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Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia

Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia

Tue, Feb 9, 2021, 12 noon to 1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time (UTC-5)

Register here.

Dr. Rosie Bsheer, in conversation with Professor Robert Vitalis, for a lecture and conversation on the politics of history in Saudi Arabia.

The production of history is premised on the selective erasure of certain pasts and the artifacts that stand witness to them. From the elision of archival documents to the demolition of sacred and secular spaces, each act of destruction is also an act of state building. Following the 1991 Gulf War, political elites in Saudi Arabia pursued these dual projects of historical commemoration and state formation with greater fervor to enforce their postwar vision for state, nation, and economy. Seeing Islamist movements as the leading threat to state power, they sought to de-center religion from educational, cultural, and spatial policies. In this talk, Bsheer explores the increasing secularization of the postwar Saudi state and how it manifested in assembling a national archive and reordering urban space in Riyadh and Mecca.

Speaker Biographies:

Rosie Bsheer is a historian of the modern Middle East. Her teaching and research interests center on Arab intellectual and social movements, petro-capitalism and state formation, and the production of historical knowledge and commemorative spaces. She is the author of Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia (Stanford University Press, October 2020). She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on oil and empire, social and intellectual movements, petro-modernity, political economy, historiography, and the making of the modern Middle East. She is Associate Producer of the 2007 Oscar-nominated film My Country, My Country, Co-Editor of Jadaliyya E-zine, and Associate Editor of Tadween Publishing.

Bsheer’s work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the Whiting Foundation, and the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life. She received her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University (2014) and comes to Harvard University from Yale University, where she was Assistant Professor of History (2014–2018). She is the recipient of the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching at Yale University (2017) and Yale College’s Sarai Ribicoff ‘75 Award for the Encouragement of Teaching (2018).

Robert Vitalis joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in July 1999 as associate professor of political science and director of the Middle East Center. He stepped down as Center director in July 2006. Penn promoted him to full professor in July 2008.

Vitalis received his Ph.D. in political science from MIT in 1989. His graduate work included a three-year residence in Cairo where he studied Arabic and researched the political strategies of Egyptian business firms. His first book, When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt, was published in 1995. The Organization of American Historians awarded him the Bernath Prize in 1996 for his work on Egypt’s political economy.

He has continued to develop and expand the scope of his interests in historical comparative analysis in his second book, America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier, which was published in October 2006 by Stanford University Press, and named a book of the year in The Guardian.

Recent honors include fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation (2003), the Woodrow Wilson International Center (2002), the International Center for Advanced Study, NYU (2002), and the American Council of Learned Societies (2002). He was a MacArthur Award nominee in 1998.

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