From Baltimore to Beirut: On the Question of Palestine

Sherene Seikaly
UC Santa Barbara

How do we understand conflicting claims to land and its relationship to colonialism? This is the question of Palestine. At its best, it can offer new ways to think about land and history. Yet, it remains largely confined to the territorial and conceptual borders of the nation-state. This book project charts an escape from nationalist histories and historiographies. It explores how one Palestinian man was at once a colonial officer and a colonized subject, an enslaver and a refugee. This figure’s trajectory from nineteenth century mobility across Baltimore and Sudan to twentieth century immobility in Lebanon places the question of Palestine in a global history of race, capital, slavery, and dispossession. The book argues that the only way to speak to these broader resonances is to transgress the nation-state’s categories and subjectivities. Indeed, the neat divisions between the colonized and the colonizer, the middle-class businessman and the refugee, the collaborator and the patriot, fail to capture any of our life experiences, least of all that of a peripatetic Palestinian medical doctor.

Photo: Naim and Aniseh Cotran. Acre, Palestine. February 1933. Family Papers