Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia with author Rosie Bsheer and discussant Ahmed Kanna
Institute for Middle East Studies
The production of history is premised on the selective erasure of certain pasts and the artifacts that stand witness to them. From the elision of archival documents to the demolition of sacred and secular spaces, each act of destruction is also an act of state building. Following the 1991 Gulf War, political elites in Saudi Arabia pursued these dual projects of historical commemoration and state formation with greater fervor to enforce their postwar vision for state, nation, and economy. Seeing Islamist movements as the leading threat to state power, they sought to de-center religion from educational, cultural, and spatial policies.
With this book, Rosie Bsheer explores the increasing secularization of the postwar Saudi state and how it manifested in assembling a national archive and reordering urban space in Riyadh and Mecca. The elites’ project was rife with ironies: in Riyadh, they employed world-renowned experts to fashion an imagined history, while at the same time in Mecca they were overseeing the obliteration of a thousand-year-old topography and its replacement with commercial megaprojects. Archive Wars shows how the Saudi state’s response to the challenges of the Gulf War served to historicize a national space, territorialize a national history, and ultimately refract both through new modes of capital accumulation.
Rosie Bsheer is a historian of the modern Middle East at Harvard University. Her teaching and research interests center on Arab intellectual and social movements, petro-capitalism and state formation, and the production of historical knowledge and commemorative spaces. She is the author of Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia (Stanford University Press, August 2020).She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on oil and empire, social and intellectual movements, petro-modernity, political economy, historiography, and the making of the modern Middle East. She is Associate Producer of the 2007 Oscar-nominated film My Country, My Country, Co-Editor of Jadaliyya E-zine, and Associate Editor of Tadween Publishing. Bsheer’s work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the Whiting Foundation, and the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life. She received her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University (2014) and comes to Harvard University from Yale University, where she was Assistant Professor of History (2014–2018). She is the recipient of the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching at Yale University (2017) and Yale College’s Sarai Ribicoff ‘75 Award for the Encouragement of Teaching (2018).
Ahmed Kanna is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of the Pacific. His research has focused on the politics of globalization, urbanism, and cultural and national identity in the Arab/Persian Gulf region. He has written numerous publications including, Dubai, The City as Corporation (2011, University of Minnesota Press, excerpted in the 2014 Routledge Cities of the Global South Reader, edited by Faranak Miraftab and Neema Kudva); Rethinking Global Urbanism (with Xiangming Chen); and The Superlative City (2013, Harvard University Press)