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Presented By: Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)

MEMS Faculty Showcase. Early Islamic World 1: Orientalism and the Erasure of Arab Women Poets

Samer Mahdy Ali, U-M Middle East Studies

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Orientalism and the Erasure of Arab Women Poets: Reinscribing Gender in Medieval Adab Culture

Arabic manuscripts in world archives transmit the speeches and poetry of women from pre-Islamic times to the modern era, citing at least 400 named women. Gendered eloquence (Balāghāt al-Nisāʾ) was a widely recognized category of verbal art in adab-humanities, from the ninth century onward. Thousands of texts document a Shahrazadian (logo-centric) counter-culture resistant to ossified patriarchal authority in pre-Islamic and medieval Arabo-Islamic societies. Over the past five centuries, though, oriental studies has taken little notice of the phenomenon and modern print sources have hardly done justice to the legacy of women’s verbal art. Western scholarship has in effect muted Arab women poets for centuries, with the attendant risks of permanent extinction of an intangible world heritage. How and why did this erasure happen? This talk shifts frame between the contemporary and the premodern, between the ghosts of orientalist scholarship and the legacy of premodern Arab women demanding to be heard and remembered once again.
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March 12, 2021 (Friday) 1:00pm
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