Getting Acquainted with The Arab World
As you begin your study of the Arabic langauge you may not know right away which country to which you may travel one day or which cultures and dialects interest you most. Below are some resources for getting to know modern Arab history and cultural production to begin your knowledge base until you decide on a country or region to study.
النهضة or the Arab renaissance movement is a historical period of intellectualism, cultural production, and political and religious reform in many Arab countries from the late 1800s to the 20th century. Knowing the history of this movement is beneficial to one’s understanding of the Arab World today.
In collaboration with BBC, Egyptian author Tarek Osman takes the viewers on a tour through modern Arab history from the 1800s to the present.
This documentary by Vice interviews young people from 14 different Arab countries on what they do in their daily lives. In interviewing young people on the street, at work, or outside school this documentary provides a small glimpse of the cultural diversity across the Arab world.
التسعة وتسعون or The 99 is a popular comic book series created by Teshkeel Comics, a company which partners with Marvel comics to produce comic books for audience in the Middle East and North Africa. The 99 superheroes and their abilities are based off the 99 attributes of Allah and the series aims more to promote unity and cooperation across the Arab world.
This 2009 documentary follows four American and four Moroccan students as they travel through North Africa together. The film documents experiences and discussions between the students about their perceptions about the political and cultural tensions between the United States and the Arab world, ending with reflections on how this experience informs their current perspectives.
Cultural Resources on Palestine
- The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Cultural Journey by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt
This cookbook is fantastic for many reasons. First, there aren’t many cookbooks focused on Gazan cuisine. Second, the collection of recipes is accompanied by essays on Gaza traditions and profiles of local cooks, farmers, fishermen and food producers. Third, the book contextualizes cuisine in the context of decades of structural de-development in Gaza, addressing the ways that the occupation shapes the food supply and cuisine, more generally. For those familiar with Palestinian cooking, there are certain dishes (such as hummus, tabbouli, and stuffed grape leaves) and flavors (such as zaatar), which have gained popularity in the United States. However, Gazan cuisine, even among chefs renowned for Palestinian food, tend to be unacknowledged and unknown. For those interested in learning about the cuisine, and special dishes specific to Gaza, this book is a treasure. Although the book is mostly in English, the text includes the Arabic name of each dish, accompanied with an English translation.
- Palestinian Art: From 1850 to the Present by Kamal Boullata, with a preface by John Berger
For those interested in learning about Palestinian art, this book is for you. The text includes over 200 color and black and white illustrations and a preface by John Berger. Palestinian Art “includes the pioneering work of those who ventured into easel painting before 1948, of refugees who made their debut in the Arab world and whose art left its deep imprint on the development of modern Arab art, and more recent work.” The images included in the book vary from representations of home and exile to the role of women in Palestinian resistance. What is unique about this book is Boullata’s attention to the development of Palestinian art, prior to the nakba of 1948, particularly the emergence of a uniquely Palestinian pictorial representation and depiction of the landscape. Also, John Berger’s preface is excellent.
- Films about Palestine via Kanopy:
For access to a significant number of Palestinian films and documentaries, Kanopy (look under global studies & languages & Middle Eastern languages) is available to all UW-Madison students. Overall, it’s a great resource for films in Arabic across the region.
A Child in Palestine is a small, beautiful book of the work of Najl al-Ali, the creator of iconic Palestinian child, Hanthala. Al-Ali was a renowned Palestinian cartoonist who was assassinated in 1987 at the age of fifty in London. He is known for his drawings of the iconic child figure, Hanthala. Hanthala, a symbol of Palestinian people and their resistance, is often featured in al-Ali’s comics with his back to the viewer. The book goes through the trajectory of his work, with some textual commentary accompanying the images.
DAM is a Palestinian hip-hop group, which was founded in 1999 by two brothers, Tamer and Suhell Nafar, and Mahmoud Jreri. They all grew up in impoverished Palestinian neighborhoods in Lod, Israel. The group’s name has multiple meanings: it is the Arabic verb for “to last forever/eternity” (دام) and the Hebrew word for “blood.” The Arabic word for “blood” (دم) sounds similar to DAM, but does not have a long A, or alif. In addition to these multiple meanings in Arabic and Hebrew, DAM can also be an acronym for “Da Arabian MCs.” Their music mostly engages with poverty among Palestinians, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and occupation. The group has been extremely influential in the development of Palestinian hip-hop. If you are learning more, check out the documentary Slingshot Hip Hop by Jackie Salloum, which covers the Palestinian hip-hop scene and the emergence of DAM.
Mahmoud Darwish was the Palestinian national poet. There are many resources available in Arabic and English to explore his poetry. However, this translation of two of his later works, Mural and The Dice Player is special. The pieces were translated by Darwish’s friends, John Berger and Rema Hammami. The book itself includes original drawings by John Berger as well.
- List of instagram handles to either follow or check out. This list includes accounts which cover Palestinian cooking, music, aesthetics, art, and stories of Palestinian refugees:
Cultural Resources on Morocco
This is a powerpoint resource from U of Arizona. It gives a wide variety of information about the Berbers in Morocco. It contains a couple slides of pictures from weddings and traditional clothing. Additonally, it gives information about the economy, religion, and politics in Berber communities within Morocco.
This link includes a lot of traditional music from Morocco inlcluding Berber and Andalusian. The website has links to different styles and artists and also includes links to featured artists who mainly seem to be mainly contemporary artists.
This website gives a detailed run down of popular cities to visit in Morocco. Each city has its own section with background information and various popular sites to see in the city. The link is actually a planned trip around Morocco with detailed itineraries of each city. This website could be interesting for someone looking to travel to Morocco and getting an idea of places to visit and see.
From the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, this book has detailed pictures and information about the fabrics of Morocco including: embroidery, rugs, and weaving. Photographs detail traditions and cultures that affected fabrics from the 18th-20th century. The book also includes essays about origins of clothing and fabric, as well as the influence of different groups in Morocco.
This website has multiple links to different traditional Moroccan recipes. The website also includes links to basic Moroccan food “hacks”- best spices to use, essential ingredients to use, and how to preserve different foods Moroccan style. There are also sections about exploring the origins of Moroccan foods.
This film, on Netflix, is based in Marrakech and is about prostitutes in Morocco. It is fictional and address different stigmas and issues the young woman face. The film analyzes the sex trade in Morocco and has been controversial in Morocco even being banned in some cities. The film tackles a real topic within in Morocco and is an important issue to be addressed within communties.
This book is an anthology full of different poems from Moroccan poets, including, Abdellatif Laabi, a well-known Moroccan poet. The anthology was one of the first influential novels about culture, politics, and literature in Morocco. The book has a range of literature from letters and manifestos, to interviews and poems. The book was banned in 1972 due to the influential nature of the literature.
Cultural Resources on Egypt
Bahia Shehab is an Egyptian art historian, artist, and the first Arab woman to receive the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture for her project “A Thousand Times No” which she transformed from a book into street art all around Cairo and in international gallery exhibits. You can see her TED Talk and an informational video on her original work here. She conducted a mural workshop at UW-Madison in April 2016, and the piece she created entitled “No to the Impossible” is archived in the Kohler Art Library on campus.
Bassem Youssef is an Egyptian heart surgeon turned professional satirist in the wake of the 2011 revolution. He began filming البرنامج or “The Program” from his laundry room and uploaded episodes to YouTube until the show was purchased by an Egyptian channel. After three seasons of poking fun of the political climate in Egypt which earned Youssef both widespread praise and criticism, البرنامج was forced off the air and Youssef moved his enterprise to the United States. He is currently on tour promoting his book, Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring.
- Critically Acclaimed Egyptian Authors
- Muhammad Husayn Haykal
- Naguib Mahfouz
- Taha Hussein
- Tawfiq Al-Hakim
- Gamal Al-Ghitani
- Sayyid Qutb
- Abdel Hakim Qasem
- Alaa Al Aswany
- Nawal El Saadawi
- Khaled Al Khamissi
Cultural Resources on Lebanon
This website offers an extensive list of Lebanese dishes and their recipes. Lebanese food is varied and different from other Middle Eastern/North African dishes, so be sure to give Lebanese food a try!
This website presents fun, information, and interesting things to do while in Lebanon. The website offers lots of different attractions, from visiting the Temples of Baalbek to visiting castles from the era of the Crusades, there is certainly something for everyone.
This website gives viewers a look into the complex Lebanese culture. Over the years, Lebanon was heavily influenced by many other cultures, and as a result, have very intricate and unique traditional clothing. This website offers pictures and explanations of the traditional garb.
This website gives some quick information about Lebanon as a whole. It provides key dates in Lebanon’s history and gives important info about current events in the country.
The first link gives a brief historical background on Lebanese music. It explains some of the main instruments that are played and talks about some very famous Lebanese singers. The second link is to a video where actual Lebanese music is being played.
Alexandre Najjar is a Lebanese novelist who has written many books. The memoir The School of War looks back at Najjar’s own harrowing experience growing up in a country filled with conflict.
Kahlil Gibran is a Lebanese poet who wrote The Prophet which is a world famous prose poem. The book itself is a collection of essays which address a variety of topics ranging from family dynamics to religion.