Tabbi’at – Healthscapes

Healthscapes workshop – 26-27 July 2023

WHEN 26 - 27 July 2023

WHERE Ibrahim Ahmed Room, Reed Hall, University of Exeter

On 26-27 July 2023, the Healthscapes Lab launched with an international workshop, which took place in the Ibrahim Ahmed room at Reed Hall, University of Exeter.

The two-day event saw the participation of scholars across the humanities and social sciences, engaging in historical as well as contemporary research from all areas of the so-called Middle East, spanning from North Africa to Central Asia and as far as the Indian Ocean. The first day of the workshop concluded with the premiere screening of the documentary Beirut: The Aftermath, by the film-director and photographer Fadia Ahmad, a touching investigative production about the Beirut Port explosions in August 2019. On the second day, Professor Jennifer L. Derr delivered the keynote lecture that brought the workshop to a close, with a breath-taking account of disease and disease politics within the changing environmental context of the Nile River across the 20th century.

The workshop was divided into four themed panels. The first, titled ‘Senses, spaces, and politics of health’ and chaired by Dr Beccy Williams (and her son Dubhgall), covered the history of public health and hygiene and sensory conceptualization at the crossroads of health, identity, and spatial politics. Ebru Erginbaş discussed the circulation of transimperial actors and medical knowledge in the Ottoman realm that transformed natural hotsprings into spaces of hydrotherapy and potential sites for health tourism in the mid-19th century. The second presenter Selvihan Kurt argued for the transformation of burial sites in İzmir from sociable (multiconfessional) ecosystems into perceived and real health hazards, and finally into public gardens as spaces of controlled nature and public health at the turn of the 20th century. That transformation paralleled the demise of the cosmopolitan and multiconfessional character of the city, materialising ethnoreligious, sectarian divides. Kamyar Salavati, the third presenter, offered an engaging account of the architectural history of hamams – public bathhouses – in Iran before and during the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11, using the microcosm of the hammam to show how conflicting political ideologies were reflected in different visions and policies around public health. The entanglement of health, nature, and identity was the core theme of Anne Caldwell’s paper which concluded the panel. Tracking British travelers’ descriptions of smell in their encounter with Palestine in the first half of the 20th century, Caldwell’s paper demonstrated that these descriptions of how spaces and people smelled were informed by orientalist ideas, and defined by political and ethnic fault lines.

The second panel, titled ‘Collapse and its aftermaths’ and chaired by Dr Martin Moore, explored the past and present of systemic collapse through the examples of natural disasters, diseases, and infrastructural and political fallout; and the ways in which the afterlives of collapse are shaped by how people and organisations experience and conceive of recovery, coping disintegration strategies or resilience plans in critical times. The first presentation by Sarah Irving focused on the earthquake which hit Mandate Palestine in 1927, and the response of one of the most important healthcare providers of the period, the Church Missionary Society. Through original archival research, Irving argued for the need to move away from state-centric perspectives on the history of health and disaster

Moving north, Cynthia Kreichati exposed the environmental health of life along the Litani River Valley in Lebanon. Through an in-depth ethnographic account of the scalar politics of the river and the energy company that exploits its resources, Kreichati theorized with a local discourse of symbiotically living together (tarabot maslahi) to diagnose the reordering of social, political, and environmental relations in the midst of infrastructural collapse in Lebanon. The third presenter Livia Wick kept the analytical momentum in Lebanon, moving the focus to the question of cancer and recovery in a central neighbourhood in Beirut. By narrating the small-scale and mundane interactions with the residents of an apartment block, Wick reflected powerfully on the meanings and (im)possibilities of ‘recovery’ through these experiences of cancer treatment at a historical juncture when national politics and economics have descended into a formidable stalemate. During the first day of the workshop, participants enjoyed a tour of the University of Exeter’s Middle East collections. James Downs, Archivist of the Middle East Collections and Project Manager of DAME (Digital Archive of the Middle East) took the workshop participants through a tour de force of the primary material available in the collections.

Kicking off the second day of the workshop, the third session, titled ‘Mobility and immobility in epidemic times: bodies, diseases, ideas’ and chaired by Professor Rebecca Flemming, focused on how epidemics reshaped healthscapes, and on the mobility and immobility of actors, ideas, and practices of health and healing across inter-regional, regional, and local scales. Through a close engagement with cholera treatises from the mid-19th century Ottoman world, Hande Yalnızoğlu Altınay highlighted how epidemic waves resulted in the hybridization of seemingly contradictory ideas on health and medical knowledge. Such hybridity was equally evident in the second paper, by Muhammed Riyaz Chenganakkattil. Drawing on a rich array of narratives produced by Indian Muslim pilgrims about their experiences in the quarantine island of Kamaran in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chenganakkattil explored the immobilities created by and around “epidemiological orientalism,” and offered up the idea of “narrative healthscapes” as allowing for alternative readings of pilgrimage experience and (im)mobility. The third presenter, Rebecca Irvine, focused on malaria eradication schemes in Iraq after the Second World War. Irvine’s paper tracked the translation of the adoption of malaria eradication as a global health priority into the specific national context of post-war Iraq, drawing out the ways in which colonial legacies, revolution, and war all crucially shaped the flow of information, knowledge, and practice. The panel closed with reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic, by Hande Güzel. Drawing on interviews with immigrant doctors about their experiences in Turkey during the latest pandemic, Güzel mapped the multilayered forms of exclusion these doctors faced at a time of heightened ecological vulnerability and in the context of an increasingly neoliberal health sector.

The fourth and final session of the workshop, titled ‘Worldbuilding through environment and health’ and chaired by Dr Cristian Montenegro, explored the politics of health and environment across multiple scales, from the level of the individual to that of the collective and the ‘population’. The first presenter, Ahmet Karakaya, discussed childbirth and the politicization of abortion in the late Ottoman period. Situating policies around abortion in relation to the context of 19th-century demographic challenges facing the Ottoman state, Karakaya tracked the gradual movement of abortion from the realm of personal law to government codification. The second presenter, Ruby Haji Naif, uncovered the creation and effects of women’s safe spaces in the midst of the Syrian war, and their potential regenerative as well as depoliticizing effects in the lived experience of health and space under otherwise critical conditions. Drawing on her ethnographic fieldwork, Haji Naif described the first-hand experience of women engaging with the social and health services on offer through these safe spaces, and reflected upon the role these spaces play in the production of women as good citizens for the nation. The final presenter, Jeanine Hourani, developed this focus on the interplay between individual and collective health, by turning our attention to Palestinian mental health. Against discourses which render Palestinian mental health a depoliticized matter of individual responsibility and resilience, Hourani linked the question of individual and collective mental health with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, drawing on a set of revolutionary psychological writings globally to articulate the connection between mental health and decolonization.


Wednesday 26 July

10.00-10.30 Coffee, registration, and welcome

10.30-12.30 Panel 1 – Senses, spaces, and politics of health

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-15.00 Panel 2 – Collapse and its aftermaths

15.00-15.30 Coffee

15:30-16:30 Visit to the University of Exeter’s Middle East Special Collections for specially themed display of archival material, at the Old Library Reading Room

17.00-18.30 Film screening [Queens LT2]

Beirut: The Aftermath + Q&A with director Fadia Ahmad

18.30-20.30 Drinks reception with buffet at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies

Thursday 27 July

9.45-10.00 Coffee

10.00-12.00 Panel 3 – Mobility and immobility in epidemic times: bodies, diseases, ideas

12.00-13.00 Lunch

13.00-14.30 Panel 4 – Worldbuilding through environment and health

14.30-15.00 Coffee

15.00-16.00 Keynote – Jennifer Derr (University of California, Santa Cruz)

‘Chemical medicine, capitalist public health, and the scales of the body in Nasser’s Egypt’

18.00 End of workshop dinner

Co-organised by Semih Çelik, Maziyar Ghiabi, and Chris Sandal-Wilson. Funded with the kind support of the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, the Department of Archaeology and History, the Centre for Persian and Iranian Studies, the Societies and Cultures Institute, the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health, and the HASS Enhancing Research Culture Fund, as well as the Wellcome Trust University Award ‘Living “Addiction” in States of Disruption’ (P.I. Maziyar Ghiabi).

Panel 1

Senses, spaces, and politics of health

Ebru Erginbas (Brown University)

Distilling A Hot Commodity: Revitalization of Hydrothermal Therapies and Trans-imperial Medical Knowledge Creation in the 19th Century Ottoman Empire

Selvihan Kurt (Istanbul Technical University)

Burial Spaces and Public Health Discourse in 19th and 20th century Izmir

Kamyar Salavati (University of Exeter)

Public bathhouses as battlegrounds for ideological controversies in Constitutional Iran: The story of Mirzā Abu-Tāleb ḥammām

Anne Caldwell (University of Aberdeen)

“A Sea of Fragrances”: Sensory Experiences and Hygiene in British Travel Writing on Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and Zionist Settlements

Panel 2

Collapse and its aftermaths

Sarah Irving (Staffordshire University)

The Church Missionary Society and the 1927 earthquake: health, faith and finance

Cynthia Kreichati (McGill University)

Economic necessity, environmental health, and the symbiotic forms of living together in the Litani river valley of Lebanon

Livia Wick (American University of Beirut)

Imaginaries of cancer in the midst of systemic collapse in Beirut

Panel 3

Mobility and immobility in epidemic times: bodies, diseases, ideas

Hande Altinay (University of Oxford)

Environment, Health and Disease in the Nineteenth-Century Ottoman World:

İllet-i Cedide (Cholera) Tracts

Muhamed Riyaz Chenganakkattil (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi)

‘We have literally become naked skeleton in the island of health’: the Muslim Pilgrim Question and Medical Regime in the Quarantine Station of Kamarān

Rebecca Irvine (City University of New York)

Chemicals, Parasites and Paper: Eradication Campaigns and Post-war Global Health in Iraq

Hande Güzel (University of Cambridge)

Vulnerability, Belonging, and the Pandemic: The Case of Immigrant Doctors in Turkey

Panel 4

Worldbuilding through environment and health

Ahmet Karakaya (Istanbul Medeniyet University)

When Politics Meets Medicine: The Politicization of Abortion and the Medicalization of Childbirth in the Late Ottoman Empire

Ruby Haji Naif (University of Cambridge)

Conceptualisations of Space, Empowerment, and Recovery: Exploring “Solastalgia” in Women’s Safe Spaces

Jeanine Hourani (University of Exeter)

Conceptualising the relationship between individual mental health and collective revolutionary consciousness: the case of Palestine

About our keynote speaker…

Prof Jennifer L. Derr is an Associate Professor and Founding Director of the Center for the Middle East and North Africa at the University of California Santa Cruz. She is a historian of disease and immunity, of science, the environment, and water, and of capitalism and colonialism. Her first book, The Lived Nile: Environment, Disease, and Material Colonial Economy in Egypt was published by Stanford University Press in 2019, and was awarded the 2020 Middle East Political Economy Book Prize. In her keynote for the Healthscapes workshop, Prof Derr will be taking us into the post-colonial period, to reflect on health, medicine, and the body in Nasser’s Egypt.

About our film screening…

In Beirut: the Aftermath, the artist and director Fadia Ahmad returns to Beirut a month after the August 4th blast to help rebuild what she can of her broken city. Retracing her usual itinerary of 10,452 steps through the streets of Beirut, she seeks to portray the aftermath of the explosion that shook Lebanon to its core. In the film, a journey that once fulfilled the goal of self-discovery now gives both Beirut and the blast’s survivors a voice. Raw testimonials and powerful scenes recount the day everything collapsed, all while showing the resilience of a people who don’t want to give up. We are honoured that Fadia will be joining us for a live Q&A after the screening of her powerful film.