Tamer El-Leithy

  • Fellowship Dates 2015-2015
  • Research Topic The Biography of a Cairene Alley: Medieval Family, Urban Property and Everyday Court
  • Fellow or Grant Type National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Affiliation Post-doctoral candidate New York University

This research represents the second and final part of a larger project based on a rare archival find: an invaluable corpus of uncatalogued and unexamined documents from the Coptic Patriarch’s private archive in Cairo. This trove embodies a veritable treasure of documents from the medieval Middle East. Its documentary nature allows a new vantage point from which to study social practices – especially ones necessarily outside the purview of narrative sources, the everyday practices of non-elites. This unparalleled resource allows a rare entry point to the study of Coptic families and inter-faith social relations, as well as the dynamics of urban change in a central neighborhood of Cairo in the 15th and 16th centuries, a period of critical transition. The documents shows that the real estate properties cluster in two Coptic neighborhoods of Cairo. This study reconstructs (maps) and traces the history of these two late-medieval Christian alleys to recount the biography of neighborhoods, where persons and families are the transient variable in the history of houses and shared/multi-religious urban space. Analysis of this rich material – and the complementing court records – forms the basis for a history of two Coptic neighborhoods in 15th-16th century. The research traces the question of legal acculturation pursued as a grassroots history of the congregation’s social practice. Here, questions include: How was Coptic family life legalized – especially when such acts were performed in the idiom of Islamic law? This project brings together original research on unique Arabic archival sources and a rigorous engagement with social theory and comparative history with the ultimate aim of overcoming the disciplinary isolation of medieval Islamic studies, as well as demonstrating its significance to wider theoretical conversations on medieval religion, conversion and society.

TopicsArabic & Islamic & Near and Middle Eastern Studies, History, Religion, SociologyThemeCities & Towns, People & SocietyHistoric PeriodMedievalLocationCairo


Interested in scholarly research in Egypt? ARCE fellowships fund a variety of academic study projects for 3 to 12 months.Learn More