SMMAC "Could the Archives Lie? The Disappeared Train" & "Historicizing Egypt’s Aswan High Dam as a story within a story within a story"

Le 16/03/2022

with Salim Tamari, Birzeit University & Alia Mossallam, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

The stories we tell. Engaging archives otherwise – Contemporary Arab and Muslim Worlds Seminar Series (SMMAC) – 2021-2022

"Could the Archives Lie? The Disappeared Train"

An examination of a particular extension line of the Hijaz Railway that used to run from Jerusalem to Ramallah-al Bireh, a district of Palestine. The line was crucial for the war effort on the Palestinian front, enhancing the transfer of both troops and equipment. This particular part of the railway, however, has completely disappeared from documentary evidence. Its existence can only be traced back through wedding songs celebrating the «Bireh Babor» which indicates the opposite of the collective denial of its possibility. How can an entire section of the railway disappear without tangible traces that attest to its former existence in the archives? In this presentation diverse materials, such as aerial photographs from the Bavarian State Archives, private letters, and folk narratives, are used to search for the lost section of the railway track.

The sociologist Salim Tamari draws upon archival materials and personal diaries, and has produced numerous studies documenting and analyzing Palestinian society. Books byTamari include The Great War and the Remaking of Palestine (2017), Year of the Locust-A Soldier’s Diary and the Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past (2011), and Mountain against the Sea-Essays on Palestinian Society and Culture (2008). Tamari is the editor of the journal The Jerusalem Quarterly. He is currently Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Ramallah and Visiting Professor at Columbia University, New York.

"Ways of telling: Historicizing Egypt’s Aswan High Dam (1960-1970) as a story within a story within a story"

In this talk, Alia Mossallam reflects on the challenges of telling the story of the building of a dam, without recons- tructing the dam itself; a narrative of narratives, a hege- monic ideology presiding over all alternatives; a concrete structure that inundated indigenous knowledges in the presence of its hydro-electric sciences. Instead, Mossallam attempts to tell the stor(ies) of the Aswan High Dam as refracted through the politics, hopes and losses of those who sacrificed their lives to build it, and those communities who were sacrificed and displaced for it to be built. What does popular historiography offer us in understanding the shifts in ways of knowing, and ways of telling – and how can we draw upon the architectures of these fluid narratives? A story that is an intersection between various historical tracks; from the third world liberation movements to a nationalist high-modernist project, to the possibilities of social mobility and the catastrophes of dis- placement. One story cannot be told without the other; instead, we have a story within a story within a story.

Alia Mossallam is interested in songs that tell stories and stories that tell of popular struggles behind the better-known events that shape world history. She is currently a EUME fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, writing a book on the visual and musical archiving practices of the builders of the Aswan High Dam and the Nubian communities displaced by it. As a visiting scholar at the Lautarchiv of Humboldt University, she has also started a new project tracing the experiences of Egyptian and North African workers on the various fronts of World War I through the songs and memories that recount their struggles. Some of her writings can be found in The Journal of Water History, The History Workshop Journal, the LSE Middle East Paper Series, Jadaliyya, Ma’azif, Bidayat and Mada Masr. She has tried her hand at playwriting with David Grieg, Hassan El-Geretly, Laila Soliman and written her first short-story “Rawi” with 60 pages. An experimentative pedagogue, she founded the site-specific public history project “Ihky ya Tarikh,” as well as having taught at the American University in Cairo, CILAS, and the Freie Universität in Berlin.

This public seminar series will be both virtual and in-person at Université libre de Bruxelles.

Full program here

Wednesday 16th March 2022, 12 pm

Salle de réception
Building R - Level 3 - Room R3.105
Avenue Antoine Depage 1
1000 Bruxelles

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Contacts: Sahar Aurore Saeidnia & Omar Jabary Salamanca
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