SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

A Continuation of State Policies by Other Means: Cultural Politics in Interwar Egypt

Hazem Jamjoum, New York University

Date: 4 December 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 4 December 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: WLT

Type of Event: Seminar

In a 1933 dispatch that he would later refer to as his “magnum opus”, British High Commissioner for Egypt Sir Percy Lorraine wrote: “The question of maintaining and developing English education and culture in Egypt is becoming… of such gravity that, if our political and commercial futures in these parts are not to be immediately compromised, His Majesty’s Government must re-examine the whole problem.” This dispatch was the first step towards the establishment in what would later become known as the British Council.

The main thrust of Lorraine’s rhetoric was that French and Italian cultural efforts were giving these two imperial adversaries a “cultural edge” that would result in long-term commercial and strategic losses to the British Empire. What Lorraine’s advocacy for a British imperial cultural policy omits—as does the scant literature on interwar cultural politics in Middle East—is that such a policy was also, and perhaps mainly, a response to the Egyptian state’s increasingly pronounced cultural activity.

The paper discusses ways in which the contest between the Egyptian national, women’s and labor movements and the Egyptian, British, Italian and French states in the 1920s opened an era in which the “cultural” became a key arena of politics. In it, I trace the ways capitalist commodification of cultural production—which I follow through a history of music production—figured in determining the key facets of this cultural arena.

Hazem Jamjoum is a doctoral candidate (ABD) in the Joint Degree Doctor of Philosophy in History and Middle Eastern Studies. His research interrogates the interrelations between capital, class, and state power through a commodity history of music production in Egypt between 1882 and 1952, using business and state archives, personal papers, music treatises, the periodical press and musical recordings. He was awarded an International Research Dissertation Fellowship by the Social Science Research Council and a Mellon Fellowship for Dissertation Research in Original Sources by the Council on Library and Information Resources for the 2017 - 2018 academic year.

Organised by Near & Middle East History Seminar, Department of History.

Organiser: Dr. Ceyda Karamursel