Zeinab Azarbadegan - "Corpse Traffic in 19th-Century Ottoman Iraq"

March 30, 2021

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.

This was a virtual event held on March 19, 2021. The event was sponsored by the Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies.