Speak Memory Symposium 14 - Lucie Ryzova and Hussein Omar, Downtown History and Memory Centre
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Summary: Dr. Lucie Ryzova is a researcher at St John's College, University of Oxford. She works on social and cultural history in Egypt in the first half of the 20th century. She is particularly interested in questions of vernacular, everyday modernity among Egyptian urban middle strata groups, which she explores using sources from popular culture as well as private materials created by anonymous individuals. She is the author of L'Effendiya ou la modernité contestée (Cairo: CEDEJ, 2005) and a number of articles. Her book on the emergence of local Egyptian middle class culture in the Interwar period is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. She is currently finishing a project on the social history of photography in Egypt, which will result in a monograph. She is also editing a collection of essays on local vernacular photography in the Middle East together with Issam Nassar (under review with Indiana University Press).
Hussein Omar is a history PhD candidate at Merton College, Oxford. His work examines the social and political history of the interwar era in Egypt through family papers and collections privately held. By focusing on a rich corpus of diaries, letters and photographs, he questions the dominant historical narratives based on official documents. He reacts to a scholarship which naively uses the archive as mere source, rather than critically as historically contingent subject.
The aim of the Downtown History and Memory Centre (Dhakirat wust al-balad) project, which is currently at a very early stage, is to promote a different kind of history of Egyptís capital city. It is broadly conceived as a critique of the prevailing perception of Downtown Cairoís history as an enclave of westernized local elites and foreigners. Instead, the Centre aims to chart an inclusive history of what has once been the social, political and commercial centre of the Metropolis, and remains its cultural and social center - albeit in different ways -until today. The center aims to serve as a resource for scholars through its extensive archiving and documentation activities, to provide training and assistance to young Egyptian scholars in cutting edge historical methodologies, and to become an intellectual hub bringing together the local and international academic community, Egyptian intellectuals and cultural figures, and the wider Egyptian public in raising awareness about and understanding of social processes shaping the Cairene urban space from both historical and contemporary perspectives. To fulfill this mission, and in addition to archiving, documentation and the organization of workshops, the centre will run a long-term Oral History project with the aim of building up a collection that will be inclusive both socially and in terms of its understanding of what constitutes historical material.