The cosmopolitans of the eastern Mediterranean

The 19th century witnessed an unprecedented rise of port-cities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Their growth was, in part, a response to the Ottoman Empire’s incorporation into the capitalist world economy. The next session of the Beyond Multiculturalism: Back to Cosmopolitanism(s) lecture series examines the Ottoman port city of Jaffa in the 19th century. The lecture, which takes place today in 286C Winters College, goes from 3:30 to 5:30pm and will be delivered by Islamic scholar and author Ruba Kana’an, formerly of Oxford University in the UK.

Kana’an will address population increases, urban expansion and significant ethnic and linguistic mélanges, which were typical features of Ottoman cities including Istanbul, Izmir, Beirut, Jaffa and Alexandria. Although each port-city had its own path to urban and social trans/formation, they collectively shared the phenomenon of individuals and groups who enjoyed extraterritorial protection and jurisdiction in a complex system of exemptions and exclusions. Furthermore, the Ottoman social and political reforms of the 19th century (Tanzimat) provided an opportunity for these "foreign residents" to institutionalize their roles and presence especially in the realm of political power. These groups were the cosmopolitans of their day.

This presentation examines how these different powers and groups played out their differences in Jaffa throughout the 19th century. Kana’an discusses how spatial practices can be used as a conceptual tool to raise questions about the individual and the group in cosmopolitan contexts. Specifically, Kana’an examines the "public square" as a place of representation and focuses on the interface between place (physical forms: buildings and spaces) and social actors (people who use, create and re-create the public square).

Kana’an has published a number of articles on the social transformation of the Ottoman Middle East and in the field of Islamic Art. She was formerly a lecturer at Oxford University and dean of the Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford. She has published and taught Oxford’s first online course in Islamic Art and Architecture and is currently working on a book on the interface between Islamic Art, Law and Society. Kana’an will take up the Noor Visiting Fellowship at York University in 2008-2009.

This series of presentation and conversations is sponsored by the graduate programs in Social Anthropology; Social & Political Thought; Education and Founders College

Cosmopolitanism, as a critical concept that brings together academic and political concerns, has featured prominently in contemporary scholarly debates, signaling a renewed attention to the complex ways in which globalization, nationalism, questions of citizenship and multiculturalism, are being linked together in the context of a post 9/11 world. The presentations and conversations in this series are an intervention in the ongoing debates around this subject.

For more information contact Professor Daniel Yon, Faculty of Education, at ext. 88806, or e-mail