Although the writers she considers range across Arabic sources from the ninth to the fourteenth century, Keaney stresses the relevance of her analysis of Islamic historiography to the understanding of twenty-first-century Middle East politics:.
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Keaney therefore begins her introductory first chapter with the observation that:. These tensions have been debated ever since and indeed have yet to be resolved" 1. Treating political and religious authority as separate but related spheres of power, Keaney divides her sources into annalistic chronicles on the one hand and biographical literature on the other, and distinguishes between "two modes of remembering the past" 6 : "caliph-oriented and Companion-oriented history" 6.
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From this observation she moves without further ado to her working thesis that there are "Islamic sacred biographies of the Companions of the Prophet" 5; cf. Keaney describes "the nature of Arabic historiographical writing as a process of creative editing" , and argues that "writers expressed an authorial voice by choosing one genre over another and then, through carefully selecting, editing, and arranging their sources, …these authors engaged in ongoing religio-political debates" 2.
The result of her analysis is the insight that "Companion-oriented biographies…could function as a political critique by evaluating a ruler or regime based on an idealized past" Referring to Konrad Hirschler's study of two Muslim historians from thirteenth-century Syria n. In a preface, five chapters, and a conclusion, Keaney organized her wide ranging selection of Arabic sources both chronologically and thematically.
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Each of these four chapters is divided into the sections Context , Narrators , and Narratives. Each Narratives section is, in turn, broken down into four subsections in which Keaney summarizes her findings on the four debates around which she has organized her study. She wraps up her analysis with a short conclusion , This book is an important contribution to the study of Arabic historiography before Keaney's decision to track the reception of a single figure across six centuries of Islamic historiography is an intellectually attractive project.
Keaney does not explain why hagiography and sacred biography are meaningful categories for a diachronic analysis of Islamic historiography. Footnotes nn. Consequently, in order to follow her argument, it would have been helpful to learn more about her understanding of the "sacred" in Islamic theology as well as in the culture of premodern Muslim societies. In her survey of the state of research on narrative in Islamic historiography , Keaney intimates that, in the past, Middle East historians felt defensive about their sources.
Even though the historiographical works in Arabic and Persian are rich, most of the extant texts are compilations, containing a great deal of hearsay, considerably fewer eyewitness statements, and even less outright authorial analysis and commentary. Making matters worse is that historiographical works in Arabic and Persian constitute the bulk of the preserved written sources of Islamic history until , so that it is rarely possible to confirm, or reject, literary statements with archival documents, archeological evidence, or contemporary sources in languages other than Arabic and Persian.
14.08.07, Keaney, Medieval Islamic Historiography
Keaney begins her second 21, n. Yet not everyone will share her confidence that the interpretation of a written text can reveal authorial intention beyond the literary work, in the real world. Keaney did not include a single example of a detailed textual analysis in order to demonstrate more concretely her argument that editing was an expression of an authorial voice.
While the page references in the endnotes reveal Keaney's deep familiarity with the Arabic canon of Islamic historiography, the book itself presents a much condensed synthesis of its interpretation. Middle East historians, however, not only feel defensive about Arabic and Persian sources which seem to defy Western expectations of historiographical literature, they also prefer a pragmatic approach to textual criticism. Consequently, Middle East historians are not expected to accompany any research project with an excursus about the available versions of the cited sources. Still, the manuscript stands out among her printed sources, and she does not offer any information whatsoever about this manuscript beyond its shelf-mark.
This textual pragmatism suggests that the field of Middle East Studies continues to struggle with establishing itself as a post-Orientalism discipline: textual criticism is shunned because it is identified with philology, which in turn is seen as integral to Orientalism. Keaney's silence on the textual condition of her sources reflects the field's unresolved methodological challenges following from its staunch rejection of philology.
This silence is nonetheless noteworthy. After all, Keaney is arguing for the agency of Muslim historians because they edited their sources. Her silence could imply the assumption of an ideal process of textual transmission in which a historian edits her sources in order to fashion a historical narrative, which afterwards will be faithfully transmitted by her readers without any editorial interventions of their own.
A final twist to the role of editing in historical scholarship is provided by Keaney's book itself, and writing this review made me wish for alternatives to the accepted modes of academic publishing in North America and Western Europe. Published by Routledge, NY About this Item: Routledge, NY, Condition: Near Fine. Routledge Research in Medieval Studies; 9. More information about this seller Contact this seller 8. Condition: Good. Satisfaction Guaranteed!
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