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Gatekeepers of the Arab PastHistorians and History Writing in Twentieth-Century Egypt$
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Yoav Di-Capua

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780520257320

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520257320.001.0001

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Demonstrating History: The 1950s

Demonstrating History: The 1950s

(p.248) 7 Demonstrating History: The 1950s
Gatekeepers of the Arab Past

Yoav Di Capua

University of California Press

The decade that followed the events of July 1952 critically altered the conventional assumptions of post-World War I Egyptian historiography. Subscribing to the idea that the task of historiography is mainly that of studying shifts in historical representation, scholars emphasized the changing image of several rulers and popular leaders. Though the issue of changing historical images was the most visible historiographical trait of post-1952 Egypt, more significant developments in the conceptualization of the past took place during this era. Attentive to the weight of these conceptual changes, this chapter argues that the hermeneutic process of analyzing historical evidence was replaced with the tendency to demonstrate the historic value of present political acts. The first section covers the appropriation and transformation of al-Rāfiī's national epic and of Amīn Saīd's Pan-Arab histories into a new brand of revolutionary historiography. This epic and these histories treated the past as a mere series of analogies and metaphors whose object was to demonstrate the glorious achievement of the postcolonial moment of triumph. The second section shows that this evasion of a critical engagement with the past was turned into a practical philosophy of history that favored a historic act in the present over the understanding of the historical past. The third and fourth sections supplement the central argument by dealing with changes in the structure of the intellectual elite and the viable networks that secured its existence. The last section examines in great detail the writings of a second generation of Marxist historians.

Keywords:   Egyptian history, Egyptian historiography, political acts, revolutionary historiography, Marxist historians

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