Tracing the history of the Palestinian diaspora through an object

Norris, Jacob (2017) Tracing the history of the Palestinian diaspora through an object. In: Raheb, Mitri (ed.) Diaspora and identity: the case of Palestine. Diyar, Bethlehem, Palestine, pp. 11-26. ISBN 1974693252

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Historians and social scientists have long found material objects to be a fruitful source for exploring the ways diasporic communities remember and re-enact their collective identities. In the Palestinian case, numerous studies have discussed the importance of objects in fashioning an identity of diasporic exile, as well as in maintaining strong emotional ties to the homeland, whether formulated as a national space or more localised attachments to town or village. While shedding important light on the contemporary Palestinian condition, these studies pre-suppose that objects such as keys, dresses, books and photographs have only acquired significance in the wake of the enforced exile of 1948. They are described purely as facilitators of memory and nostalgia rather than as possible routes into the past itself. This paper suggests objects have a much longer and more multi-faceted role in the history of the Palestinian diaspora. As historians are well aware, the Palestinian diaspora, or mahjar as it was largely referred to before 1948, has its roots deep in the nineteenth century. But unlike the movements produced by the nakba of 1948, the earlier history of this diaspora was spurred largely by opportunity and choice. At least until the mid 1920s, migrants were able to move in and out of Palestine with relative ease, meaning more circular patterns of movement developed. In this context objects play a different role. They are catalysts of movement itself and they become invested with a complex series of meanings that revolve less around imagining the past and more around the here and now of migrant experience. They allow us unique insights into the worldview and economic strategies of the people who laid the foundations of the Palestinian diaspora.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: Diaspora, Palestine, Middle East
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Research Centres and Groups: The Middle East and North Africa Centre at Sussex
Subjects: D History General and Old World
D History General and Old World > DS History of Asia > DS041 Middle East. Southwestern Asia. Ancient Orient. Arab East. Near East
D History General and Old World > DS History of Asia > DS101 Israel (Palestine)
Depositing User: Jacob Norris
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2018 09:08
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2018 11:46
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