Emil Holms Kanal 6, 2300 København S, KUA1, Bygning: 24.4.27
Projekttitel: Adaptive Agency in Early Arab American Womanhood, 1893-1960
Projektstart: 1. september 2014
Vejleder: Martyn Bone
Bivejleder: Silvia Schultermandl (Graz)
My dissertation aims to provide a deeper understanding of Arab American women’s public agency during the early to mid-20th century U.S. I work with both literary and archival sources in six contextualized case studies: I analyze how women adapted the hegemonic discourses of their time in their self-fashioning as belly dancers, on Broadway, in the Arab American Press, as activists, beauty queens and as writers. Arab migration at the turn of the 20th century coincided with a peak in white supremacism, the first mass-mediated U.S. Orientalisms and contested notions of nation, migration and womanhood. While current scholarship is largely engaged in exploring how and why imagined Arab womanhood functions so prominently in the U.S. orientalist economy of the post 9/11 moment, my work contributes to bringing the often overlooked historical dimension of Arab American women’s agency in the U.S. to the debate. Performing and writing in English, women developed strategies of self-representation that adapt, but are not confined to, orientalist and nationalist conventions to reach American audiences. Such adaptations may draw on literary orientalist sources like the Arabian Nights or interpret scenarios gleaned from popular harem narratives in stage performances, while community activists adapt and negotiate normative versions of proper Womanhood to refute the sexualized Othering of Arab women in American imagination. My dissertation applies an intersectional lens to analyze the implications of these tensions for early Arab American community formation in particular, and the relationships between previously unexplored archival sources by Arab American women and literary texts of the time also offer new perspectives on the multi-directional legacies of Arab American womanhood in American histories and literatures at large.