Aga Khan Program Lecture: Nasser Rabbat, “History’s Currency: The Afterlife of al-Maqrizi’s Khitat”

Aerial view of the city of Cairo, Egypt.

Aerial view of Cairo from Bab Zuwayla toward the west, Courtesy of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Support Programme-Egypt

The GSD is pleased to present a series of talks and webinars broadcast to our audiences via Zoom.

*This lecture will be ONLINE ONLY. For security reasons, virtual attendees must register. Scroll down to find complete instructions for how to register.

Event Description

This lecture offers a reading of the stages of modernity in Egypt through a medieval lens. It explores how a leading urban history book, al-Maqrizi’s Khitat (written 1415-42), came to absorb and articulate the country’s encounters with colonialism, modernization, Orientalism, historical academicism, nationalism, pan-Arabism, and authoritarian capitalism. Appropriated by the Savants of the French Occupation (1798-1801) in their monumental Description de l’Égypte, the Khitat became the go-to source for anyone studying Cairo. ‘Ali Mubarak, an engineer/minister who Haussmannized Cairo in the 1860s, used it to write his own paean to the remodeled city. K. A. C. Creswell, a British officer turned Orientalist architectural historian, relied on it to anchor his pioneering architectural history of Egypt. Egyptian nationalist historians deployed it as their authenticating native referent. Novelists and poets, like Gamal al-Ghitani and Naguib Surur, assimilated it as a voice of the undying spirit of Egypt and a parable of resistance to corruption and oppression. Eventually, the book acquired a transhistorical sheen that embodied the epistemic and political changes in Egypt from the early 19th century to the present.

Screenshot of a presentation by Nasser Rabbat on Zoom. Rabbat is visible on the right side of the image. The presentation shows archival images of Cairo, Egypt. Screenshot of a presentation by Nasser Rabbat on Zoom. Rabbat is visible on the right side of the image. The presentation shows two books with narratives about architecture, in Arabic.


Headshot of Nasser Rabbat, who wears a blue blazer, collared shirt, purple lanyard, and glasses.Nasser Rabbat, RF ’12, is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. His interests include the history and historiography of Islamic architecture, medieval urbanism, modern Arab history, contemporary Arab art, and post-colonial criticism. He has published several books, most recently ‘Imarat al-Mudun al-Mayyita: Nahwa Qira’a Jadida lil-Tarikh al-Suri (The Architecture of the Dead Cities: Toward a New Interpretation of the History of Syria) (2018) and an online book, The Destruction of Cultural Heritage: From Napoléon to ISIS, co-edited with Pamela Karimi (2016).

Prof. Rabbat worked as an architect in Los Angeles and Damascus and held academic and research appointments in Cairo, Granada, Rome, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Munich, and Bonn. He regularly contributes to Arabic newspapers, serves on the boards of various organizations and consults with international design firms on projects in the Islamic World. In recent years, he began researching and publishing on immigration, refugees, heritage conservation, and destruction and reconstruction.

Follow Nasser Rabbat on Twitter.

How to Join

Register to attend the lecture here. Once you have registered, you will be provided with a link to join the lecture via Zoom. This link will also be emailed to you.

The event will also be live streamed to the GSD’s YouTube page. Only viewers who are attending the lecture via Zoom will be able to submit questions for the Q+A. If you would like to submit questions for the speaker in advance of the event, please click here.

Live captioning will be provided during this event.

Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the Public Programs Office at (617) 496-2414 or [email protected].