laborers that made up, what I call, the political and spiritual economies of healing in Egypt and the late Ottoman World. It complicates a well-entrenched historiography that argues the metaphysical powers of magical objects and otherworldly beings of the medieval and early modern periods were replaced by those of a disenchanted modern state. I begin by providing a brief case study from turn-of-the-twentieth-century Egypt to show the potential and possibilities for using amuletic archives to re-write histories and historiographies of science, medicine, technology, and political economy. To conclude, we will examine a selection of object archives from Ottoman Istanbul, interwar Egypt, and Mandate Palestine—along with the paper archives that sometimes survived and/or accompanied them—to discuss methods for ‘reading’ magical objects as archival materials.

Taylor M. Moore is University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department at UC Santa Barbara. Her research lies at the intersections of critical race studies, decolonial/postcolonial histories of science, and decolonial materiality studies with a geographical focus on Egypt and the late Ottoman world. Her manuscript-in-preparation, Superstitious Women: Race, Magic, and Medicine in Egypt, uses modern Egyptian amulets as an archive to reconstruct the magical and vernacular medical life-worlds of peasant women healers, and their critical role developing medico-anthropological expertise in Egypt from 1875-1950. Taylor’s work is invested in illuminating the occult(ed) networks, economies, and actors whose bodies and labor are generally rendered invisible in Eurocentric histories of global science.



Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies