- Fellowship year:2015-2016
- University: Indiana University
- Dissertation Topic/Category: Middle East
- Dissertation Title: Cultural Negotiation on the Trans-Jordan Frontier: Arabs, Circassians and Empire, 1878-1939
The meaning and value of cultural differences in present-day societies are hotly contested in debates over multiculturalism, demographic change, and global migration, yet research on diversity in past socieities has much to contribute. Focusing on the area that is now Jordan, this research moves beyond stereotypes of 'Middle Eastern fanaticism' and 'age-old', intractable conflicts to show how individuals, communities, and state institutions in the central Levant navigated the upheavals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Over a period of forty years, Muslim Circassians fled Russian expansion into the Caucasus and some found their way to present-day Jordan, where local Arab residents and the Circassian immigrants engaged in complex negotiations amongst themselves and with central authorities of the Ottoman then British Mandatory administrations, reaching stable coexistence in the emerging state. Rather than treating conflict as a finite set of violent incidents ended by external forces and parties, this project instead frames Circassian-Arab relations as a long-term, multi-generational process during which groups and individuals engaged in competition, alliance-building, and negotiation, where violence was only one of many strategies local residents adopted. This thesis seeks to identify the crucial factors in their intra- and inter-cultural relations to explain how negotiation and accommodation of differences contributed to a society in which most Circassians maintained a separate culture, language, and identity while also participating in mainstream political, economic, and civic life.
This research builds on historical analyses by other scholars of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Middle Eastern conflicts, who argue that these events resulted from particular social stresses caused by changing geopolitical and economic circumstances. Though some narratives frame Circassians and Arabs in generalized terms as uncritical agents of Ottoman authority and an oppressed majority denied self-determination, these erase the diversity and agency of the people appearing in the historical sources. Local court records, oral history interviews, an Ottoman imperial documents illuminate the diversity of experiences for those arriving at different times, living in different places, and belonging to different generations; the sources also highlight various parties' unease concerning the potential for conflict among and resulting consequences for residents. Contrasted with these anxieties, the rich body of court records show how a wide range of people embraced the court system for cases within and between various communities, demonstrating that state institutions were thus tools and arenas of negotiation. Ranging from violent confrontation, to litigation in civil and religious courts, to alliance-making, locals' inter-personal negotiations took diverse forms over multiple generations. By focusing on continuities and long-term interactions between older and newer residents of the region, this project seeks to better understand how extended processes of intra-cultural change and inter-cultural exchange have unfolded in this case, but also how this society over time came to terms with, reinterpreted, and understood cultural difference.