Narratives of Slavery in Late Ottoman Egypt

with Eve Troutt Powell

hosted by Susanna Ferguson

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The epithet "abid," Arabic for "slave," still follows those with dark skin as they move around today's Cairo. The word and its negative connotations, however, have a long history. In this episode, Professor Eve Troutt Powell explores this history by tracing the many lives of slaves and slavery in late Ottoman Egypt. She draws on the narratives of Ottoman Egyptian elites, Sudanese slave traders, and slaves themselves to show how the practice of owning people with dark skin shaped a regional Ottoman-Egyptian-Sudanese economy, gendered patterns of elite household life, and prominent forms of textual and visual culture. She reads representations of slavery and slaves' lives in the late nineteenth century to show how practices of Egyptian and Sudanese slave trading and owning, developed far from the decks of Atlantic slavers, nevertheless produced their own forms of racist thinking that have persisted into the present in Egypt as elsewhere.

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Eve M. Troutt Powell is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain and the Mastery of the Sudan (University of California, 2003) and Tell This in My Memory: Stories of Enslavement in Egypt, Sudan and the Late Ottoman Empire (Stanford University Press, 2012). She was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2003. 
Susanna Ferguson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Middle Eastern History at Columbia University. She is currently working on a dissertation entitled "Tracing Tarbiya: Women, Gender and Childrearing in Egypt and Lebanon, 1865-1939."  


Episode No. 283
Release Date: 25 November 2016
Recording Location: University of Pennsylvania
Editing and production by Chris Gratien
Sound excerpts: from - Katibim (Uskudar'a Gider iken) - Safiye Ayla; from - Bumble Bee Bossa by Podington Bear
Special thanks to Muhtelif for allowing us to use "Bint El Shalabiya" and to Kara Güneş for the composition "Istanbul"


Tell This in My Memory
by Eve Troutt Powell
Stanford University Press
Adıvar, Halide Edib. Memoirs of Halidé Edib. New York: Arno Press, 1972.

Baron, Beth. Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Glymph, Thavolia. Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Powell, Eve Troutt. Tell This in My Memory : Stories of Enslavement from Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Empire. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2012.

A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain, and the Mastery of the Sudan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Roberts, Mary. Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel  Literature. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Shaʻrāwī, Huda. Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (1879-1924). Trans.  Margot Badran. London: Virago, 1986.

Sobers-Khan, Nur. Slaves without Shackles: Forced Labour and Manumission in the Galata Court Registers, 1560-1572. Berlin: KS, Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2014.

Toledano, Ehud. The Ottoman Slave Trade and Its Suppression: 1840-1890. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Wilson, Salim C. I Was a Slave,. London: S. Paul, 1939.


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