Tune in on Wednesday, 9 September at 12:30pm EST for a new lecture is the series Islam in Africa: Material Histories, sponsored by Silsila at New York University. Marina Rustow (Princeton University) will present The Lost Archive: Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue.
The lost archive of the Fatimid caliphate (909–1171) survived in an unexpected place: the storage room, or geniza, of a synagogue in Cairo, recycled as scrap paper and deposited there by medieval Jews. Neglected in favor of Hebrew-script texts from the Cairo Geniza, the hundreds of Fatimid state fragments invite us to reconsider the longstanding but mistaken consensus that before 1500 the dynasties of the Islamic Middle East produced few documents, and preserved even fewer.
This lecture will consider the life cycle of Fatimid decrees and how they made their way from chancery officials to ordinary scribes—a trajectory that provides a window onto preindustrial archiving practices and documentary ecologies.
Registration for the lecture is required. Please register here.
Marina Rustow is Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Professor of History at Princeton University, where she holds the Khedouri A. Zilkha Chair in Jewish Civilization in the Near East and directs the Princeton Geniza Lab, which brings students and specialists together to decipher and digitize medieval documentary sources in Hebrew and Arabic script. She is the author of Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate (Cornell UP, 2008), and of The Lost Archive: Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue (Princeton UP, 2020). Her current research interests include the Indian Ocean trade, the material culture of medieval Cairo, and taxation and fiscality in Fatimid Egypt.
Silsila: Center for Material Histories is an NYU center dedicated to material histories of the Islamicate world. Each semester we hold a thematic series of lectures and workshops, which are open to the public. Details of the Center can be found here.
Above image credit: From Zakarīyā b. Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī, ʿAjāʾib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʾib al-mawjūdāt (The wonders of creation and the marvels of existence), Wāsiṭ, 1280 CE. (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod.arab. 464, fol. 36r).