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In This Issue
The April 2011 issue of the American Historical Review includes an article on narcotics trafficking and territoriality in the interwar Middle East and an AHR Forum on "The Senses in History." There are also three featured reviews, followed by our usual extensive book review section. "In Back Issues" calls attention to articles and features in the AHR from 100, 75, and 50 years ago.
In "The Many Worlds of ˁAbud Yasin; or, What Narcotics Trafficking in the Interwar Middle East Can Tell Us about Territorialization," Cyrus Schayegh examines specific spaces to elucidate the multiple geographic scales—local, national, transnational, and international—in play in narcotics trafficking in the post-Ottoman Levant. From a historical standpoint, this focus helps us better understand the competing forms of territorialization pursued by different historical actors in new Mandate Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Transjordan, especially the constraints experienced by French and British Mandate officials in an increasingly treacherous colonial state of affairs after 1918. From a conceptual standpoint, it enables us to avoid unhelpfully reductive oppositions between geographic scales—such as "the global" pitted against "the local"—and also to avoid inflating the significance of any one geographic scale, such as the nation-state. Schayegh’s emphasis on territorialization highlights multiple historical actors and processes that tend to be overlooked when primacy is given solely to either the nation-state or "the global."
The six articles in "The Senses in History" treat the five canonical human senses, even though they are not so easily separable, as rightly noted by one of the contributors, Mark S.R. Jenner. While the senses are now often studied individually, this forum juxtaposes current research in each of the traditional senses to put such work in greater dialogue and to bring new work in "sensory history" to the attention of historians generally. The essays themselves vary in strategy: some are more historiographical and others more empirical.
In his introductory essay, "In the Realm of the Senses," Martin Jay places the study of the senses at the unstable crossroads between corporeality and meaning, nature and culture. He argues that the discipline of history is better positioned than neuroscience and cognitive psychology to study the discursive differentiation and ranking of the senses, their impairment, and their enhancement, and to investigate the relationship between hegemonic cultural assumptions about the senses and actual material and corporeal practices of a place and time in history.
In "On Being Heard: A Case for Paying Attention to the Historical Ear," Sophia Rosenfeld focuses on the history of sound and audition in Europe and its colonies since the early 17th century, an area in which historical research has achieved sufficient density to be able to generate a synthetic narrative. The centerpiece of her essay is a consideration of the effects of the French Revolution, when the newly regained right to free speech led to a reciprocal need to be heard—which could itself, she argues, be a battlefield. She thereby connects the history of hearing to central issues of modern European political history.
In "Follow Your Nose? Smell, Smelling, and Their Histories," Mark S.R. Jenner rejects the teleology and stereotyping embedded in an association of modernity with deodorization. A narrative that lodges smells in a primitive past or in contemporary poverty does not help us appreciate either the modern generation of smells (fair and foul) or the complexity of smellscapes deserving careful historical analysis. Jenner also demands conceptual care in avoiding culture/nature and human/environment dichotomies. The sense of smell in particular suggests the permeability of these domains, as well as the interconnectivity of the senses themselves, if we are to investigate the totality of bodily techniques in various historical moments.
Facing the impossible task of encapsulating the overwhelming amount of historical research on visuality and visual culture, Jessica Riskin delves instead into an intellectual history of the eye itself. Significantly, the eye was rendered distinct from vision by English, British, and European intellectuals spanning from the 17th to the 19th centuries. This distinction was purposeful, making it possible to characterize the eye’s mechanistic properties to suit theological agendas. "The Divine Optician" demonstrates how mechanistic principles were associated not only with science but with theology in Britain and Europe well into the 19th century.
Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson considers "The Senses of Taste," which she says were primarily corporeal until scientific and aesthetic determinations of "taste" emerged in Europe in the 18th century. Once decorporealized, taste was turned into a means of judging individuals and groups, and signifying the contested terms of personal status, collective identity, and social order. Not only social foodways but cookbooks and other representations of food changed over time, and thus can contribute to our understanding of self and society in history.
Elizabeth D. Harvey meditates on "The Portal of Touch" mainly through a single and singular example, the collaboratively produced painting The Allegory of Touch (1617) by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder. She begins with Plato and moves into Renaissance print and visual culture before engaging in a close analysis of an emblematic artwork. Among the intellectual elite in Renaissance Europe, human skin and the sense of touch involved both boundedness and permeability at the same time, according to Harvey.
The June issue will feature a roundtable on "Historians and the Question of ‘Modernity,’" an article on the history of philosophical responses to the earliest images of the earth from space, and an article on the importance of popular songs to modern Argentine identity formation.