Caravan of Death: Corpse Traffic in 19th-Century Ottoman Iraq & the Birth of Global Public Health
Speaker: Zeinab Azarbadegan, PhD Candidate, Columbia University
Discussant: Shana Minkin, Associate Professor & Chair of International and Global Studies, Sewanee: University of the South
Chair: Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University
Since the fourth International Sanitary Conference in Istanbul 1866, regulating the traffic of dead bodies to Ottoman Iraq became an international preoccupation in the emerging global public health regime. Corpse traffic was a common and long-standing Shi’i practice, where the faithful transported the bodies of the dead to be buried inside or near the shrines in Ottoman Iraq. While it was never proved that the practice was a vector of dissemination of contagious diseases, such as cholera and the plague, the state of the health of the Ottoman Province of Baghdad was constantly tied to corpse traffic in Ottoman and international medical discourses. This presentation examines the global and local attempts at regulating corpse traffic, the debates among medical experts, and the many travel bans imposed on the practice to show how extraterritorial protections were extended beyond the living bodies to those of the dead. Showing the political and social impact of regulating corpse traffic, this presentation demonstrates how the dead body was ascribed different national and class identities through local and global concerns and was pregnant with meaning in the changing inter-imperial relations marked by colonial discourses and practices.
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About the Speakers
Zeinab Azarbadegan is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Columbia University. Her dissertation focuses on the myriad ways that Ottoman Iraqi space was contested between the Ottomans, the Qajars, and the British in the late nineteenth century. She is currently working as a research assistant and co-curator for the Qattan Foundation’s Palestine from the Sky Exhibition.
Shana Minkin received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, her M.A. from Emory University, and her Ph.D. in the joint History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies program at New York University. Her research focuses on the bureaucracy and rituals of the foreign communal dead in Alexandria, Egypt, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She is especially interested in how spaces and spectacles of the dead (e.g. cemeteries, funerals, postmortems) helped foreign communities make claims of local belonging. Her first book Imperial Bodies: Empire and Death in Alexandria, Egypt, (Stanford University Press, 2020) shows how the mechanisms of death became a tool for exerting both imperial and national governance.
Rashid Khalidi received his BA from Yale in 1970, and his D.Phil. from Oxford in 1974. He is editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, and was President of the Middle East Studies Association, and an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington Arab-Israeli peace negotiations from October 1991 until June 1993.