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Arabic & Islamic Studies

Research projects which are assisted by the NVIC in the field of Arabic studies.

Research fellow at NVIC 2014-2015: Ilka Eickhof

Ilka Eickhof, PhD-student
March 2014  

It now has been exactly a month since I started my position at NVIC, and after a hasty semester end at Freie University Berlin just two days before I arrived in Cairo, I very much enjoyed the unhurried pace of the first weeks at the institute. The welcome here in Cairo was great and very easygoing, giving me the feeling that I have been part of the team for already some time.  

Due to the teaching experiences I gathered at my former position as a lecturer and research assistant at Freie University Berlin (Center for Middle Eastern and North African Politics), as one of my first tasks at NVIC I have been asked to put together a syllabus for our students. The program combines theoretical approaches from different research areas such as Cultural Studies and Postcolonial Theory, Sociology, Political Sciences and Regional Studies, and is interwoven with a cultural program (excursions to historical sites, screening of relevant films within our weekly film and lecture program), as well as introducing various topic-related local initiatives. Besides the course work and partly organizing the weekly lectures, I am working on the film program, together with my colleagues Ruth Vandewalle, who has been introducing the screenings at NVIC for the past years, and one of NVIC’s guest researchers, Ifdal Elsaket, both passionate experts on Egyptian films. After finishing up the leftovers of my previous position due to the just recently ended winter term, I am more than happy to dive back into my research on foreign funding of cultural productions in Cairo in the past three years, of which I will present a glimpse in one of the upcoming lectures here at NVIC.

Guest Researcher at NVIC 2014-2015: Josephine van den Bent

Guest Researcher at NVIC 2014-2015: Josephine van den Bent

May 2015 

The mid-thirteenth century was a turbulent time in the Middle East. The Mamluks in Egypt deposed their Ayyubid predecessors and former masters in 648/1250, founding a sultanate that soon came to include Syria (in 658/1260) and which remained in power until 923/1517. These Mamluks were non-Arabs, who had come to Egypt asmamluks, military slaves, predominantly imported from Turkic areas in Central Asia (and in later periods from the Caucasus). The establishment of Mamluk rule coincided with the Mongol advance into the part of the Muslim world that we now refer to as the Middle East. These nomads from the steppes of Inner Asia had embarked on a series of conquests under the leadership of Chingghis Khan, and had rapidly subjugated China and the lands of Central Asia, before moving westwards. Consequently, the new rulers were soon confronted with the threat of Mongol invasion. While the first recorded military contact between the Mamluks and the Mongols took place during the latter’s attempt to conquer Syria in 658/1260, news of their violent subjugation of Muslim lands farther East had reached Egypt well before that. Especially the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in 656/1258, with its widely reported massacres and the murder of the Abbasid caliph Al-Mustaʿṣim (r. 640/1242-656/1258), sent shockwaves through the Islamic world.  
At the battle at ʿAyn Jālūt, in the Jezreel Valley in Galilee, on 25 Ramaḍān 658/3 September 1260, the Mamluks succeeded in defeating the Mongols. This led to protracted hostilities between the Mamluks and the Mongols of the Ilkhanate, a state ruled by Chinggis Khan’s grandson Hülegü, and which was centred in Persia. The so-called Mamluk-Ilkhanid War lasted from 658/1260 until 680/1281, and was followed by a period of incessant latent conflict that lasted more than sixty years.  To further complicate matters, Egypt’s new rulers had to deal with more than one group of Mongols: on the one hand, there were the Mongols of the Ilkhanate. In the Russian steppes, however, another Mongol khanate had arisen, that of the Golden Horde. The Mamluks developed friendly diplomatic relations with this khanate from the early 1260s onwards, and they were their most important ally in the struggle against the Ilkhanids  

The relationship between the Mamluks and the Mongols has been the subject of much scholarly discussion, especially the war aspect, diplomatic relations and possible Mongol cultural influences on the Mamluks and their empire. But as yet, there has been no critical analysis of Mamluk representations of Mongols, a gap in the scholarship that  I will attempt to – at least partially – fill by means of my PhD research (which is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, NWO). Additionally, the Mamluk-Mongol struggle was played out during a time essential to Mamluk identity formation, in which the new power needed to be legitimised; during the establishment of the new Mamluk rule in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Therefore I will also look into the uses of Mongol images as a way legitimisation strategy.  As such, the preliminary title of my PhD study is The Mongols in Mamluk Eyes: Image- and Identity Formation in the Medieval Middle East
Although I am based at the University of Amsterdam, from March until the end of October, I am working at the NVIC as a guest researcher. The Institute has kindly offered my office space and further use of their facilities, for which I am very grateful. It allows me to make use of the extensive library whenever I need to, and the working atmosphere throughout the Institute is most pleasant. I am looking forward to some very productive months!  

Other research

  • Professor Dr. Manfred Woidich/Dr. Rudolf de Jong, University of Amsterdam: Egyptian Arabic dialects. 
  • Professor Dr. Rudolf Peters, University of Amsterdam: Ottoman legal and administrative history. 
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