Arab History at the Movies

Fall 2013

HIME 3751

Arab History at the Movies

Elizabeth F. Thompson

This course uses cinema as a vehicle to introduce students to the perspectives of Arab peoples on their own modern history.   We begin with an epic film about the rise of Islam made by a Syrian director (who also directed Halloween movies in Hollywood), The Message.  It documents wonderfully what how an Arab liberal viewed the meaning of Islam on the eve of the rise of modern Islamism, with the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat two years later.   We also view Saladin, a movie made in 1963-- about the medieval conqueror of Jerusalem --  as an allegory of the contemporary Arab-Israeli conflict.   And we discover the films of the most beloved diva in the Arab world, Umm Kalthoum, and ask how it was that “women’s films” dominated screens in the 1940s.   We also view films by and about politics in Lebanon and Palestine.  The course ends with the film “Irhab wa Kebab”, or in English, “Terrorism and Kebab,” an Egyptian view of the rise of Islamism in the 1990s. 

The movies are supplemented each week by texts on relevant history and issues of collective memory, propaganda and spectatorship, the ideological construction of modernity, and the symbolic politics of gender, nation, and religion.   . Course requirements include attendance at lecture and participation in lecture (20%), the keeping of a film log with notes on the films (10%), five one-page memos on the films (20%), a midterm exam (10%), a short midterm paper (10%), and a final exam/paper (30%).    This course fulfills historical and non-Western perspectives requirements.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

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