Ziad Fahmy

  • Fellowship Dates 2014-2014
  • Research Topic Listening to the Nation: Radio, Noise and Soundscapes in Inter-Revolutionary Egypt, 1919-52
  • Fellow or Grant Type National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Affiliation Post-doctoral candidate Cornell University

In the busy squares of early 20th-century Cairo, the rhythmic metallic sounds of electric trams were frequently interrupted by the ringing of their bells to warn pedestrians, galloping carriages and the occasional automobile, whose numbers were steadily increasing. The sounds of newspaper boys yelling out the latest headlines competed with the chants of fava bean cart-venders, vegetable and fruit-mongers, lemonade and ‘ir’isus (licorice drink) sellers and a dizzying variety of street peddlers who melodically advertised their goods and services. By the early 1930s, another sound was added to the din of people, trams and automobiles – the sounds of radio, broadcasting news, popular Egyptian music and entertainment programs in cafés and other public spaces. For the first time, an unprecedented number of the semi-literate and illiterate public could regularly absorb and participate in a new nationally broadcast mass culture. This book project critically examines the changing urban soundscape in Egypt during the first half of the 20th century and critically engages with theoretical works on nationalism. How did the growing urban population perceive new sounds? How was unwanted “noise” defined? What were some of the anti-noise regulations at the time and what were the class implications of these laws? This research investigates the effects of radio broadcasting on the Egyptian streets and examines the critical role coffee shops played as cultural hubs, where differing mass media were publicly merged, negotiated, discussed and digested. It takes into account the full range of recorded and broadcast sounds and vocalizations including wordless vocalizations that capture human emotions. This study demonstrates that understanding the daily experiences of people through past sounds and soundscapes brings us closer to comprehending everyday Egyptians on their own terms.

TopicsMedia & Cinema, Music, Popular CultureThemePeople & SocietyHistoric PeriodModern


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