The Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate-II

The Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate-II (MMS-II): Historiography, Political Order and State Formation in Fifteenth-Century Egypt and Syria’  

(European Research Council ‘Consolidator Grant’ Project) is a collaborative research program on fifteenth-century Arabic historiography that runs at Ghent University (Belgium) from January 2017 to December 2021.

The MMS-II project studies how political order and historical truth were jointly constructed in the late medieval Middle East. It looks in particular at how ninth-/fifteenth-century Islamic scholars/historians and their Arabic texts contributed actively to a state formation process that is identified in the project as ‘the Mamlukization of the Mamluk Sultanate’. The ninth-/fifteenth-century history of the ‘Mamluk’ Sultanate of Cairo is traditionally considered a period of socio-economic and political decline following seventh-/thirteenth- and eighth-/fourteenth-century successes. In recent research, however, this ninth-/fifteenth-century history has been revalued as a highly creative era of transformation, of local and regional empowerment, and of state formation. In our own research, this revaluation has been captured in the neologism of Mamlukization. The MMS-II project builds on this revisionism, claiming that newly framed social memories of a glorious past of Muslim championship and Mamlūk leadership were part and parcel of this Mamlukization process, as were contemporary laments that things aren’t what they used to be.

The MMS-II project is surveying and analyzing the production and construction of these social memories in contemporary texts, as important specimens of political ideologies and truth claims. This contributes to ongoing new appreciations of the rich and eclectic fabric of late medieval and early modern Islamic imaginations of normative political order and sheds new light on the interaction between those imaginations and some of the major narrative sources for medieval Islamic history, written in the particular ninth-/fifteenth-century context of Syro-Egyptian centrality on the Eurasian stage. The MMS-II project asks what happens to current understandings if we consider these texts not merely as sources and observers of Mamlukization, but also as historical actors who helped to make this and related transformations come about. The MMS-II project pursues therefore the first comprehensive survey and collective historical interpretation of these Arabic texts.

In November 2021 (November, 28-30) the MMS-II team will organize its closing conference to present the main results from its research and reach out to the wider academic community. This three-day conference will be organized in Cairo, Egypt, to maximize the potential involvement of colleagues and students from the MENA region. It will consist of individual paper sessions with respondents, presentations of MMS-II research results, and a keynote. We will work together with international academic partners in Cairo (AUC, IFAO, NVIC) for this closing conference’s organization.

We welcome submissions of paper proposals that tackle the many contextual, textual and semiotic dimensions of the production and construction of social memories in the Arabic historiographical traditions of the seventh/thirteenth to the tenth/sixteenth centuries. We particularly seek contributions that critically engage with one or more of the following three themes: 

    • Contexts: what are a historiographical text’s, or textual corpus’, relevant socio-economic, cultural and political contexts, and what can be said about an author’s positioning within these contexts, his engagement with them through social practices such as competition and patronage, and the studied texts’ relations with these practices?
    • Texts: how are a historiographical text and its narratives organized and structured; how have textual strategies such as narrative modes, time, narrator and focalization been deployed, and to what effect; what do inter- and para-textual relations reveal?
    • Meanings: what textual themes, didactic purposes and layers of meaning are being communicated in a historiographical text, or set of texts; how does a text, or set of texts, represent a communicative act, or even a social performance, in complex discursive contexts of power relations; what semantic and discursive fields is a text, or set of texts, operating in, and to what effect?

A maximum of 18 individual paper proposals will be selected for presentation and discussion at this 3-day conference. The conference languages will be English and Arabic, and facilities for simultaneous translation will be foreseen to ensure communication and discussion across linguistic barriers. Papers (max. 8,000 words, in English or Arabic) will be pre-circulated (deadline for draft paper submission: October, 31, 2021) and their summary presentations at the conference (max. 15 minutes) will be followed by responses from invited specialists as well as further discussion with other participants. Participants are also expected to commit to revise their papers for inclusion in a future peer-reviewed conference publication.

The MMS-II project will be able to cover most of the travel and accommodation expenses for selected participants.

Paper proposals should include: name, short CV, paper title, related conference theme (contexts, texts, meanings), paper abstract (max. 250 words, briefly stating subject, rationale, methodology, main argument and/or expected results). They should be sent to mamluk@ugent.be, before April, 1, 2021.