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Open Jerusalem

Opening Jerusalem Archives : 
for a connected history of 'Citadinité' in the Holy City (1840-1940)

Projet retenu par le European Research Council (ERC...)

Responsable : Vincent Lemire

Communiqué de presse (5 septembre 2013) ...
Le blog du projet :
Le fil d'actualité :

Journée d'études à l'UPEM, 26 juin 2015...


Jerusalem is undoubtedly one of the cities that receives the most attention from historians, but the available bibliography, generally speaking, is plagued by three major flaws.

First, most studies are devoted either to ancient and medieval history, or to the very recent history of the city (after the 1948 War). The Ottoman period (1517-1917) and the British Mandate (1917-1947) are decidedly less studied, as though only the Bible, the Crusades, and then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were worthy of interest. The second flaw stems in part from the first : the overwhelming majority of existing studies focus on religious and geopolitical aspects of the city’s history and thus Jerusalem appears either as a jumble of shrines or as a battlefield. The third flaw is the cause of the other two: most Jerusalem historians limit their studies to the history of only one community of the Holy City, thus contributing to the creation of a segmented historical narrative that precludes a more sweeping view of the city.

The history of Jerusalem, which is doubtlessly the epitome of the “global city” and should consequently benefit from recent historiographic advances in connected history, instead remains one of the most fragmented histories anywhere. As a consequence, the citadinité (“urban citizenship”) shared by the inhabitants of Jerusalem from 1840’s Ottoman’s Reforms to 1940’s War, is invisible in the available bibliography.

Yet truly decompartmentalizing Jersualem’s historiographies means finding ways of opening up and interconnecting its archives, an idea that is central in this research proposal. Supported and funded by an European institution reputed for its neutrality and stability (ERC), this project will distinguish itself through the scientific quality of its research tools, the close attention it pays to local administrative archives and its unbiased openness to all demographic segments of the Holy City’s population. Last but not least, it will not limit itself to a logistical initiative but will scientifically utilize those sources as part of a real intellectual proposal intended to produce a connected history of citadinité in Jerusalem from 1840 to 1940.

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Citadinité is not a vague notion that hovers above the city, it is not only a discursive category. On the contrary, it materializes in institutions, actors and practices. That is why we must begin with the archives if we are to track down the places and modalities of this factory of citadinité in Jerusalem between 1840-1940. This history must be a bottom-up history of the city, which until now has been the farthest thing from the minds of Jerusalem historians often obsessed by ideological and geostrategic issues alone. This history is a connected one because, within a complex documentary archipelago, it looks for points of contact that show the exchanges, interactions and sometimes hybridization between different traditions. In this inquiry, the concept of “the public good” is obviously central, even though we should be wary of clumsily applying the western public / private model to complex local realities (Lemire 2004). At this juncture in the research process we can envision four paths, each of which assumes working on specific documentary archives: 

Public Space

Contrary to what historiographic tradition has long maintained (De Planhol 1968), the notion of public space is not absent from Muslim cities and must be studied simultaneously on the municipal, judicial and imperial level. Founded in 1863, the municipality of Jerusalem (Baladiyya Kudüs-i Sherif), quickly availed itself of agents (zabita) whose job it was to defend public space against private incursions, and the municipal archives show evidence of an explicit discourse defending public interest against the self-interest of individuals. In addition to the municipality, the court judge (kadi) had a deputy at his disposal (mushtessib) whose job it was to maintain urban “good order” (hisba) and in particular to prevent the impingement of commerce on public space (Cohen 2011). Starting in the 1880s, local actors enjoyed a more effective legal arsenal thanks to the new Ottoman Code of Urbanism (Ebniye kanunu). All of this allowed for the establishment of a full-fledged cadaster administration (Tapu müdürü), and today we find Ottoman cadastral records from 1883 and from 1905 in the Israeli National Archives in Jerusalem.

Public Time

Jerusalem’s extreme religious diversity makes the notion of “public time” problematic, though it is integral to the notion of urban collectivity. Whether the hours of the day (designated by each community’s call to prayer), the weekly calendar (Fridays off for Muslims, Saturdays for Jews, Sundays for Christians), or the calendar of yearly religious holidays, it would seem at first glance that Jerusalem’s time is in pieces (Pomian 1984; Corbin 1994). In fact, points of intersection abound within this “temporal archipelago,” and they are all the more fascinating because they don’t exist by default, but because of a deliberate effort on the part of the inhabitants themselves. One example: the inauguration in 1907 of a 25-meter tall clock tower, funded by a public interfaith collection and later destroyed by the Mandatory authorities after 1917. The preparatory documents held at the municipal and imperial archives explicitly praise the monument for keeping time for everyone — a public, shared and secularized time outside of the temporalities of each religion.

Public Opinion

Beyond the specific identities of each of Jerusalem’s communities, we can detect the emergence of overarching public opinion and intercommunity debate. Example: in May 1865, Jerusalem notables wrote a letter to the sultan asking him to fund renovations of the city’s water infrastructure and invoking both the memory of King Solomon (the legendary founder of the aqueduct) and the memory of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (who restored the aqueduct in the 16th entury). In the series of petitions (şikayet) in the imperial archives of Istanbul, we find numerous letters from Jerusalem, on myriad subjects (taxes, hygiene, water and food supplies, aid for the indigent, reports on the armed garrisons, religious practice, urban renovations). This series has not yet been utilized and yet we get a sense of everything it could reveal about everyday life, collective concerns, or the relationship between the Holy City’s interconnected neighborhoods. It could be fascinating to look for what requests were made and by whom, which historical traditions were alluded to, and what connections may have existed between the traditions we currently perceive as being necessarily compartmentalized.

Public Knowledge

Jerusalem has always been a city of schools, teaching and libraries. In the second half of the 19th entury, we clearly see in the Holy City an increase in the flow and exchange of knowledge, in a process of hybridization that helped bring about a shared urbanity (Habermas 1962/1989). Studying the stacks of great family libraries founded during this period gives us a sense of the linguistic and cultural perspectives of urban notabilities. In the Khalidi Library (Maktaba al-Khalidiyya) for instance, we find Koranic exegeses but also classical European literature and a French-Hebrew and Arabic-Hebrew dictionary, all of which attests to the great diversity of cultural horizons.
In the archives of the Franciscan Printing Press of Jerusalem, we find a record of every volume printed since its founding in 1847 (authors, deadlines, runs), and that the first volume printed, in January 1847, is an Arabic alphabet primer followed by an Arabic translation of the Catholic catechism. A systematic investigation of these archives is needed and their data must be cross-referenced with the archives of the Armenian Press (founded in 1833) and the first Hebrew printer, founded in 1841, to understand what reading practices and inter-linguistic exchanges are at play (Chartier 1993).
Finally the enrollment lists contained in the archives of religious schools will be an essential area of research: contrary to what one might believe, even in Jerusalem, families often placed their children in schools outside their own faith. The Alliance Israélite Universelle is a case in point because it was attended by many Christian and Muslim students. Meanwhile the director of the AIU, Albert Antébi, enrolled his own children at the school of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The free exchange of public knowledge can therefore reveal unexpected connections between different scholastic and academic traditions in the Holy City.

* * *

This list is not exhaustive of course, it only tries to give a few concrete examples of investigations to be undertaken and possible connections between documentary collections. We can imagine other paths of inquiry exploring the modalities of habitat (from the Ottoman census of 1883 and 1905, and Mandatory cadasters); co-funded public works projects (from municipal archives, waqf archives, and imperial archives of Istanbul); health policy (idem); the social mixing between families (from personal memoires and private correspondences); institutional inter-faith exchanges (from correspondences preserved in the patriarchates) … The potential for a connected history of citadinité in Jerusalem is tremendous and hopefully the Open-Jerusalem project will help uncover further opportunities !