The Blog April 5, 2023

What We're Reading


Marc Reyes, University of Connecticut

Danny Hajjar, Arabic Music Is on the Brink of a Global Breakthrough, Pitchfork

“Some people don’t know English and they learn English songs, so the same can be done for Arabic,” states Lana Lubany, a 25-year-old UK-based Palestinian-American artist stressing the need to normalize hearing Arabic in music. In a feature for the music publication Pitchfork, author Danny Hajjar argues that because of artists like Lubany, Elyanna, and Wegz, Arabic music is on the verge of crossing over into becoming one of the most listened to forms of music. If Bad Bunny can be the most-streamed artist on Spotify for three years in a row, when not an Arabic-speaking musician? Western musicians and producers have been sampling Arabic music for years and legendary Arabic singers like Umm Kulthum and Fairuz have been known globally for decades. What is different now is that big-budget Western studios – such as Netflix, Hulu, and Disney - have been telling stories of Arab communities and deploying Arabic music that plays more to the emotion of the scene instead of reinforcing racist tropes. Furthermore, the rise of steaming platforms like Spotify and Anghami as well as social media sites like TikTok have made Arabic music easier to find and share. Traditional barriers or musical gatekeepers are being swept away as Arabic music finds more and more listeners.

Emily Tamkin, Can American Jewish Support for Israel Survive This New Government? The New Republic

The new Israeli government includes a member who brags of being a homophobe. Another urged police to open fire on Palestinians. A third official threatened former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin weeks before his assassination. As each successive Benjamin Netanyahu government becomes more right-wing, will there be a breaking point? Journalist Emily Tamkin asks, “Is liberal American Jewish support for the state of Israel dying?” More and more American Jews are confronting the possibility that the current Netanyahu government is, in the author’s words, “less an outlier than a culmination of a process that has been unfolding in Israel for a very long time.” While there are American Jews, particularly Orthodox Jews, who very much support the Netanyahu government and many mainstream American Jewish organizations take a nonpartisan position, an overwhelmingly majority of American Jews identify or lean toward the Democratic Party. Tamkin asks both readers and her interviewees if there can ever be an American Jewishness that does not center on Israel. While that question cannot be resolved at the moment, Tamkin sees the possibility of American Jews becoming more critical of Israel, the outrage of the Netanyahu government dying down over time, or the overreach of the current leadership, the latest protests over purposed changes to the Israeli Supreme Court being a prime example, will be what finally snaps people into action to protest and challenge Israel’s increasingly illiberal democracy.

Rahul Sagar, The Custodial Death of Indian History, Hindustan Times

Anyone who has ever done in archival research in India, especially at the larger outfits like the National Archives of India and to a lesser extent, the Nehru Library, know that it can be extremely difficult. There are many rules, some arbitrary or unexplained and there is no guarantee you will receive your requested documents in a reasonable time. Historian Rahul Sagar argues that while many Indians (and non-Indians too) care about Indian history, the flip side is that few care how it is preserved. Sagar argues that since Indian independence, archives (both state and national ones) have been starved of funds and lacking in competent personnel. Furthermore, it all too common for archival material to be misplaced, improperly organized, or straight up lost. Even if an Indian archive does have your material, it might not allow you to photograph documents and requesting photocopies could take weeks and lots of rupees. Sagar fears that some smaller archives will simply perish, only more high-profile ones will survive but continue to muddle through. What Sagar proposes is Indian archives digitizing all records and making them available through a free, user-friendly, and easily accessible online portal. Speaking for myself, this would be incredible, a real game-changer for folks who may never get the chance again to spend significant time in India doing research. But knowing Indian archives like I do, and seeing the small technological steps they are making, Sagar’s proposal is more a dream, and one that will be long deferred.


Michael Aidan Pope, Birkbeck, University of London

Rafael M. Pérez García, ‘Christian freedom and natural freedom: An introduction to an archaeology of Catholic controversies over slavery’ in Rethinking Catholicism in Renaissance Spain, ed. by Xavier Tubau (New York: Routledge, 2023), pp. 182-210.

In this book chapter, Rafael M. Pérez García intelligently outlines the historical developments which influenced and changed the ways in which Christians enslaved non-Christians, from the late Medieval period, through to the early stages of Iberian expansion into the Atlantic Ocean. In tandem with the above analysis, Pérez García also delves into the ways in which the history of conversion to Christianity intertwined with histories of enslavement, shifting from the Medieval understanding that ‘Christians could not be legally enslaved’, to the ‘contradictions of European expansion’ into the Atlantic realm, in which enslavement would become justified through conversion.

Kenneth Baxter Wolf, ‘The “Moors” of West Africa and the Beginnings of the Portuguese Slave Trade’, Journal of Medieval & Renaissance Studies, 24, No. 3 (Fall 1994), pp. 449-469.

This journal article makes for excellent reading alongside the above-mentioned chapter by Rafael M. Pérez García for those interested in the histories of conversion and enslavement in the Iberian Atlantic. Whereas Pérez García focuses predominantly on the Atlantic expansion of the Kingdom of Castile, Kenneth Baxter Wolf focuses more on the Kingdom of Portugal’s, although both overlap in their analysis of the Canary Islands. The central argument of Wolf’s article is that whilst the idea of natural slavery eventually came to dominate the arguments in favour of the slave trade in the early modern period, this was not initially the case. Indeed, relying heavily on Gomes Eanes de Zurara’s Crónica dos feitos de Guiné, it is argued that at first, those enslaved ‘were simply a new chapter in a long history that had begun with the Reconquista in Spain but which had been transferred to the other side of the straits in 1415 with the Conquista of Ceuta’.

Karoline P. Cook, ‘Linaje, conversión y naturalezas inestables en el Atlántico ibérico: Comparación entre la incorporación y la exclusión de los moriscos y de los pueblos indígenas’ in De sangre y leche: Raza y religión en el mundo ibérico moderno, ed. Mercedes García-Arenal and Felipe Pereda (Madrid: Marcial Pons Historia, 2021), pp. 105-138.

Karoline P. Cook examines, in this well thought out chapter, the contradictions thrown up by the attempts to absorb the peoples of the newly incorporated realms of the Iberian Atlantic via mass conversions to Catholicism, coerced or otherwise. Whilst her focus is on the histories of the Moriscos and the Amerindians, it is possible to extrapolate her findings out towards the wider Iberian conversion project of the early modern period. Indeed, her assessment that there was never a uniform approach to the Amerindians and Moriscos, but rather an ever-developing set of debates, influenced and determined by the differing locations and circumstances of each New Christian group, and the varied backgrounds and motivations of the theologians, jurists, Crown functionaries, and so on, who took part in these debates, helps to explain the variety of responses to the many New Christians of the Iberian Atlantic.


Tiger Zhifu Li, University of Technology Sydney

Aynne Kokas, "Why the U.S. will probably never ban TikTok?" Los Angeles Times,  March 22, 2023, Updated 5: 46pm PT.  

The world's most downloaded app--Tiktok, may present genuine national security risks that the American government must contend with,

but the reality is that a nationwide ban or forced divestment would be hard to achieve.  

John Ruwitch, "China's Xi Jinping flexes his diplomatic muscle with a visit to Moscow", NPR,  March 19, 2023, 10:07pm ET. 

China's leader Xi Jinping lands in Moscow on Monday to show support for Russian leader Vladimir Putin and probe possible steps toward peace in Ukraine.  

Ruby Cornish and Keri Phillips for Rear Vision, "Harmony Week:  How Australia became a multicultural nation", ABC News, 23rd March 2023,

As a nation, Australia has come a long way from the White Australia to its multi-cultural society today.  It is not an easy process, and there are still many challenges ahead.  

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