Harem Histories

Envisioning Places and Living Spaces

Harem Histories

Book Pages: 424 Illustrations: 39 illustrations, 3 figures Published: January 2011

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Middle East Studies

Harem Histories is an interdisciplinary collection of essays exploring the harem as it was imagined, represented, and experienced in Middle Eastern and North African societies, and by visitors to those societies. One theme that threads through the collection is the intimate interrelatedness of West and East evident in encounters within and around the harem, whether in the elite socializing of precolonial Tunis or the popular historical novels published in Istanbul and Cairo from the late nineteenth century onward. Several of the contributors focus on European culture as a repository of harem representations, but most of them tackle indigenous representations of home spaces and their significance for how the bodies of men and women, and girls and boys, were distributed in social space, from early Islamic Mecca to early-twentieth-century Cairo.

Contributors. Asma Afsaruddin, Orit Bashkin, Marilyn Booth, Nadia Maria El Cheikh, Julia Clancy-Smith, Joan DelPlato, Jateen Lad, Nancy Micklewright, Yaseen Noorani, Leslie Peirce, Irvin Cemil Schick, A. Holly Schissler, Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh


Harem Histories. . . paints a rich picture of the divergent ways that Muslim women in the Middle East and North Africa have been viewed by their own societies and Islam, as well as by others. . . . [It] provides fodder for reflecting on the complex series of historical, religious, and cultural events that have constructed gender roles in the Islamic world as well as on the history of Western societies in simplifying the meanings and practices associated with these roles.” — Justine Williams, Mediterranean Quarterly

“[T]his volume is a much-needed and long-awaited scholarly and interdisciplinary collection of essays on the multilayered nature of the harem over time and in various contexts as it was imagined, represented, and experienced in Middle Eastern and North African societies and by the visitors of these societies and it is hoped will stimulate further exploration into and fresh perspectives on this issue. It might be used as a textbook in the field of literature, cultural studies, Middle Eastern studies, gender studies, and the visual arts and arts history providing insights for a field that is so far understudied.” — Züleyha Çolak, Insight Turkey

“In Harem Histories, editor Marilyn Booth has compiled an innovative and multidisciplinary volume on the historical “concept/institution/image” of the harem in the Middle East and North Africa (4).... Perhaps the most important contribution of this volume is the ways in which it broadens the definition of the harem—as an architectural space, social institution and representative symbol/trope in literary-political discourses both in Muslim-majority societies and Euro-American imaginations.... Harem Histories will prove essential reading for scholars of gender, space and Islam, and is a core text for anyone studying the Islamic harem.” — Angma Jhala, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“[A] fascinating compilation. . . . Taken together, the articles demonstrate
major historiographical advances in the field—new approaches and new questions that enable us to better understand the role of gender played in imperial and household relations and how it changed over time and place.” — Nancy E. Gallagher, Digest of Middle East Studies

“[A] useful lens for understanding current narratives about Muslim women as well as earlier histories, stories, and the people who wrote them.” — M. Lynx Qualey, Women's Review of Books

“From the examination of the public acts of the female companions of Muhammad to the changing legal structure around sexuality in Ottoman imperial law, the volume extends conceptions of the relationship between women, the harem, and the public sphere in useful ways. The extraordinary ground covered by this volume means that any scholar, regardless of his or her area of specialization, can learn something, and perhaps many things, from it.” — Lisa Z. Sigel, History: Reviews of New Books

“Rarely have I encountered an edited collection as coherent and focused as Harem Histories. . . . Harem Histories offers concrete historical examples of the ways that gendered space is constructed and imagined, public and private overlap and merge, and cultural interaction has complex
dynamics and consequences. Although perhaps of most interest to historians and other scholars of the Middle East, these are issues of more general concern to sociologists as well.” — Leila J. Rupp, Contemporary Sociology

“The thirteen contributions to this volume illuminate the complex dynamics of producing, consuming, and inhabiting harem spaces by examining a number of Western and non-Western primary sources, including novels and
memoirs, historical and legal documents, as well as architectural layouts and photographs. This vast range of sources not only creates a comprehensive mosaic of the material but also bolsters our understanding of it by virtue of the dialogue amongst the authors and chapters themselves, which adds a level of nuance, depth, and liveliness.” — Nadine Sinno, Clio

Harem Histories includes magisterial essays by a number of leading scholars at the top of their game, and it takes us through a series of insightful and inspiring examinations of the harem system. Delightful cultural analyses of literary and visual depictions of the harem link Western and Eastern cultural producers, drawing out the tensions and relationships between different socio-sexual orders.” — Reina Lewis, author of Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel, and the Ottoman Harem

“A very important contribution to the literature on the harem, this collection will quickly become a standard text in cultural studies, Middle Eastern studies, gender studies, and the visual arts.” — Mary Roberts, author of Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Marilyn Booth holds the Iraq Chair in Arabic Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She is author of May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt, and books and essays on Arabic vernacular poetry, modern Arabic fiction, constructions of masculinity in early Arabic gender discourse, and the theory and practice of literary translation. She is an award-winning translator of contemporary Arabic fiction.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Marilyn Booth 1

I. Normative Images and Shifting Spaces

1. Early Women Exemplars and the Construction of Gendered Space: (Re-)Defining Feminine Moral Excellence / Asma Afsaruddin 23

2. Normative Notions of Public and Private in Early Islamic Culture / Yaseen Noorani 49

3. The Harem as Gendered Space and the Spatial Reproduction of Gender / Irvin Cemil Schick 69

II. Rooms and Thresholds: Harems as Spaces, Socialities, and Law

4. Caliphal Harems, Household Harems: Baghdad in the Fourth Century of the Islamic Era / Nadia Maria El Cheikh 87

5. Domesticating Sexuality: Harem Culture in Ottoman Imperial Law / Leslie Pierce 104

6. Panotopic Bodies: Black Eunuchs as Guardians of The Topkapi Harem / Jateen Lad 136

7. Where Elites Meet: Harem Visits, Sea Bathing, and Sociabilities in Precolonial Tunisia, c. 1800–1881 / Julia Clancy-Smith 177

8. The Harem as Biography: Domestic Architecture, Gender, and Nostalgia in Modern Syria / Heghmar Zeitlian Watenpaugh 211

III. Harems Envisioned

9. Harem/House/Set: Domestic Interiors in Photography from the Late Ottoman World / Nancy Micklewright 239

10. Dress and Undress: Clothing and Eroticism in Nineteenth-Century Visual Representations of the Harem / Joan DelPlato 261

11. Harems, Women, and Political Tyranny in the Works of Jurji Zaydan / Orit Bashkin 290

12. The Harem as the Seat of Middle-class Industry and Morality: The Fiction of Ahmet Midhat Efendi / A. Holly Shissler 319

13. Between Harem and Houseboat: "Fallenness," Gendered Spaces, and the Female National Subject in 1920s Egypt / Marilyn Booth 342

Bibliography 375

Contributors 401

Index 405
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4869-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4858-0
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