Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900 By Beshara Doumani University of California Press, 1995, 340 pages, $24.95
This book attempts to write the inhabitants of Palestine into history. Using the documents they generated during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Beshara Doumani tried to make their society and its inner workings come alive by listening to their voices and by gazing at the world through their eyes. The book also seeks to make a small contribution to a rethinking of Ottoman history by foregrounding the dynamics of provincial life in the vast Ottoman interior, especially the role of merchants and peasants in the shaping of urban-rural relations.
Considering that the historiography of Palestine is dominated by nationalist discourses on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide, and that these discourses are built on the premise of a sharp discontinuity from the past caused by outside intervention, there is no shortage of assumptions to be revised and new issues to introduce. This book calls for a rediscovery of Ottoman Palestine by drawing attention to long-term processes and by highlighting the agency of the inhabitants in the molding of their own history. Revising both nationalist and orientalist discourses on the character of economic and political life in Ottoman Palestine, the book gives voice to its peasants and merchants through private family papers, Islamic court archives, and local council records. It focuses on Nablus, the manufacturing and agricultural heartland that has also frequently been a political hotbed, examining the social relations embedded in the production and circulation of cotton, textiles, olive oil, and soap.
Drawing on previously unused primary sources, the author paints an intimate and vivid portrait of Palestinian society on the eve of modernity. Doumani, who is assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, traces the relationship between culture, politics, and economic change by looking at how merchant families constructed trade networks and cultivated political power, and by showing how peasants defined their identity and formulated their notions of justice and political authority.
(Courtesy of University of California Press)