Electronic subscriptions to Ostour, the Arab Journal of Historical Sciences, can be purchased online (link in Arabic).


Ostour, a new semi-annual journal devoted to the study of history, is the newest peer-reviewed journal launched by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS). Bringing together Arab historians and prominent Arab scholars in the field, the first edition of the journal, printed in Beirut in early February 2015, reflects the breadth of interests covered by the new periodical:from across the Arab region and several who are based in European universities. This first edition also reflects the breadth of interests which the new periodical will explore, from the ancients' view of the past, to a microcosmic social history that took place at the twighlight of Mameluke Egypt, in addition to book reviews covering recent publications in popular history and examinations of primary sources.

The wide range of topics featured in the inaugural issue of the journal results from the editors' determination to bring together a diverse range of methodological approaches. Ostour will feature works that go beyond research focused strictly on political chronology, to take up social history—comprehensive, qualitative, partial, unfinished – be it written, oral or virtual; as well as micro-histories of local and marginalized communities. Such an all-encompassing approach, integrating a range of methodologies, and neglecting no subject matter, makes it a unique approach to the study of history.

The title, Ostour, is inspired by the linguistic and Quranic overtones of its Arabic root letters, and the Greek words istoria, istor, istorein, which serve as the historical root for “History/Histoire” in the West. While this derivation could raise questions, the connotations of the name Ostour are foundational, set in firm linguistic and semantic ground. The name also hints at the conceptual-lexical distinction between ustour, al-ustourah, and al-astarah in current Arabic usage or in cultural criticism and the social sciences. Also related, the word “legend” (ustourah), in both the Arabic language at large and in the specific field of semantic narrative, has developed a sense of contradicting written historical science, which is aimed at dismantling myth; in languages other than Arabic, however, it retained the meaning of writing history.

With the launch of Ostour, the fourth journal published by the Center, the ACRPS hopes to provide the highest-quality Arabic scholarship in the historical sciences, and make it accessible to the widest possible audience.


List of abstracts

Please click on any of the links below to read the relevant abstract in full. For queries on the

"World History: Themes and Methodologies through the History of Objects", by Amr Osman

"The Past as Viewed in Ancient Egypt", by Sherine El-Menshawy

"The Maqāmāt of Badīʿ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī: Text, Manuscript and History", by Bilal Orfali

"A History of Mandean Studies with Highlights on the Study of their Origins and of their Beliefs", by Ahmad Al-Adawy

"Representation of the Central Authority and Authoritarian Practices: Local Authority in Northern Morocco during the Reign of Sultan Moulay Ismail (1672-1727) ", by Elbachir Aberazaq

"A Social History of Concubines in Egypt: The Case of Nafisa Khatun", by Nasser Soliman

"The Aleppo Incidents of 1850: A Study in the Form and Impetus of Urban Violence During the Early Ottoman Tanzimat", by Firas Krimsti

"The Negotiations between the Jewish Agency and the Syrian National Bloc", by Mahmoud Muharreb


Book Reviews and Critiques

"A Reading of "Le retour de l'événement" by Francois Dosse", by Khaled Tahtah and Yousef Al Muhajer

"A reading of Antonio de Saldanha’s memoirs of captivity by Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur of Morocco", by Ibrahim Al-Kadiri Boutchich

"On Colonial Ethnography in Morocco: Artefacts of Colonialism", by Yahya Ben Alwaleed

"Infidels: A History of the Conflict between Christendom and Islam", by Emadedin Ashmawy

 "After the Armistice: the Ottoman Response to Zidan Saadi’s Petition", a review of a primary source by Abderahim Benhadda

World History:
Themes and Methodologies through the History of Objects


This article explores world history as a growing field within contemporary historical studies, one that is virtually absent in Arab universities. The history, themes, sources and methodologies of world history are here explored, as studied in specialized centers in many Western universities. Referring to leading studies on world history, as well as historians who have made significant contributions to its development in the US and Europe, the author highlights the importance of this relatively new field and its connection to global developments over the preceding few decades. Attention is given to one particular approach where the history of an object or idea is used to make broader conclusions about the history of a particular region or that of the entire world, with the author relying on the specific examples of studies on glass and salt. According to the author, the study of world history, not only as a field of historical research, but also as a pedagogical tool, can contribute significantly to the training of young historians in comparative and inter-disciplinary history, as well as improve their critical thinking skills and their ability to make broad observations about and connections between historical events, and to dispel erroneous preconceived notions.

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The Past as Viewed in Ancient Egypt

This article investigates ancient Egyptians’ view of their past. Relying on well-known archaeological and written artefacts, including the Palermo Stone, Karnak, Abydos, Saqqara lists and Turin papyrus, the paper examines the use of then-archaic literary texts as pedagogical tools during the New Kingdom and Ramesside periods. It also explores other expressions of the remembrance of the past and of nostalgia, such as visits to ancient historical sites by nobles, tourists, scribes and teachers during the New Kingdom and Ramesside periods. The paper presented here relies on a number of modern sources to further our understanding of Pharonic Egyptians’ approach to history.

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The Maqāmāt of Badīʿ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī:
Text, Manuscript and History

This article represents the preliminary findings of a study of the textual history of the Maqāmāt of Badīʿ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī. It discusses different extant manuscript collections of the Maqāmāt, examines the ways that the different manuscript recensions of the Maqāmāt reflect features of the work’s literary history, and presents new material absent in the most commonly available version of the Maqāmāt, which was published by the renowned Egyptian scholar Muhammad Abdu in the 19th century. The conclusion of the article argues that prior to the edition of ʿAbduh, the Maqāmāt of al-Hamadhānī was an open corpus that grew as a result of the influence of the larger collection of Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥarīrī.

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A History of Mandean Studies
with Highlights on the Study of their Origins and of their Beliefs


Whether or not Mandeans emigrated from Palestine to Mesopotamia, as the supporters of the Western origin theory suggest, or if Mesopotamia was the area from which the group emerged, as proponents of the Eastern Origin theory maintain, it remains true that the area between Wasit and Basra—noted for its sweet water lakes, and known by early Islamic geographers simply as "the Marshes"—was the region which saw their earliest settlement, beginning with the pre-Islamic era and extending to the present day. It was within this lush and aquatic ecosystem that the Mandeans’ religious beliefs took shape, with their emphasis on the sanctity of flowing water and its identification with vitality and life itself. Interest in the Mandeans and their religious beliefs has been largely restricted to Orientalists, with very few Arabic sources dealing with this topic. The author addresses this gap, and does so in two distinct sections. The first section is devoted to a literature review covering the most important contributions to the scholarship surrounding the Sabean Mandeans. The second section of the study concerns the ethnic origins of the Sabean Mandeans, and the influences which shaped their religious beliefs, based on the author’s reading of their sacred texts. It further surveys both the Eastern and Western Origins theories, examining in detail the difficulties which plague both and the major milestones in the controversy that engrosses these two theories.

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Representation of the Central Authority and Authoritarian Practices: Local Authority in Northern Morocco during the Reign of Sultan Moulay Ismail (1672-1727)

A local unit for authoritarian control is an integral part of a state’s centralized power structure. It is the administrative and intellectual body that oversees the implementation of decisions made by the central authority and publicist general directives. Despite the integration of functions of central and local authorities, there is a distinctiveness of historical, natural, strategic, economic and human resources for each region in Morocco. This makes generalizations about a "local authority" difficult. This article studies the patterns of local authority regimentation found in northern Morocco from the eighth century to the era of Sultan Moulay Ismail (1672-1727). It attempts to highlight some of the patterns which demonstrate the ways in which centralized power is manifested through "local authorities" across Morocco.

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A Social History of Concubines in Egypt: The Case of Nafisa Khatun

This article portrays the life of Nafisa Khatun, a member of Egypt's social elite during the tumultuous period between the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally taken captive in the Caucus Mountains in Georgia, she was sold into slavery in Cairo’s slave market. After being a concubine, she would later become the wife to two of the most prominent Mamluk princes—Ali Bey "the Great" and Murad Bey—both of whom had wanted to rise to the throne of Egypt individually and secede completely from the Ottoman Empire. Nafisa Khatun's life story mirrored such larger narratives, as she eventually gained a high status within Mamluk society, becoming chief of the Mamluk Harem and acquiring substantial real estate wealth, becoming one of the wealthiest women within the Mamluk elite. Her fate would take another turn for the worse, however, after Mohammed Ali Pasha consolidated his control of Egypt and began his efforts at annihilating the Mamluk caste, which culminated in the famous Cairo Citadel massacre of 1811. Nafisa Khatun, who lived only briefly after that event, was reduced to penury, illness and suffered loss of influence. This study uses the case study of Nafisa Khatun to understand the extent to which large social, economic and political changes impacted the lives of individuals who lived through them. Nafisa Khatun's life told the story of Egypt's historical transformation, before being changed by the challenges presented by the period of modernization.

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The Aleppo incidents of 1850: a study in the form and impetus of urban violence during the early Ottoman tanzimat

In the autumn of 1850, the Ottoman state decided to advance its administrative reforms, originally proclaimed in the 1839 Gülhane edict. Aleppo formed part at that time of the Bilad ash-Sham (Greater Syria), where two of the most unpopular measures were undertaken: The ferde (poll tax) was introduced and military conscription was imposed on the subjects in order to recruit men from the city and the surrounding countryside for service in the new Ottoman army. These measures coincided with growing European economic interest in Aleppo and the rise of a class of Catholic entrepreneurs financially connected to the city’s European traders. The protests against the Ottoman reform measures, led by inhabitants of the eastern suburbs, were unprecedented in that they were confessionally motivated. Angry masses rose and attacked the quarters inhabited by a majority of Christians, with insurgents plundering and destroying possessions in those quarters, burning down a number of churches and killing individuals. The Ottoman state was only able to restore order when reinforcements arrived, troops armed with new cannons, which were able to subdue the insurgents’ quarters. Going beyond this incident's sectarian sheen, this paper argues against the presumption of a deep-seated animosity between Muslims and Christians, outlining instead the history of the Christian community and the Christians’ economic and political interactions in the city during the Ottoman period. Furthermore, the author demonstrates how the 1850 incident is not isolated historically from episodes of protest and unrest that occurred in Aleppo beginning in the 1770s – the only epoch during which violence took on a religious/sectarian hue—by illustrating in detail the patterns of continuity and discontinuity in the tradition of protest and violence in the city.

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The Negotiations between the Jewish Agency and the Syrian National Bloc

In its efforts to establish a Jewish State in Palestine at the expense of the Palestinian people, and its fight against the Palestinian national movement, the Jewish Agency in Palestine, the forerunner of the Israeli state, constantly interfered in the domestic affairs of neighboring Arab countries, an interference that intensified during the Great Arab Rebellion in Palestine 1936-1939. The political department of the Jewish Agency recruited agents in neighboring Arab countries while also communicating illicitly with elites and local leaders there. This article examines the Jewish Agency’s efforts during the Palestinian Rebellion to influence the Syrian National Bloc, which was leading the Syrian people’s struggle for independence from France. It details the content of these secret and officially recorded negotiations during that time period.

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A reading of "Le retour de l'événement" by Francois Dosse

Intellectual interest in "the event" as a matter for enquiry has been rekindled since the 1980s. In France, this can be understood through the increased attention paid to the event by media institutions, beginning with the event of 1968. At this time of media revolution, it serves readers well to review the seminal work of Francois Dosse, in his Le retour de l’envenement (2010), a book that provides a detailed historical account of how the concept of "the event" has changed throughout historical discourse and in the humanities and social sciences throughout the 19th and 20th  centuries. Through this book, readers will come to know something of the concept of the event. Why do people speak of a rebirth or a reincarnation of the event? Are we witnessing today a simple and straightforward return of the event as a matter of academic enquiry, or are we instead looking at the event through a novel view and a different approach? Dosse poses these questions and attempts to provide comprehensive answers to them by presenting "the event" as a rebirth, and as a return to differences in opinion. These are pressing questions that impinge on the work of historians, not only because we are witnessing the return of the historical event as a focus for academic enquiry, but also because we are essentially redefining the meaning of the "event".

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A reading of Antonio de Saldanha’s memoirs of captivity by Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur of Morocco

A review of Antonio de Saldanha’s memoirs must go beyond merely introducing the subject matter and the author, to include a description of the author’s contributions to historical knowledge, and to the foundations laid by him for the understanding of the Arab Maghreb. The review included here is divided into a number of themes, which address the content of the memoirs recorded by Antonio de Saldanha, a Portuguese seafarer who was held captive during the reign of Morocco’s Ahmad al-Mansur (1578-1603). Beyond being a chronicle of court life of the fabled Moroccan Sultan, de Saldanha’s work also addresses questions such as the competition between the Great Powers of his day—particularly Turkey, Spain and England— for Morocco. The review goes on to focus on the principles that informed the author’s drafting of the work and his narrative style, emphasizing his own Portuguese patriotic sentiments and identification with Christendom. Further, the review of this book takes in the nature of the source materials used by de Saldanha, including his reliance on oral narratives; his own memory; and written materials. The memoirs reviewed here provide an addition to the historical canon, in particular with regards to contemporaneous Morocco and the European communities living within it. The book is particularly valuable because of its ability to surpass the self-censorship of Arab sources dating from the same period, allowing present-day historians to raise questions about the obstacles to the historical progress of states in the Arab Maghreb.

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On Colonial Ethnography in Morocco: Artefacts of Colonialism


The author reviews “Bousbir, Prostitution in Colonial Morocco: Ethnography of a Red-light District”, a study conducted between 1949 and 1950 in Casablanca by two French medical doctors, Jean Mathieu and P.H. Maury. The review underscores the contemporaneity and authentic originality of a study that continues to rank as a landmark sociological investigation in the Maghreb decades after it was written. The context for the Bousbir study was the rapid social changes which colonialism introduced to Morocco. This book review presents the doctors’ inquiry into the city and outlines the definition of prostitution that informs their ethnographic and sociological investigation. The reviewer detects an overlap of "colonial science" with Orientalist perspectives and a "humanist dimension" to the investigators’ approach: in solidarity with their subjects, and against all forms of servitude – notwithstanding the distance which is often a question of debate in anthropology-related scholarship. Finally, a glimpse of contemporary Bousbir is offered: a place that acts as the living memory of colonialism, retelling the misery and exploitation prompted by the urges of "white desire".

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Infidels: A History of the Conflict between Christendom and Islam

Wheatcroft's book provides a detailed history of enmity and hatred across the worlds of Christianity and Islam, dating from the 7th century to the present day. It is a history that is mixed in with legend, jumbling truth with fancifulness and interests with beliefs. The end result is a legacy of reciprocated hatred. The author uses the book to trace the critical junctures which have left a deep impact on the history of relations between the world of Islam and of Christendom, and that allow for an understanding of the history of enmity and hatred which plagues relations between them. Building on these defining junctures and the author's historical view of the relationship between the two sides, and relying on textual sources and imagery, the author explores the formation of the image of the "infidel" other by the reciprocal groups. In addition to its wide temporal remit, Wheatcroft's book takes in a huge swathe of geography, ranging from the southern edge of Algeria to Vienna in the North, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, all the while anchoring himself in the Mediterranean basin. Throughout, the question asked is how the enmity between these two worlds was created, and how it persisted to this day.

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After the Armistice:
the Ottoman Response to Zidan Saadi’s Petition

The author presents a document extracted from Munseat us selatin by Feridun Bey - a compendium of correspondence, edicts, and rulings of sultans of the Ottoman Empire. A letter sent by Sultan Ahmed I to Prince Zidan Saadi in the year 1617 (1026 Hijri) following  the eruption of a conflict over the throne between al-Mansour Saadi’s sons, and Prince Zidan’s subsequent solicitation of Ottoman support, the document explains the reasons precluding a positive response from the Sultan to Zidan’s request.  In tracing the echoes of this call in a variety of Mediterranean sources, the author suggests that the document confirms and continues policy pursued by the Ottoman Empire in the western Mediterranean since the 1580s, when Spain and the Ottoman Empire announced their withdrawal from conflict in the Mediterranean world.

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