Samuel England

Position title: Resident Fellow (2023-2024)

Associate Professor of Arabic, African Cultural Studies, UW–Madison

This is a picture of a person with glasses and very short hair sitting on a porch.

Diwan in the Darkroom: The Literary Life of Arab Photography

In this research project I examine Arabic literature and photography from 1930 to 1980. The IRH Fellowship supports my current book work, Dictating the Classics: Heritage in Modern Arab Regimes. I bring photography, poetry, and the literary essay into critical conversation with each other for the chapters of the book I am writing while at IRH. Authors affiliated with the prominent Husseini family in Jerusalem, and Egyptian musical professionals like Umm Kulthum and Ahmad Rami, tapped the emerging field of mass-produced photographs to gain followers around the Mediterranean and the Gulf region. All of these public figures were potent nationalists in their own ways. But our customary model of postcolonial-era national art does not articulate the roles that they played in public life. Similarly, literary studies tend to ignore the visual content of “pulpy” popular media. With photographs, Ishaq Musa al-Husseini proudly documented his Classical Arabic students’ personal encounter with an Egyptian movie star. Showbusiness-oriented periodicals were crucial to a poet and editor like Rami, who strove to be featured alongside Umm Kulthum in social pages distributed throughout Arab countries. My goal is to reveal the interdependency of these media, but also to understand reading and musical culture as increasingly visual in the twentieth century. As the camera became indispensable to Arab middle-class identity, authors responded. Even seemingly traditional literati sought the appeal of candid, freeze-frame imagery in their poems, lyrics, and prose.

Samuel England is Associate Professor of Arabic at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In the Department of African Cultural Studies, he teaches Classical and modern Arabic, Mediterranean cultures, and sub-Saharan African sources. He also teaches Middle Eastern historical topics in the International Studies Major. Prof. England’s research covers Classical Arabic poetry and prose, premodern courts in the Middle East and Europe, Crusades literature, Arab nationalist film and drama of the past century, and Romance-language treatments of Islam. He is the author of the book Medieval Empires and the Culture of Competition (Edinburgh University press, 2017), which explores the relationship between intellectual conflict and the larger political question of imperial governance. Currently, he is writing a second book, on modern literature and image-making. The working title is Dictating the Classics: Heritage in Modern Arab Regimes. It asks how Arab political and cultural elites in the 20th century used the Arabic past to promote themselves in a variety of mass media. In addition to book work, Prof. England has published articles in the Journal of Arabic Literature, Alif, and Middle Eastern Literatures. He is also a mediocre but enthusiastic photographer.