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Looking at British Mandate Palestine through different lenses

Researchers Karène Sanchez and Sary Zananiri tell us about their research project CrossRoads, which investigates Christian communities during British Mandate Palestine (1918-1948) through cultural and linguistic lenses. The project was awarded a VIDI grant by NWO in 2017.

What is the project CrossRoads about?

The CrossRoads project looks at Christian communities in British Mandate Palestine, in relation to their Muslim and Jewish peers, and the ways in which they connected to Europe through cultural and linguistic lenses. Cultural diplomacy is a relatively recent field of study. 

For us it involves looking at the various interconnections through both religious and secular organisations, but also individual actors, Arab and European.  We’re primarily focusing on the Arab Orthodox and Melkite communities, who were two of the largest Christian communities in British Mandate Palestine. 

Cultural and linguistic lenses
Collectively, we’ve looked at ways in which these groups interacted with their religious hierarchies, the ways in which European missionaries introduced educational infrastructure, language and cultural centres, the role of multilingualism.

We’re also looking at cultural production more generally, particularly iconography produced by Christian Arabs and the amazing Frank Scholten photographic collection owned by NINO, that tells us so much about Ottoman communalism at the beginning of the British Mandate, but also gives us an important sense of transnational queer history.

Frank Scholten c.1920-23, courtesy of The Netherlands Institute for the Near East (NINO)

You are now hosting a conference at Leiden University. What do you hope to achieve?

Imaging and Imagining Palestine is a very exciting conference that is bringing together world experts from Europe, North America and the Middle East who have been looking at photography in the region. The first photograph of Jerusalem was taken almost immediately after photography was invented in 1839, making it one of the first places outside Europe to be imaged.  Photography has many implications for the study of the region from its scientific uses in fields like archaeology and anthropology to images for popular consumption both locally and in the West and there are even some cases of photography being used for espionage, particularly in the lead up to the First World War.  By researching photography during the British Mandate, we can begin to understand the ways in which the region and its people were framed by both Western photographers and Arab Palestinian ones as well as the ways these images circulated, how they were consumed, not to mention the important question of who was consuming them, which begins to give us a sense of the ways in which Palestine and Europe connect.

Book publishing
The papers produced for the conference are going to be turned into a book of the same name with Brill.  It will think through the implications of photography from Wasif Jawhariyyeh’s collected albums to the use of photography to understand urban planning, from academic collections to queer narrative as well as strategies for decolonising photography.

Muslim school boys c. 1921-1923 Frank Scholten (courtesy of NINO)

Tell us a bit more on the events that are open to the public.

There are 4 public events attached to Imaging and Imagining Palestine

Public lecture

The conference opens on Wednesday night with a public lecture called Flanneurism, Spectacle and Modernity in the Photographic Albums of Wasif Jawhariyyeh by the esteemed historian Salim Tamari. He will be talking about Wasif Jawhariyyeh, the famous musician and flâneur of Jerusalem.  It will be followed by Orienting the Tour with Sarah Irving, who will be joining the CrossRoads team as part of the Aspasia grant attached to the VIDI project CrossRoads.  She’ll be talking about Stephan Hanna Stephan, a Palestinian archaeologist who wrote a number of travel guides in English for British troops stationed in Palestine.

Round table discussion

On Thursday we’re holding This Transnational Paradise, a round table discussion with Stephen Sheehi, Özge Calafato, Yazan Kopty and Sary Zananiri, which will moderated by Mark Westmoreland.  We’ll each be discussing an image that reflects the ways changing ways in which Palestine connected to the world as Ottoman rule gave way to the British Mandate.

Photography viewing

Finally, on Friday, we have A rare viewing of the Frank Scholten collection.  The last time Scholten’s work was exhibited was in London in 1924, so it’s a great opportunity to think about the ways in which this enigmatic Dutchman framed the different communities living in Palestine in the early 1920s.  The collection also gives us a rare glimpse into queer life in the region.

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