Cities as Laboratories of Change

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Freitag

The question how a multiethnic city with many short and long term migrants functioned lies at the heart of this project on the urban history of the Red Sea part of Jeddah. Its population was defined by residence within the walls, in spite of the existence of a number of growing settlements outside. The demolition of the wall in 1947 symbolises the end of this clear demarcation and an opening and growth which to many seem uncontrollable from a contemporary perspective. In spite of this seeming seclusion, Jeddah was historically dependent on its maritime relations as well as the caravan connections to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
The urban order was characterised by a web of intersecting units: households, urban quarters, guilds and Sufi orders, as well as ethnic networks and organisations. These allowed for a relatively easy accommodation and eventual integration of travelers and immigrants. The urban governance incorporated these localised structures in that the Ottoman and later Arab governors of the city cooperated closely and in many ways relied on the local structures (e.g. the heads of the quarters and local notables), for instance when it came to local security.
In spite of the tight urban fabric, urban society was marked by clear social and legal as well as political hierarchies. It is one of the most difficult tasks of this study to try to tease out how these were negotiated. This is linked to the existing sources: A wide range of administrative and diplomatic sources is available, in addition to local land documents, photographs, memoirs, histories and oral memories. Lacking are, however, legal documents illuminating social and economic contestations.