This research project will study how political order and historical truth were jointly constructed in the late medieval Middle East. It will look in particular at how contemporary Islamic scholars/historians and their Arabic texts contributed actively to a state formation process that is identified in the project as ‘the Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate’.
The fifteenth-century history of the Sultanate of Cairo, also known as the Mamluk Sultanate, is traditionally considered a period of socio-economic and political decline following thirteenth- and fourteenth-century successes. In our recent research, however, this fifteenth-century history has been revalued as a highly creative era of transformation, of local and regional empowerment, and of state formation. This revaluation has been captured in the neologism of Mamlukisation. The new MMS-II project builds on this revisionism, claiming that newly framed social memories of a glorious past of Muslim championship and Mamluk leadership were part and parcel of this Mamlukisation process, as were contemporary laments that things aren’t what they used to be.
The MMS-II project will survey and analyse the production and construction of these social memories in contemporary texts, as important specimens of political ideologies and truth claims that until today fail to be properly understood. This will contribute to ongoing new appreciations of the surprisingly rich and eclectic fabric of late medieval and early modern Islamic imaginations of normative political order. This will above all shed entirely new light on the interaction between those imaginations and some of the major narrative sources for medieval Islamic history, written in the particular fifteenth-century context of Syro-Egyptian centrality on the Eurasian stage. This will finally also help to further reveal how most engagements with the historical narrative of Islam and of Islamic leadership in today’s academic, popular, and religious contexts alike, from the perspective of a simple trajectory of swift rise and long decline, remain oblivious of the highly intriguing ambiguities from which that narrative always has been, and continues to be, claimed as historical truth.