DepositRabīʿ Jābir’s Bayrūt Trilogy: Recovering an Obscured Urban History

How does a generation without personal memory begin to grapple with its urban past in a nation that has silenced its memories? How are symbolic sites of memory recovered and represented by such a generation? Much recent scholarship on post-war Lebanon has studied the memory culture of the decades following the declared end of civil war. This scholarship deals with the implications of Lebanon’s ‘amnesiac’ political culture on the social and political landscape. In the meantime, Lebanon—and especially Beirut’s—urban landscape has been altered beyond recognition by post-war reconstruction, mostly by private real estate holding companies, the most notorious of which is Solidere. In the early 2000s, a slew of historical novels about Lebanon and especially Beirut was published in both Arabic and French. In this article, I will focus exclusively on the strategies of urban commemoration in Rabī Jābir’s trilogy. I argue that the genre of historical fiction is used in these novels to re-create the downtown life of Beirut in and around Martyrs’ Square from the 19th and early 20th century, a commemoration of a cityscape and an urban lifestyle that its author recreates using the tools of the archive (documents, bibliographies, etc.). This post-memorial fiction—here, I use Marianne Hirsch’s definition of postmemory as “second-generation memories of cultural and collective traumas and experience” (22)—attempts to recover Beirut’s repressed Ottoman urban history, and to re-write Solidere’s narrative of the city center. By intertwining downtown Beirut’s past with its present, in a clever back-and-forth palimpsestic act that superimposes the historical city upon the present city—site of capitalist consumption—Jābir’s novels map out the old upon the new, and thus refuses the erasure of the ancient city by its newest urbanists. In Jābir’s novels, a new, contestatory commemorative narrative of Beirut’s history and—more significantly, its present—emerges.


I recently completed my Ph.D. in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University, specializing in 20th century U.S. urban history. My interests range from ethnic and race relations to Jewish studies to the history of how the public health and social welfare infrastructure of American cities was built over the past 100 years. Currently I am revising my dissertation into a book manuscript and serving as co-editor of The Metropole, the blog of the Urban History Association.

MemberKatalin Straner

…ence, London, 14-17 September 2018.

Another City: Émigré Intellectuals and Transnational Intellectual Communities in Early Modern and Modern Cities (1500-1950). Main Session co-organised with Nicholas Mithen (EUI) at the 14th International Conference on Urban History, Rome, 29 August—1 September 2018.

Darwin(ism) in Central Europe — Translation, Circulation and Reception in 19th-century Hungary. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 14 August 2018.

Science in Exile: Jácint Rónay in London….
…European Association of Urban History (member of the International Committee)

British Society for the History of Science

European Society for the History of Science…

I am a historian of modern Europe, specialising in the history of science, urban history and the study of translation and reception in the history of ideas. My research interests include the academic and popular reception of Darwinism and evolution in Hungary and Central Europe; the study of knowledge production and transfer in the long nineteenth century; the role of the city and urban culture, including the urban press, in the circulation and transformations of knowledge; the history of scientific societies, associations and institutions; and the effect of migration and exile on knowledge transfer.

MemberSamuel Grinsell

…‘Engineering the Nile valley: Khartoum North and the first Aswan Dam as products of Anglo-Egyptian hydropolitics, 1899-1935’, Infrastructure, culture, and identity in the modern city (19th-21st centuries), European Association for Urban History Conference, University of RomaTre, 29 Aug-1 Sep 2018…

I am a PhD student at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, working on the history of the built environment of the Nile valley under the British Empire. Prior to moving to Edinburgh, I studied for a BA in Ancient History and History and an MA in Urban History, both at the University of Leicester. I also have an active interest in educational practices and learning technologies, and worked as an intern in the Technology Enhanced Learning team at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, in the summer of 2016. I am chair of Pubs and Publications, a blog about PhD life. My current research combines environmental, architectural and urban histories to produce a new understanding of British imperial power in the Nile valley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This can open up new readings of the histories of empire and modernity.

MemberJanna C

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Peer reviewed

“The King of Dirt: Public Health and Sanitation in Late Medieval Ghent,” Urban History (published online 18 April 2018).

“Policing Female Food Vendors in the Late Medieval Netherlands,” Yearbook of Women’s History 36 (2017) , 97-113.

“On the Street and in the Bathhouse: Medieval Galenism in Action?” (co-author: G. G…

Janna Coomans is a postdoctoral researcher at the department of Medieval History. She defended her dissertation (cum laude), titled “In Pursuit of a Healthy City: Sanitation and the Common Good in the Late Medieval Low Countries”, in June 2018. Her current research project explores the practices of various agents to promote communal wellbeing in the late medieval urban Low Countries. It is part of the ERC-funded interdisciplinary project “Healthscaping Urban Europe”. Her main research interests are the history of (public) health; social and urban history and more theoretical explorations of spatiality and materiality; as well as gender, medicine, crime, and urban governance.

MemberCynthia Heider

I’m currently employed as the Digital Projects Specialist at the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia, where I work to increase the digital accessibility and preservation of the Society’s collections and to promote their use. I’m interested in urban history, the Progressive Era, and digital initiatives in history and the humanities among other things, including craft beer, cats, skee ball, hiking, and British crime television.

DepositColouring the City: Environment and urban form in Touba and Khartoum

The use of colour as a spatial metaphor is a familiar part of the language of urbanism: green, grey, brown and blue spaces abound in the literature, from Jane Jacobs’ attacks on the over-planning of American cities to Peter Borsay’s recent exploration of the place of nature in the history of English towns. This latter responds to a wider turn towards environmental urban history, highlighted by Frioux’s paper on the ‘green crossroads’ in 2012. These colour metaphors, however, come laden with distinctly European and Western images of the city: one might think of the blue space of Venice or the green space of Central Park. By contrast, the ruling colour metaphor of the colonial city – Black Town vs. White Town – has been much eroded by recent scholarship (Beverley, 2011). The climatic assumptions embedded in the term ‘green’ as a signifier of nature have very different implications in tropical or desert climates, suggesting that the coloured language of urbanism needs serious consideration before application to cities beyond the West. This paper will explore the relationship of two African cities to concepts of nature: Touba in Senegal and Khartoum in Sudan. These contrasting sites will be used to open up a debate about the language of urban history. By interrogating the terminology of the study of Western cities, it is hoped to open a space where urbanism can be analysed in more global, open terms.

DepositA New Plan for an Ancient Italian City: Gabii Revealed

The city of Gabii was one of the main centers of ancient Latium, yet very little of the settlement is known through archaeology. The site has been the focus of only sporadic exploration, and the available evidence for the urban history and development of the city is extremely fragmentary. New fieldwork has investigated the urban area with magnetometry and core sampling in preparation for a major campaign of new excavations. The results show that Gabii was orthogonally planned around a main, hitherto unknown thoroughfare and that significant structures and associated stratifications are relatively well preserved. The new work has the potential to yield much-needed information, not just about this important center but also about first-millennium B.C.E. urbanism in the Italian peninsula.