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Tracing the history of the Palestinian diaspora through an object

posted on 2023-06-09, 12:42 authored by Jacob NorrisJacob Norris
Historians and social scientists have long found material objects to be a fruitful source for exploring the ways diasporic communities remember and re-enact their collective identities. In the Palestinian case, numerous studies have discussed the importance of objects in fashioning an identity of diasporic exile, as well as in maintaining strong emotional ties to the homeland, whether formulated as a national space or more localised attachments to town or village. While shedding important light on the contemporary Palestinian condition, these studies pre-suppose that objects such as keys, dresses, books and photographs have only acquired significance in the wake of the enforced exile of 1948. They are described purely as facilitators of memory and nostalgia rather than as possible routes into the past itself. This paper suggests objects have a much longer and more multi-faceted role in the history of the Palestinian diaspora. As historians are well aware, the Palestinian diaspora, or mahjar as it was largely referred to before 1948, has its roots deep in the nineteenth century. But unlike the movements produced by the nakba of 1948, the earlier history of this diaspora was spurred largely by opportunity and choice. At least until the mid 1920s, migrants were able to move in and out of Palestine with relative ease, meaning more circular patterns of movement developed. In this context objects play a different role. They are catalysts of movement itself and they become invested with a complex series of meanings that revolve less around imagining the past and more around the here and now of migrant experience. They allow us unique insights into the worldview and economic strategies of the people who laid the foundations of the Palestinian diaspora.


Publication status

  • Published



Page range


Book title

Diaspora and identity: the case of Palestine

Place of publication

Bethlehem, Palestine



Department affiliated with

  • History Publications

Research groups affiliated with

  • The Middle East and North Africa Centre at Sussex Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


Mitri Raheb

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