The proposed workshop will be concerned with European ethnographic engagement with the Middle East from the late 19th century.
Early European ethnographies of the Middle East have been criticised: for focusing only on men, lineages, pastoralists and Islam, and for making such biased foci a platform for generalisations about the region as a whole. Today, scholars question the relevance of the mere regional concept of 'Middle East'. The workshop will be concerned with European ethnographic engagement with the region from 1900, a point in time that marked the end of one imperial rule – the Ottoman – and the continuation of another – the European. It is a moment that represents considerable Western presence: Russians, Germans, Italians, French and the British sent exploration teams to the deserts; tourism was started, maps were drawn; and an extraordinary ethnographic production was unfolding. The colonial enterprise brought European anthropology to the periphery by negotiating a place for knowledge about places, peoples and cultures to distinguish coloniser from colonised. Examination of these translations and interpretations that we find in a hundred years of anthropological production on the region offers a form of intellectual longue durée: What role did ethnographic material play in Europe's 'civilising mission'? How did European scholars seek to engage their colonial subjects in their scientific enterprise? How was the practice of fieldwork transformed in colonial and war-zone settings? In the interplay between coloniser and colonised how did these practices and beliefs intervene in perceptions of the places, peoples and cultures? In today's world, how do development consultants, aid workers and terrorism specialists reproduce the old Orientalist scheme? Ultimately the aim is to develop a fuller picture of developments in anthropological history and to look to the future of European anthropology on the Middle East.