The Barber of Damascus
Nouveau Literacy in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Levant
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"Sajdi's highly original work takes the reader deep into the social fabric of the eighteenth-century Levant and back through centuries of Arabic history-writing, illuminating a landscape of literary experimentation, eroding hierarchies, and new urban pastimes. An erudite work of impeccable scholarship."—David Commins, Dickinson College
"The Barber of Damascus brings to life a world of unexpected writers of history. Ibn Budayr and his work as barber and historian disrupt our notions of genre and give us a marvelous portrait of Damascus in the eighteenth century."—Leslie Peirce, New York University
This book is about a barber, Shihab al-Din Ahmad Ibn Budayr, who shaved and coiffed, and probably circumcised and healed, in Damascus in the 18th century. The barber may have been a "nobody," but he wrote a history book, a record of the events that took place in his city during his lifetime. Dana Sajdi investigates the significance of this book, and in examining the life and work of Ibn Budayr, uncovers the emergence of a larger trend of history writing by unusual authors—people outside the learned establishment—and a new phenomenon: nouveau literacy.
The Barber of Damascus offers the first full-length microhistory of an individual commoner in Ottoman and Islamic history. Contributing to Ottoman popular history, Arabic historiography, and the little-studied cultural history of the 18th century Levant, the volume also examines the reception of the barber's book a century later to explore connections between the 18th and the late 19th centuries and illuminates new paths leading to the Nahda, the Arab Renaissance.
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