Everyday Life and Consumer Culture in Eighteenth-Century Damascus
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: University of Washington Press
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Note on Transliterations
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The old city of Damascus, which now stands on the eastern end of the modern metropolis, is an ideal place for contemplating the past. Here one finds, in remarkably preserved form, the physical vestiges of the medieval and Ottoman eras, which now house a mostly working-class population in ramshackle splendor. Even for those who have lived in Damascus all their lives...
I. City & Environment
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The study of consumption necessarily begins with the physical environment, interpreted in the broadest sense of the word. This first step is to conjure up the city’s former appearance, which demands more than a static portrait of streets and buildings. It also means examining the natural forces and resources which shaped urban life, creating its preconditions...
II. Bread & Survival
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The commotion created by the harvest of 1749 was like nothing Damascus had seen in more than a generation. When the grain finally arrived from the fields in June, at the traditional time, the entire city exploded in demonstrations of thanksgiving and joy. Most of the markets were strung with decorations, and a festive air filled the streets...
III. Luxury & Variety: Everyday Food
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The people of Damascus did not, of course, eat bread alone. For reasons of nutrition, taste, and prestige, they were constantly trying to enrich their diet with other foods. Compared with townspeople in many other parts of Eurasia, they were quite fortunate. The city could count on obtaining a wide range of foodstuffs: meats, dairy products, cooking oils, an abundance of fresh produce...
IV. Luxury & Variety: Everyday Drink
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What people drank was no different from their choice of food, insofar as it was not merely a matter of physiological necessity but of social and religious significance as well. The universal drink was water, which was simultaneously one of the most routine, complex, and daunting issues of urban life, posing its own problems of supply, regulation, and distribution. But water was not the only option...
V. Domestic Space
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Even for a wali, or local folk saint, Husayn al- Hamawi was remarkable for his exceptionally odd behavior. He used to roam the streets of his neighborhood, eventually making his permanent home in one of the back lanes, where he lived atop piles of “garbage and stones.” Most astonishing to contemporaries were the dogs which followed him everywhere...
VI. Fashion & Deportment
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In an entry for 1730, Ibn Kannan noted some distressing news. In what would later be known as the Patrona Halil rebellion, mutinous soldiers in Istanbul had overthrown and imprisoned the Ottoman sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703–30). These distant rumblings prompted a naïve reverie, in which the chronicler complimented the Ottomans for their relatively decent treatment...
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At first glance, the eighteenth century seems to have offered nothing new or unfamiliar to the residents of Ottoman Damascus. One cannot point to any major innovation which would have marked a memorable turning point in their daily routines. Nearly everywhere one looks, an overwhelming continuity reigned: in dietary regime...
Appendix A: Major Articles of Furniture
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Appendix B: Major Utensils for Cooking and Eating
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Appendix C: Major Articles of Clothing
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Publication Year: 2007