Categories
Dispatches from the Archives

Annulling the Marriage of Two Men: A Marginal Note in a Yemeni Manuscript

By Shireen Hamza

Please see the note at the end of the original post for an update by the author on 06/20/2020. A change to the original text is indicated in the post.

***

During my second week of research at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, last September, I found a note in a manuscript that made my heart race.

Most of the Arabic manuscripts at the Ambrosiana are from Yemen, purchased from a single collector, Giuseppe Caprotti (1869-1919 CE). Many of these share physical and stylistic traits, like similar kinds of handwriting and the convention of using a larger pen for title-headings (more on the topic in the Chroniques du manuscrit au Yémen). I had become used to these conventions as I studied Yemeni manuscripts with medical content over the last several months, and was thus comfortable reading these manuscripts. But on this day in September, while sleepily flipping through page after page of manuscript Arabi Nuovo Fondi E437 and waiting for my next espresso break, a short note at the bottom of the page caught my eye: 

فسختُ النكاح بين الذكورين و اشهدت على صدور ذلك اعني و انا بمجلس القضى من وضع اسمه بعد خطي هذا بتاريخ اخر ربيع الاخر سنة اربع و ستين و الف ١٠٦٤

I annulled a marriage between two men, and I called upon a witness to its issuance*, while I was in the court. By [the witness] I mean, one who puts his name after my note here, at the end of Rabī’ II 1064.

Jolted out of my afternoon haze, I read and reread the note. It was written in a clean, clear نسخي / naskhi handwriting towards the end of the manuscript. The rules against photography at the Ambrosiana precluded me from taking a photograph, but there was no doubting the clarity of the handwriting. Not a single letter was smudged or otherwise harmed by worm or wear,  and the first word even had a vowel marked, clarifying that this sentence is written in the first person. It seemed to be a note penned by someone who had cancelled the validity of the marriage ceremony, نكاح / nikāḥ, between two men. There are two plural words used in this note which I find unusual. The word used for the beginning of the court proceedings صدور / ṣudūr, which is also a word which can refer to the head or leader of a gathering, usually occurs in the singular. Another possible reading is that the judge summoned a witness to the joint leadership of the ruling. Also, the word for the two men, ذكورين / dhukūrayn, appears to be the dual form of a word that is already a plural — the word ذُكور / dhukūr means “males” in the Quranic verse 42:49, and is the plural of ذكر / dhakar, or male. Despite these peculiarities of language, which is often a feature that manuscript researchers encounter, it is quite possible to make sense of this note.

Examples of marginalia from a Yemeni medical text. Digital collection of The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

This note seemed to indicate that a Muslim jurist, or قاضي / qāḍī, likely the author of this note, married two men, before 1064 AH / 1654 CE. As much as I would want to believe this to be possible, I think there is a more likely explanation. Someone officiated a marriage ceremony between two people: one person was a man and the other was either a woman or a خنثى / khunthā, meaning someone whose gender was ambiguous to others, usually because of the person’s genitalia and/or sex characteristics. Later on, a court decided that this latter person was actually “a man,” perhaps by calling on relevant witnesses or physicians to examine the person, and thus the marriage between these two “men” was annulled.

A compendium of treatises on various legal and religious topics, manuscript codex Arabi Nuovo Fondi E437 also includes a medical text. It was the kind of manuscript that would have been of interest to, and could have been owned by, a student of the law, a jurist (قاضي / qāḍī), or another functionary of the court. There was no name included after the note, though there was plenty of space at the bottom of the page for one. The rest of the page is covered in miscellaneous notes and remedies in an informal handwriting. There is no official signature, because this was not an official document—perhaps the person who wrote this was practicing on a spare bit of paper before copying it on an official document, or a court register. While my explanation for the note occurring at the bottom of the page cannot move beyond an educated guess, I believe this kind of “documentary” source, which records the practice of law, is a crucial resource for historians of gender and sexuality as well as for feminist scholars of Islamic law.

A Qadi and the Court. From the Maqamat-i Hariri.

In Disability in the Ottoman Arab World, 1500-1800, historian Sara Scalenghe writes of several accounts of the court intervening in marriages to rule on the gender of a person, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She describes the case of Ali/Aliyya, a teenage boy whom physicians found to be a girl, after it came to the court’s attention that a man, Abd al-Rahman, was in love with Ali. In another case, a pious man named Muhammad was married to a “woman who was an obvious khuntha” (امراة خنثى واضح / ‘imra’a khunthā wāḍiḥ) but a cousin and rejected suitor of Muhammad’s wife brought their marriage to the attention of the city’s ruler. After women medical practitioners found “her” to be a man, the Amir punished them both publicly — and unjustly, in the opinion of the chronicler who first recorded this episode. The note I found at the Ambrosiana may point to a case such as these.

Many questions remain unanswered. What prompted an inquiry into this marriage? Were any questions raised at the initial marriage ceremony as to the gender of the participants? How was it determined that these were “two men”? Finding queer and trans ancestors in the archives is extremely important to LGBTQI+ people today. But there is also another reason for drawing special attention to this marginal note which regards histories of gender and sexuality in the Islamic world, broadly. We can’t write the history of women — or practice feminist Islamic legal studies — if we impose biologically determined, binary gender on the past in our search for women.

Scholarship on the medieval Islamic world, from medical and legal theory to social and legal history, supports the idea that gender existed beyond a male-female binary. From the 1970s onward, a rich field of scholarship on the history of gender and sexuality has explored non-binary “identities,” like khwaja sira خواجه سرا and khunthāخنثى (an Islamic legal and medical category), and the ways these complex identities are present today. The field has investigated the ways that class, religious identity, devotion and slavery could gender people. Critical studies of Islamic masculinities are emerging, and scholars have long argued that beardless boys are treated as a separate gender than mature men in both literary and legal contexts.

However, few references to this literature can be found in recent debates about feminism in Islamic Legal Studies. Suggesting ways to move beyond the “patriarchal” and “White Supremacist” modes of Islamic Studies which focus exclusively on Muslim male scholars in the premodern world, Ayesha Chaudhry pushes for a progressive “Intersectional Islamic Studies,” in which modern Muslims (especially women) are also authoritative and authentic. Others, like Sohaira Siddiqui, argue that there is a longer history to this kind of critique, and that Chaudhry’s program curtails the agency of scholars, especially those approaching the complexity of the premodern Islamic world. Focused on Islamic law, neither Chaudhry’s article nor Siddiqui’s response engages with work on the history and anthropology of gender and sexuality in the Islamic world. Similarly, historians of sexuality rarely suggest the impact their work could have on contemporary Muslims — let alone speak to and advocate for these communities. Muslims of marginalized gender and sexual identities seek examples of accommodation and acceptance in the Muslim past, as they navigate homophobia and transphobia in their communities, and seek to repeal the European colonial laws which imposed these realities. Histories of gender and sexuality can provide insight into precolonial social lives that Islamic legal studies currently do not. Two ships, feminist Islamic Legal Studies and the history of gender and sexuality, are passing each other, to the detriment of both fields — and many Muslims today.

Part of the reason for the siloing of these two fields is the difference in the kinds of sources they draw on, and the ways they analyze them. Generally, scholars of Islamic Legal Studies, and feminists within that field, are interested in doctrine: the Quran and its hermeneutical traditions, jurisprudential texts of Islamic law, and prophetic traditions. Some historians of gender and sexuality, especially those working on early Islam, have worked with these sources as well — especially jurisprudence. However, their primary archive has been ادب / adab, or literary texts (poetry, biography, chronicle, travelogue), as well as the bread and butter of social history: government archives. The richest of these for the Islamic world are those of the Ottoman Empire. And rarely does a single scholar possess the ability to read across all of the relevant languages and genres; collaborative research practices will help in this regard. As Khaled El-Rouayheb noted in his Review of Elyse Semerdjian’s book, Off the Straight Path: Elicit Sex, Law and Community in Ottoman Aleppo,  “These different approaches and competencies are often reinforced institutionally: scholars who work on court registers are often “Ottoman historians,” whereas those who work on Arabic religious and literary texts are usually in “Arabic-Islamic studies.”Gender categories were constructed and debated across different textual genres in the Islamic world. Jurisprudential manuals constructed legal ideals, but these ideals did not always match up with court practice. The same could be said, for example, about theoretical medical texts and practices, as represented by case histories.

This division is also alive in the question of whether only legal doctrine should determine what we consider Islam to be, or whether the lives of Muslims — all Muslims, not just علماء / ‘ulamā’ or scholars — should also constitute a valuable source for understanding what Islam is, and can be. This question is one that has animated the debate represented by Chaudhry’s work and its critics discussed above, but Chaudhry is advocating mainly for the inclusion of the ideas of modern and contemporary Muslim women in Islamic legal studies; she does not urge us to think of people outside the gender binary, or of the lives of premodern women. Perhaps the numbers of Islamic texts written by premodern women are limited, but we can also draw on the growing social histories of the Islamic world to learn of — and from — non-literate people, as we seek to address key questions as scholars of Islam today.

I may have found a trace of a non-binary person and “their” partner, marginalized people in a marginal comment on Arabi Nuovo Fondi E437. And I believe that feminist research in Islamic studies should be as attentive to non-binary Muslim peoples as it is to Muslim women, past and present. To understand the category of “woman” in Islam, we must study all textual genres, as well as genders, including masculinities, trans- and nonbinary genders, and the many names, forms or silences which these may have outside of modern LGBTQI+ identities. To do so, Islamic Studies should make good use of the work done by those studying documentary sources and social history. Adopting a research mode which integrates legal theory, legal practice and social history may yet help us learn how to understand this marginal comment, the people about whom it was written, and may bring more such events as this possible نكاح / nikāḥ annulment to our attention.

*In the original publication of this post, ṣudūr was translated as commencements rather than issuance. This, though nothing else in the post, has been amended. See the update below for more information.

Update by the author on 6/20/2020:

Many scholars of Islamic legal history have taken the time to read and engage with my original post and suggested that the word I read in the margins to mean “two men,” al-dhukūrayn, should be read as al-madhkūrayn, “two aforementioned people.” I acknowledge that I misread what was likely a subtle lām-mīm ligature at the beginning of the word, and appreciate those scholars who have reached out to me in the spirit of care and generosity. However, no rules of Arabic grammar prevent the possibility that one of the madhkūrayn, the two aforementioned people, could refer to a khunthā, a person who is neither a man or a woman, whose presence in the Islamic world is well attested to by a variety of sources. This point was lost on those who claimed that this mistake disproved the argument of the post. The larger question of how scholars have brought heteronormative assumptions to their interpretations of texts is one that feminist scholars of Islam have long taken up in their work.

Who is worthy of being considered the subject of madhkūr — and a subject of history? I take my misreading to be generative, and true to the intention of the post — for scholars of Islamic law and history to remember that there were more than two genders in the medieval Islamic world as they read and interpret their sources. From what I have learned in the last week, Mohammad ibn Sallāma and his spouse were likely referred to as al-madhkūrayn in their wedding contract — though his spouse is described to have a variety of genders by different sources, including a “woman who was an obvious khuntha” (امراة خنثى واضح / ‘imra’a khunthā wāḍiḥ). The note I found in Arabi Nuovo Fondi E437 is certainly not a legal document, like a marriage contract, nor is it the kind of note that people leave in the margins of their books to take note of current events. The note was devoid of any relevant context, like location or names, which madhkūrayn (or the later ismahū) could refer back to. If it was left by someone practicing writing a sentence about annulling a marriage before making an official copy, what was the reason for this marriage to be annulled? Much remains mysterious about this note, but the possibility of it referring to a non-binary person is not one of them. 

There are decades of scholarship on the khunthā in fiqh (Islamic law), as well as the lack of a strict gender binary in medical discussions, for example, about the generation of humans. But there should be much more — and scholars should do their best to make technical training increasingly available to students interested in gender and sexuality. We need careful readings of texts to understand the variety of discourses on gender and sexuality in medicine, law, literature and other genres of texts composed in the Islamic world. These careful readings should be based not only on sound philology, but a critical understanding of our own analytical assumptions. Let us look inward and ask why we, as scholars, continue to ignore the possibilities of these non-binary lives in our archives, especially when doing so has ongoing impacts on LGBTQ+ Muslims today. 

Featured picture: Qadi and the Court. Wikimedia Commons. Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti / Public domain.

*******

Shireen Hamza is a doctoral candidate in the History of Science at Harvard University, working on the history of medicine and sexuality in the premodern Islamic world. She is also a managing editor of the Ottoman History Podcast and editor-in-chief of Ventricles, a podcast on science, religion and culture.

Categories
Dispatches from the Archives

Dispatches from Princeton’s History of Science Colloquium: Jutta Schickore’s “Contributions to a History of Experimental Controls”

By Guest Contributor Alison McManus

3371
Prof. Jutta Schickore

Princeton’s History of Science Colloquium series recently welcomed Jutta Schickore, professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, to present a talk titled, “Contributions to a History of Experimental Controls.” In addition to her position at Indiana University, Schickore is a member of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study for the 2017–18 academic year. As I listened to her talk earlier this month, I found myself fully immersed in uncharted territory. Experimental controls are themselves an under-studied problem, but Schickore’s attention to the practice of experimental controls rendered her project a truly novel intervention. Though her project remains in its early stages of development, it no doubt pinpoints the need to historicize the “controlled experiment,” and it lays further claim to the established strategy of examining experimenters’ practical concerns prior to grand scientific theories.

 

 

John_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870
John Stuart Mill

Schickore’s scholarship is better defined by theme than by scientific discipline. Her previous monographs examine the long history of the microscope (2007) and a yet longer history of snake venom research from the seventeenth to the twentieth century (2017). Both monographs emphasize debates about scientific method, and the latter is particularly attentive to nonlinear, contingent methodological developments, which stem from the intricacies of experimental work rather than unified theory. Schickore’s current project extends this approach to new territory. Despite their manifest importance to scientific work, experimental controls have rarely been a topic of inquiry for historians and philosophers of science. The unique exception is Edward Boring’s 1954 paper in the American Journal of Psychology, in which he distinguished between colloquial and scientifically rigorous uses of the term “control.” In a further move, he identified John Stuart Mill’s “method of difference” as the first notion of a controlled experiment, a concept that Mill outlined in A System of Logic (1843). Boring’s identification of a theoretical rather than experimental origin of “control” reflects the state of the field prior to the “material turn” of the 1990s, and the time has come to integrate the controlled experiment into studies of scientific practice.

 

Even with a precise definition of the term, any effort to identify the first controlled experiment will likely end in failure. Probing the origins of the term’s modern popularity is a far more productive exercise. A preliminary Google search indicates that the term rose to prominence in late nineteenth-century scientific scholarship, and the same is true of its German counterpart (Kontrollversuch/Controllversuch). In order to identify the roots of its popularity, Schickore selects case studies from ostensibly marginal German agricultural field trials nearly one century before the “controlled experiment” took a prominent position in the scientific literature.

1
Wilhelm August Lampadius

The German pharmacists Sigismund Friedrich Hermbstädt and Wilhelm August Lampadius both sought to apply their chemical expertise toward agricultural production in the early nineteenth century. Both men had engaged with Lavoisier’s chemistry in their work, albeit to differing degrees. Whereas Lampadius was a staunch advocate of Lavoisier’s theory, Hermbstädt remained closer to the German chemical tradition, despite having published translations of Lavoisier’s work. Hermbstädt and Lampadius conducted near-contemporaneous field trials on fertilizer, both seeking to minimize product loss and thereby improve Germany’s economic position. However, theirs and others’ experiments reveal an inconsistent, multivalent use of the term “control.” Schickore notes that “control” occasionally served its now-familiar function as an unmanipulated unit of comparison, as in the case of Hermbstädt’s comparative category of “infertile land.” Yet Hermbstädt and Lampadius also used the concept in conjunction with other management terms. A third notion of control emerged as improved apparatuses for organic analysis began to circulate in the mid-nineteenth century. In addition to making Lavoisier’s approach less costly for agricultural scientists, these novel instruments enabled scientists to perform repeat analyses and apply different analytic methods to the same problem.

 

 

zadsaxdv
Sigismund Friedrich Hermbstädt. Line engraving by G. A. Lehmann, 1808 (Wellcome Collection).

To add to this already complex terrain of meanings, Schickore notes that even in its most familiar scientific usage, the controlled experiment poses an implicit epistemological problem. When designing an experiment, each researcher must select which features shall remain unmanipulated, according to their own worldview. In the case of Hermbstädt’s experiments, his aforementioned category of “infertile land” meant land devoid of organic matter—a reflection of his vitalist notion of plant nutrition. Schickore’s observations identify a dire need to historicize both the text and the subtext of experimental controls.

 

The experience of my young career has led me to approach historical questions with a sort of inverse Occam’s razor, which holds that the more nuanced and heterogeneous causal accounts are the better ones. By turning away from theorists’ concerns and engaging instead with experimenters’ array of pragmatic preoccupations, the historian of science vastly expands her sites of methodological and conceptual production. Given Hermbstädt’s and Lampadius’s keen sensitivity to economic exigencies and technological innovation, I imagine that the larger field of nineteenth-century European agricultural science also developed its methods in conjunction with site-specific economic and instrumental circumstances. Schickore’s approach promises to extract a fruitful bounty of experimental practices from this uneven terrain of pragmatic concerns.

Alison McManus is a Ph.D. student in History of Science at Princeton University, where she studies twentieth-century chemical sciences. She is particularly interested in the development and deployment of chemical weapons technologies.

Categories
Dispatches from the Archives

The New Bibliographical Presses at Rare Book School

by editor Erin Schreiner, and guest contributor Roger Gaskell

IMG_6196
The Rare Book School Replica Copperplate Press, in the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of  Virginia

In the inaugural issue of the Journal of the Printing Historical Society (1965), Philip Gaskell defined the bibliographical press as “a workshop or laboratory which is carried on chiefly for the purpose of demonstrating and investigating the printing techniques of the past by means of setting type by hand, and of printing from it on a simple press.” Just a few weeks ago, we had the honor and pleasure of inaugurating the bibliographical pressroom and exhibition space at the University of Virginia, in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Thanks to a collaboration between the University Library, Rare Book School, and the bookseller Roger Gaskell, UVa is now home to two bibliographical presses for use in public demonstrations, bibliographical instruction, and scholarly research. One is a common letterpress, used for printing text and images from type and relief blocks; the other is a rolling press, used for printing from intaglio plates. This is the first and only bibliographical rolling press, and it is a significant step for scholars not only of the history of printing, but also of the history of art, science, cartography, and other disciplines which rely on historical texts printed from intaglio plates, either exclusively or in combination with letterpress text.

Roger Gaskell, a scholar and bookseller, designed the new bibliographical rolling press, a replica based on the designs published in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie in 1769. As an antiquarian bookseller specializing in natural history and science books, Roger has always been interested in the production history and bothered by the lack of rigorous bibliographical language for the description of illustrated books. In 1999, a fellowship at the Clark Library in Los Angeles allowed him to study intaglio plates inserted into letterpress printed books, and he formed the idea then that building a replica wooden rolling press was essential for a better understanding of the mechanics and workshop practices of intaglio printing. Six years ago, Michael Suarez invited him to teach at Rare Book School and over dinner, Roger pitched to Michael the idea that Rare Book School should commission the building of a wooden rolling press based on a historical model. Some years later they discussed this again. But what to build? A press based on the design published by Bosse in 1645? That has been done: there is a fine replica in the Rembrandt House in Amsterdam that is frequently used for public demonstrations. A copy of an existing press? Gary Gregory was doing this for his Printing Office of Edes and Gill in Boston. It was the inspired suggestion of Barbara Heritage to build a press based on the Encyclopédie engravings. By good fortune Roger had seen a surviving press of very similar design on display in the print shop of the Louvre in Paris some years earlier. This made the Encyclopédie the perfect source as its accuracy, as well as a number of constructional details, which could be verified by examination of a contemporary press. The Chalcographie du Louvre press is now in storage at the Atelier des Arts, Chalcographie et Moulage at St Denis to the North of Paris where Roger spent a day photographing and measuring, in preparation for his new press.

Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 10.39.45 AM
Robert Bernard (b. 1734) after Jacques Goussier (1722–1799). Imprimerie en taille-douce, Développement de la Presse, in Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 7 (plates). Paris, 1769.

Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 10.42.18 AM
The Chalcographie du Louvre press at the Atelier des Arts, Chalcographie et Moulage at St Denis. Photograph by Roger Gaskell.

The use of working replicas gives students and researchers access to the technologies of book production that shaped the transmission of texts and images. Traditionally, the production of literary texts has driven the development of bibliography, bibliographical teaching, and the bibliographical press movement. But it has also long been understood that the ability to print images in multiples was as revolutionary for the development of other disciplines, including medicine, science, technology and travel literature, as the printing of texts has been to religious movements and imaginative literature. At UVa and Rare Book School, students and researchers can now work with the two – and only two – printing technologies responsible for all book production before the nineteenth century: relief and intaglio printing. There we can develop the habits of mind necessary to understand the implications of the extraordinary synergy of mind, body and machine which shaped the modern world in the west. Presses like these were used to print engravings and etchings for collectors, popular broadsides and ballads, indeed all kinds of ephemera as well as printed books.

 

2017-05-23 16.07.02
Erin Schreiner, the rolling press, and prints in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, UVa

As a discipline, bibliography has been shaped by its leading scholars’ interests in English drama, poetry, and fiction, and in incunabula. Scholars working in the history of art and science, and anyone working with books on travel and exploration, are at a bibliographical loss – it’s hard to understand why an illustrated book came to be the way it is because bibliographical literature (with a very few exceptions) does not address the problems raised by printing in non-letterpress media. What’s more, this problem extends beyond rolling press printed matter and the handpress period and into twentieth century non-letterpress materials made on mimeograph, ditto, and Xerox machines. Much of the work by media historians is rightly viewed with skepticism by the bibliographical community, yet this community has not yet figured out how to think about printed matter that isn’t made from folded sheets of letterpress.

Printing is the work of the body as much as it is the work of the mind; it’s time to roll up our sleeves. Particularly in the absence of substantial archival records of rolling press printers and intaglio plate artists, we must get our bodies behind the press to confront the constraints of printing for books from intaglio plates. We need to print images and put them in books, we need to confront the reality of doing this in multiples (and probably also in debt), and in coordination with the production of letterpress text. Doing this work will make way for the kind of grounded thinking about print that makes for good scholarship.

IMG_0187
Megan McNamee, RBS Mellon Fellow & A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery, pulls a print on the Rare Book School Copperplate Replica Press. 

Roger Gaskell is a scholar and bookseller, now living and working in Wales. He teaches The Illustrated Scientific Book to 1800 course bi-annually at Rare Book School, and teaches a regular seminar, Science in Print in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Cambridge.

Categories
Dispatches from the Archives

Let the Right Women In

by guest contributor Yung In Chae

When professional troll James Delingpole recently bemoaned in the Spectator the demise of “a real Oxbridge education” at the hands of misguided social justice initiatives, professional classicist Mary Beard ended her response with the following postscript: “… when I quickly scanned the first link I was sent and saw the phrase ‘sterile, conformist monoculture’ applied to Oxbridge, I assumed that you were referring to what Oxbridge was like when it was a blokeish public school monoculture before the women and the others were ‘let in’! Whoops.”

Beard implies that there is a sterile, conformist Oxbridge to react against, but that it’s not the one Delingpole is thinking of—and that it exists more in the past than the present. So what is this “blokeish public school monoculture” that Beard references, and how did it fade? If we wish to restore the context that Delingpole so sorely lacks, with a view to understanding why his tantrum is not only plain wrong but also founded on troubling premises, this strikes me as an important missing piece of the puzzle. We can do so with relative ease, thanks to a book whose title has a poetic resonance with Beard’s ironic comment that women were “let in”: Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation (2016) by Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Professor of History Emeritus and former Dean of the College at Princeton University.

On October 31, 2016, I went to a talk in honor of Keep the Damned Women Out at the Institute of Historical Research in London. It was appropriate that the event took place on Halloween, because, as I learned from Malkiel that evening, the main actors—with the exception of Mary Ingraham Bunting of Radcliffe College, yes, all men—found the prospect of women infiltrating male educational spaces very scary indeed. The book itself is no less intimidating: fire-engine red and, at almost seven hundred pages, as thick as my thumb is long. On the cover, the title stands out in large font and harsh invective, the heartwarming contribution of a Dartmouth alumnus who wrote in 1970 to the Chair of the Board of Trustees: “For God’s sake, for Dartmouth’s sake, and for everyone’s sake, keep the damned women out.”

“And he could not have been more typical in his sentiments,” Malkiel commented before pointing out more instances of thinly veiled contempt, rife among the elite institutions that form the core of her book—elite institutions, she clarified, because that’s where the story is. (She added in response to a post-lecture question that the most elite of the elite were especially slow to change because if you’ve been doing things a particular way for centuries to great success, you think, don’t fix what isn’t broken.) Some choice quotes from my own alma mater, Princeton, include a description of coeducation as a “death wish” and concern that women would “dilute Princeton’s sturdy masculinity.” We even see prudent consideration of finances: “A good old-fashioned whorehouse would be considerably more efficient, and much, much cheaper.”

Then how, in the face of such outrage, did the damned women sneak in? Something Malkiel made clear upfront was that admitting the women had little to do with educating them. In fact, women had little to do with the story at all. This story, like so many other stories, was about men: their interests, actions, and even their defeats (in the struggle against coeducation). Furthermore, coeducation was not the mission of men who had “drunk the social justice Kool-Aid,” as Delingpole would say. That is, coeducation did not happen because of “a high-minded moral commitment,” but because “it was in the strategic self-interest of all-male institutions.” This was true in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Malkiel added.

But let us examine the two places separately for a moment in order to tease out what such strategic self-interest entailed, exactly. In the late 1960s, the top American schools began to see declining application numbers and yield rates, as men decided that they no longer wanted to attend single-sex institutions. Harvard, for example, started pulling students away from Princeton and Yale because it had Radcliffe up the street, when previously the three had been neck-and-neck. It became clear that women were key to attracting and retaining the “best boys.”

Women played “the instrumental role of improving the educational experience of men,” so their own educational experiences were, unsurprisingly, less than ideal. One Dartmouth oceanographer included pictures of naked women when presenting a list of sea creatures. The Chair of Yale’s History department responded to a request for a women’s history course by saying that that would be like teaching the history of dogs. Again at Dartmouth, the song “Our Cohogs” (cohog being a derogatory term for coeds) won a fraternity-wide songwriting competition, and afterwards the judge, the Dean of the College, joined the winners in performing ten verses of sexual insults.

Around this time, there was a wave of social change, including the civil rights movement (incidentally, Malkiel’s last book to have the word “struggle” in the title was Whitney M. Young, Jr., and the Struggle for Civil Rights), the anti-war movement, and the women’s movement, the effects of which were felt in Europe as well. The composition of student bodies started to shift, as universities admitted more state-educated students, students from lower-income backgrounds, Catholic and Jewish students, and African-American students. Women were the natural next step. Men and women were also voting and protesting together, so it began to seem strange that they should not be educated together.

In the UK, Oxford’s and Cambridge’s prestige made the “best boys” problem less likely. Nevertheless, they found themselves competing for talent with newly-founded universities, which had modern approaches to education and no history of gender segregation. (Keep in mind that by the 1970s, Oxbridge had been educating women for about a century at separate women’s colleges, even though mixed colleges were a novelty.) Simultaneously, there was a push to triple student bodies through broader recruitment at state schools. At that point it felt silly to draw the diversity line at women.

Competition within the same university was another consideration. The first colleges in Oxbridge to admit women were generally not the most prestigious, richest ones, and they did so partly to climb the league tables. Indeed, women’s colleges sat at the top of the tables at the time, and coeducation was a way to steal not only the top women students but also the accomplished men who wanted to be educated with them.

In the British case, unlike its American counterpart, the faculty played the largest role in implementing coeducation, with the Fellows of Churchill College, Cambridge even overriding the objects of the Master, noted antifeminist Sir William Hawthorne. (As Lawrence Goldman, the Director of the IHR, noted in Q&A, you have a much smaller number of men making the decisions at each college, and they were all in residence and thus continuously interacting with each other.) And in contrast to the horror stories from the Ivy League, we have no evidence of women being harassed or asked for the “woman’s point of view” at Oxbridge—which, of course, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Overall, the process of integration seems to have gone smoothly, and women continued to do well.

“Are we there yet?” Malkiel asked toward the end of the talk. Clearly, issues remain: Gill Sutherland, a fellow emerita of Newnham College, Cambridge and a preeminent historian of education and women, happened to be in the audience, and she pointed out that a pyramid scheme still exists when it comes to women graduate students and faculty. And the mere fact that the Spectator gave Delingpole a soapbox shows that class, in addition to gender, persists as a problem. Nevertheless, Malkiel chose to end her talk on a confident note, saying that we’re “well on our way.” Are we where yet? Well on our way to what? Malkiel didn’t clarify. If anything, her copious research shows that coeducation was not one step on the road leading to A More Perfect University, but the result of complex, sometimes questionable decisions. The narrative is less about progress than it is about change.

Change does happen, and it can happen with such force that people forget things were ever any other way. Malkiel noted that at Cambridge and Oxford, respectively, Eric Ashby and Hrothgar Habakkuk assuaged some fears by saying that coeducation would be like the removal of the celibacy requirement for fellows a century earlier, which nobody gave a second thought about by the 1970s. But change hardly removes the traces of the past. As Goldman—who went to university during the final years of single-sex Cambridge—said in his introductory remarks, “You get so old, eventually they start writing history about your own experiences.” One day they’ll start writing history about yours.

Yung In Chae is the Associate Editor of Eidolon and an MPhil Candidate in Classics at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Read more of her work here.

Categories
Dispatches from the Archives

Mandate Agent, Colonial Subject, and Jewish Citizen : Jamil Sasson

by guest contributor James Casey

On a chilly winter day in 1941 Jamil Sasson, a Syrian employee of the French Mandate bureaucracy, sent a letter to the Secrétaire général du Haut-Commissariat de la République Française en Syrie et au Liban to protest his termination and loss of pension. “Permit me,” Sasson wrote, to underscore the essential French “principle of equality for all.” (1/SL/20/150) This was not merely the protest of a disgruntled former employee: Jamil Sasson was a Syrian Jew who had lost his position in the civil administration of the French Mandate after the application of Vichy’s antisemitic laws to French overseas territories. Based on the records of his  professional duties, it seems he was also a spy.

Sassondossier
The cover tab on Jamil Sasson’s personnel file. From the Centre des Archives diplomatiques de Nantes.

The French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon (1920-1946) marked the zenith of the French empire in the Middle East but came with novel legal and political constraints. France held the former Ottoman territories that today comprise Lebanon and Syria under the auspices of a League of Nations Class A Mandate trust territory. France was obliged as the Mandatory power (in theory if not always in practice) to safeguard the rights, property, and religious affairs of the people of the trust territory and to answer for their conduct to a Permanent Mandates Commission that sat in Geneva (62-64).

SyrianJewsDamascusSynagog1953
Grand Rabbi of Damascus Hakam Nessm Inudbu at the Synagogue of El Efrange with three companions. (United States National Archives/RG84 Syria Damascus Embassy General Records/1950-1955/510-570.3)

Jamil Sasson was not a French citizen, but the French state that ruled Syria purged him from his profession, rendered him destitute, and sent police to toss his residence in much the same frightening way that French Jews experienced the onset of Vichy. Sasson’s situation underscores how the bureaucratic state can quickly dehumanize and dispossess; what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” It is also a reminder of the poor practical defense that the idea of equality could offer in the face of bigotry and bureaucratic inertia. Sasson, a Francophone Arab Jew from Damascus, was a trusted interlocutor between the Muslim and Christian religious hierarchies and the French officials in the Contrôle des Wakfs. Personally and professionally, he navigated multiple overlapping and sometimes contradictory worlds. His experience offers granular insights for historians of modern Syria and the French empire. It also should interest scholars concerned with citizenship and those interested in the relationship between individuals and state power. Few individuals in the French Mandate could or did cross the borders  – geographic, political, sectarian, linguistic – that Sasson did, let alone with ease or credibility.

Sasson’s personnel records show he was nominally employed as a secrétaire interprète in the Contrôle des Wakfs et de l’Immatriculation foncière; the department charged with overseeing the administration and management of pious endowment property, or waqf. My dissertation research strongly suggests that his duties consisted of espionage and administrative surveillance, rather than clerical work. His French superior Philippe Gennardi, Délégué du Haute-Commissariat auprès du Contrôle Générale des Wakfs, saw Sasson as a lynchpin of a surveillance and intelligence gathering apparatus. This apparatus, controlled by Gennardi, functioned separately from the formal security and intelligence services of the French Mandate. Evidence I assembled from the superficially mundane ephemera of bureaucracy – performance reviews in personal files, receipts submitted for reimbursement, back-and-forth correspondence between different Mandate departments over whose budget should pay Sasson’s salary – indicate that Sasson was an integral figure supporting a sophisticated, semi-autonomous surveillance and human intelligence operation run by Gennardi, focused on waqf (Islamic pious endowments) as a surveillance space. This is a story that is essentially absent from the records of the Service de renseignement, the Mandate’s formal security-intelligence service and from scholarship on the Mandate. Gennardi explicitly described that Sasson’s duties defied his prosaic job title to justify Sasson’s salary in budgetary disputes with his superiors: Sasson was in constant communication with all local administrations and managed the French Mandate’s day-to-day relations with the heads of all of the religious sects in the Mandate. This partnership between French official and Syrian Jewish civil servant was a critical, if understudied element of the formal and informal surveillance capacity of the Mandate state. That is, until the the Fall of France, the installation of Maréchal Pétain in Vichy, and Sasson’s sacking.        

On July 20th, 1943 Sasson wrote to his longtime superior Gennardi, with whom he appears to have been close. He had yet been unsuccessful in either returning to his position in the administration or receiving a pension, even after the defeat of the Vichy-aligned administration in the Mandate by Free French and British Commonwealth forces in the summer of 1941. Since first protesting his dismissal at the beginning of 1941, “I have had to abandon all hope of justice given the circumstances and my religion.” Thus Sasson was dispatched by the security machinery of the state, of which he had once surreptitiously been a part.

It is challenging to situate a figure like Sasson in much of the historiography of twentieth century Syria. Notwithstanding more recent scholarship, the Anglo-French historiography of modern Syrian history pivots from elite nationalism under French rule to a series of military coups after independence, and ultimately to the coming of the Baʾth Party. Jamil Sasson’s biography does not fit neatly into this standard narrative. He was born in Damascus in the Ottoman province of Syria, the French Mandate state recorded his nationality as Syrian, and he frequently moved back and forth across the borders of the Mandates for Syria and Lebanon and the British Mandate for Palestine where he had family. He spoke French, worked in the Mandate administration, and was Jewish in his religion. He stood out to senior French administrators in the Mandate and local Christian and Muslim religious chiefs as someone reliable. While his nationality was Syrian, he did not enjoy the protections of citizenship.

Sasson worked for the French Mandate state in a historical context in which Jews (as well as Christians and Muslims) had been intermediaries in commerce and diplomacy during the Ottoman Empire (178-79, see also Michelle Campos, Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-century Palestine, 62-63). Many Jews in the Arab provinces, along with Christians and Muslims, embraced the Ottoman state’s fitful attempts to impose equal citizenship (147). Cast against his sectarian background, Sasson’s personal and professional profile was both complex and quotidian: he played a key role in building the Mandate state, but does not fit the profile of a nationalist hero or a collaborator. Sasson had a government job that was not glamorous on paper, but he performed specialized, sensitive work on issues of religious faith, custodianship and care of pious endowment property, and he carefully built and maintained relationships across sectarian lines, relationships that could be prickly in the best of times. Sasson’s appeal to legal and personal protection in the principle of equality for all speaks to the paradox that defined the interwar period: the vast expansion of rights and international peace-affirming institutions built on the Wilsonian idea of popular sovereignty could not be reconciled with prevailing systems of unequal citizenship, colonialism, and racism. Indeed, formal independence for Syria in 1946 did not resolve this tension, either for national sovereignty or equal citizenship: the postwar United Nations provided better but still unequal international forum and meaningful equal citizenship in independent Syria remained elusive under liberal parliamentary and military regimes alike.

nationalguardIDbooklet
Front and back cover of an identification booklet issued to citizen members of the national guard of the Syrian Republic under French tutelage.

Ideas about “equality for all,” like the institution of responsible French trusteeship of the League of Nations Mandate for Syria seemed to support broad rights, representation, and protection. In practice, they overpromised and underdelivered. The “principle of equality for all” amounted to little practical protection for Sasson by the time he wrote his appeal, yet the idea of equality remained the basis for his case. Equality, as a legal framework, was not sufficiently institutionalized to provide tangible protections. However, equality as an idea persisted.

A number of contemporary tensions reflect the the interwar period that produced the French Mandate in Syria: inadequate yet expanding possibilities of legal personhood and protections for more people; an international system invested with such promise and possibility for peace, but seemingly defined by its inability to prevent conflict; chilling attempts to legally enshrine “extreme vetting” of purported traitors within and enemies without. The discourse of human rights, legal personhood, and citizenship that Sasson invoked in 1941 resonates now with even greater urgency. We would do well to take heed of the experience of a man who found that his world no longer had a place for him.

James Casey is a PhD candidate in the History Department at Princeton University. His dissertation examines the relationship of pious endowment properties to the development of state surveillance capacity in Syria between 1920-1960. He holds an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from The University of Texas at Austin and was a Fulbright Fellow in Syria from 2008-9.

Categories
Dispatches from the Archives

Stefan Collini’s Ford Lectures: ‘History in English criticism, 1919-1961’

by guest contributor Joshua Bennett

A distinctive feature of the early years of the Cambridge English Tripos (examination system), in which close “practical criticism” of individual texts was balanced by the study of the “life, literature, and thought” surrounding them, was that the social and intellectual background to literature acquired an equivalent importance to that of literature itself. Stefan Collini’s Ford Lectures, in common with his essay collections, Common Reading and Common Writing, have over the past several weeks richly demonstrated that the literary critics who were largely the products of that Tripos can themselves be read and historicized in that spirit. Collini, whose resistance to the disciplinary division between the study of literature and that of intellectual history has proved so fruitful over many years, has focused on six literary critics in his lecture series: T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, L. C. Knights, Basil Willey, William Empson, and Raymond Williams. All, with the exception of Eliot, were educated at Cambridge; and all came to invest the enterprise of literary criticism with a particular kind of missionary importance in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century. Collini has been concerned to explore the intellectual and public dynamics of that mission, by focusing on the role of history in these critics’ thought and work. His argument has been twofold. First, he has emphasized that the practice of literary criticism is always implicitly or explicitly historical in nature. The second, and more intellectual-historical, element of his case has consisted in the suggestion that literary critics offered a certain kind of “cultural history” to the British public sphere. By using literary and linguistic evidence in order to unlock the “whole way of life” of previous forms of English society, and to reach qualitative judgements about “the standard of living” in past and present, critics occupied territory vacated by professional historians at the time, while also contributing to wider debates about twentieth-century societal conditions.

Collini’s lectures did not attempt to offer a full history of the development of English as a discipline in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, they raised larger questions for those interested in the history of the disciplines both of English and History in twentieth-century Britain, and what such histories can reveal about the wider social and cultural conditions in which they took shape. How should the findings from Collini’s penetrating microscope modify, or provide a framework for, our view of these larger organisms?

First, a question arises as to the relationship between the kind of historical criticism pursued by Collini’s largely Cantabrigian dramatis personae, and specific institutions and educational traditions. E. M. W. Tillyard’s mildly gossipy memoir of his involvement in the foundation of the Cambridge English Tripos, published in 1958 under the title of The Muse Unchained, recalls an intellectual environment of the 1910s and 1920s in which the study of literature was exciting because it was a way of opening up the world of ideas. The English Tripos, he held, offered a model of general humane education—superior to Classics, the previous such standard—through which the ideals of the past might nourish the present. There is a recognizable continuity between these aspirations, and the purposes of the cultural history afterwards pursued under the auspices of literary criticism by the subsequent takers of that Tripos whom Collini discussed—several of whom began their undergraduate studies as historians.

But how far did the English syllabuses of other universities, and the forces driving their creation and development, also encourage a turn towards cultural history, and how did they shape the kind of cultural history that was written? Tillyard’s account is notably disparaging of philological approaches to English studies, of the kind which acquired and preserved a considerably greater prominence in Oxford’s Honour School of “English Language and Literature”—a significant pairing—from 1896. Did this emphasis contribute to an absence of what might be called “cultural-historical” interest among Oxford’s literary scholars, or alternatively give it a particular shape? Widening the canvas beyond Oxbridge, it is surely also important to heed the striking fact that England was one of the last countries in Europe in which widespread university interest in the study of English literature took shape. If pressed to single out any one individual as having been responsible for the creation of the “modern” form of the study of English Literature in the United Kingdom—a hazardous exercise, certainly—one could do worse than to alight upon the Anglo-Scottish figure of Herbert Grierson. Grierson, who was born in Shetland in 1866 and died in 1960, was appointed to the newly-created Regius Chalmers Chair of English at Aberdeen in 1894, before moving to take up a similar position in Edinburgh in 1915. In his inaugural lecture at Edinburgh, Grierson argued for the autonomy of the study of English literature from that of British history. As Cairns Craig has recently pointed out, however, an evaluative kind of “cultural history” is unmistakably woven into his writings on the poetry of John Donne—which for Grierson prefigured the psychological realism of the modern novel—and his successors. For Grierson, the cultural history of the modern world was structured by a conflict between religion, humanism, and science—evident in the seventeenth century, and in the nineteenth—to which literature itself offered, in the present day, a kind of antidote. Grierson’s conception of literature registered his own difficulties with the Free Church religion of his parents, as well, perhaps, as the abiding influence of the broad Scottish university curriculum—combining study of the classics, philosophy, psychology and rhetoric—which he had encountered as an undergraduate prior to the major reforms of Scottish higher education begun in 1889. Did the heroic generation of Cambridge-educated critics, then, create and disseminate a kind of history inconceivable without the English Tripos? Or did they offer more of a local instantiation of a wider “mind of Britain”? A general history of English studies in British universities, developing for example some of the themes discussed in William Whyte’s recent Redbrick, is certainly a desideratum.

Collini partly defined literary critics’ cultural-historical interests in contradistinction to a shadowy “Other”: professional historians, who were preoccupied not by culture but by archives, charters and pipe-rolls. As Collini pointed out, the word “culture”—and so the enterprise of “cultural history”—has admitted of several senses in different times and in the usage of different authors. The kind of cultural history which critics felt they could not find among professional historians, and which accordingly they themselves had to supply, centered on an understanding of lived experience in the past; and on identifying the roots—and so, perhaps, the correctives—to their present discontents. This raises a second interesting problem, the answer to which should be investigated rather than assumed: what exactly became of “cultural history” in these senses within the British historical profession between around 1920 and 1960?

Peter Burke and Peter Ghosh have alike argued that the growing preoccupation of academic history with political history in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries acted regrettably to constrict that universal application of historical method to all facets of human societies which the Enlightenment first outlined in terms of “conjectural history.” This thesis is true in its main outlines. But there were ways in which cultural history retained a presence in British academic history in the period of what Michael Bentley thinks of as historiographical “modernism,” prior to the transformative interventions of Keith Thomas, E. P. Thompson and others in the 1960s and afterwards. In the field of religious history, for example, Christopher Dawson – while holding the title of “Lecturer in the History of Culture” at University College, Exeter—published a collection of essays in 1933 entitled Enquiries into religion and culture. English study of socioeconomic history in the interwar and postwar years also often extended to, or existed in tandem with, interest in what can only be described as “culture.” Few episodes might appear as far removed from cultural history as the “storm over the gentry,” for example—a debate over the social origins of the English Civil War that was played out chiefly in the pages of the Economic History Review in the 1940s and 1950s. But the first book of one of the main participants in that controversy, Lawrence Stone, was actually a study entitled Sculpture in Britain: the middle ages, published in 1955 in the Pelican History of Art series. Although Stone came to regard it as a diversion from his main interests, its depictions of a flourishing artistic culture in late-medieval Britain, halted by the Reformation, may still be read as a kind of cultural-historical counterpart to his better-known arguments for the importance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a period of social upheaval. If it is true that literary criticism is always implicitly or explicitly historical, perhaps it is also true that few kinds of history have been found to be wholly separable from cultural history, broadly defined.

Joshua Bennett is a Junior Research Fellow in History at Christ Church, Oxford.