Ulrike Freitag – Cross-cutting research

Translocal Cultural History of Saudi Arabia in the 20th Century

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Freitag

The cultural history of Saudi Arabia in its translocal dimensions is at the heart of this project. Currently, a number of diverse subprojects are in progress. The first is an intellectual network of text collectors, editors, printers and readers, which is being explored on the basis of letters by the editors of a book-printer in Cairo to a wide variety of correspondents. These include the major intellectual figure of Muhammad Nasif, one of the leading notables of Jeddah. This is part of a larger project tracing the intellectual connections of the Hijaz and Saudi Arabia to other centres of the Arab and Muslim world.

The second subproject concerns contemporary art in Saudi Arabia. Considered as a prism through which a variety of current developments are reflected, my research is particularly interested in artistic expressions of evolving notions of identity. The recourse to art as a medium to engage with the urban space, document its dramatic reconfiguration and serve as a repository for collective memory is another strand of this engagement, which resonates with critical artistic practices found in a number of different Arab contexts.

A third subproject compares socio-cultural configurations favouring maritime exchanges across the Indian Ocean. This project, which will result in a handbook article, will focus on the Western Indian Ocean in the 19th and 20th centuries.