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Jerusalem was never an ordinary city. From an early date, it was charged with religious meaning as a site of yearning and learning, of pilgrimage and travel. For this reason, it was both attractive and contested, even during the long periods when it was quite peripheral in terms of its economic, political, and strategic importance to the larger units to which it belonged. Yet the majority of the city’s inhabitants were ordinary people. They were not part of the local sociopolitical elite, and they led normal daily lives. We are still struggling to understand how the lives of ordinary people were actually lived at various points in time, and to what extent they were defined by communal affiliation, be it religious, ethnic, or both.

What kind of boundaries did communal affiliation create between the groups and individuals that made up the local population? Was there a sense of belonging that transcended the smaller units of family and community to include the city’s population as a whole – a citadinité that preceded the modern concept of citizenship, or coexisted with it? And if it existed, how did it manifest itself? Answers can be found by delving deeper into Jerusalem’s rich and often untapped archives, but this requires persistence on the part of the researcher. These archives range from Ottoman and other state archives to the archives of various religious communities and their pious foundations, and from public to private collections. The materials they contain range from official to “ephemeral” documents, some of which seem to equal the ego- documents that have enriched the study of European history in the early modern period.

The chapters in this volume show that, during the period under study, Ottoman authorities, foreign powers, and observers used religious affiliation, or millet, rather than property, status, class, language and locality, as the chief identifier for the groups and individuals living within the empire. What has been called the “tunnel vision” separating not just Arabs and Jews, but also Muslims, Christians, and Jews of various origins and denominations is therefore not merely the product, and indeed the fabrication, of Western orientalism. It is literally inscribed in the local and imperial archives. The Ottoman census of the early 1880s and early 1900s is so strictly organized along millet lines that it obscures, as Michelle Campos shows in her chapter, a “connected” vision of the city’s population, forcing the researcher to compare a whole number of files, or defters, in order to reconstruct the demographic and social setup of any given neighborhood.

The religious bias was not just imposed from above but actively sustained from below by the leaderships of the religious communities that tended to defend their respective territories, reinforcing the notion that Jerusalem’s population was indeed a mosaic, made up of sharply delineated if not segregated religious groups. The Ethiopian community studied by Stéphane Ancel is a case in point. Another example is the Russian mission in Jerusalem, for which Lora Gerd and Yann Potin introduce an important private archive. Both chapters focus on church and diplomatic affairs but also provide information on the level of competition and cooperation among the Christian communities living in the city and the empire at large.

Communal competition was reflected in communal archives. In their chapter on the patriarchal archives of the Greek Orthodox community, one of the most important in the city, Angelos Dalachanis and Agamemnon Tselikas highlight the spirit of distrust and rivalry among the various religious communities that caused them to protect their archives, limit access to outsiders, and prevent sharing their materials with others. Still, there are written materials that, despite being tied to individual communal entities, allow us to catch a glimpse of the very connectedness the state and communal archives tend to hide. The visiting cards printed by the Franciscan Printing Press and found in the Franciscan Library are a fascinating example discussed by Maria Chiara Rioli in her contribution to this volume. To be sure, visiting cards and advertisements are a heterogeneous lot that may be more difficult to explore in a systematic way than an official census. But seen as ego-documents they illustrate connections that might be difficult to document otherwise.

In studying the appointment, promotion, and dismissal registers for the pious foundations of Jerusalem’s Maghariba neighborhood, Şerife Eroğlu Memiş deals with a different type of connection that existed between local and wider Ottoman networks of scholars and officials. The archival materials presented in this volume, often for the first time, are full of promise. Carefully analyzed and systematically connected and put “in dialogue,” as Dalachanis and Tselikas note in their chapter, with other materials, they make it possible to write a social history of the city that is worthy of the name.

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Ordinary Jerusalem, 1840-1940

Opening New Archives, Revisiting a Global City


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