Teaching and Learning in 18th-Century Damascus: Localism and Ottomanism in an Early Modern Arab Society
Author: Stephen Tamari Date: 1998 Institution: Georgetown University Subject:History Degree: Ph.D. Supervisor: Judith Tucker and Abdul-Karim Rafeq
Abstract: This dissertation explores the roots of modern Arab history from the perspective of indigenous sources of change. Orientalist and Arab nationalist historians once saw the 18th century as a period of cultural stagnation, civil strife, and economic decline. These assumptions have been challenged by more recent social, political, and economic historians. Eighteenth-century culture has yet to receive the same kind of attention. This dissertation continues the effort to explore the vitality and complexity of the 18th century with a focus on cultural life. The specific topic of inquiry is the Ottoman educational system and those who staffed it in 18th-century Damascus. My major sources are biographical dictionaries, chronicles, and ijazas, Islamic teaching certificates, an abundant but rarely used source for this period. Four chapters form the core of the dissertation. Following two introductory chapters, Chapter 3 presents a survey of the colleges and teaching mosques that functioned during this period and concludes that the 18th-century saw a revival in local institution building. Chapter 4 is based on a quantitative assessment of the regional origins, career paths, and affiliations of Damascene teachers. My conclusions challenge the dichotomy some historians draw between localism and Ottomanism. Chapter 5 is based on the intellectual autobiography of a prominent scholar who listed more than 150 titles that he read. An analysis of the subjects covered by these books gives us a precise understanding of the substance of an Islamic intellectual career in the early modern period. The final chapter explores the rhythms of the school year, intellectual activities that took place outside the madrasas and mosques, and readings that extended beyond the canon described in the previous chapter. The routines and local pride that animate the life of a Damascene teacher counter the images of instability and fear that dominate 20th-century renditions of this period.