History podcast series illuminates Palestine’s past

Much-loved amongst historians, the Ottoman History Podcast back-catalogue is a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in Palestine and the background to today’s situation there.

Produced in Istanbul, the Ottoman History Podcast features interviews on all aspects of history across the former Ottoman empire — whether the shifts of power and politics that we most associate with historical publications, but also social, ethnic, environmental and cultural histories.

Recordings most obviously of interest to students of Palestine include a conversation between Professor Beshara Doumani of Brown University and Chris Gratien, one of the founders of the podcast series. Doumani is one of the most significant scholars from and of Palestine at the moment, and his book Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900 is a vital and fascinating exploration of Palestinian society before Zionist immigration.

Expropriated documents

In another podcast, Shay Hazkani of New York University talks about the problems facing scholars wanting to research Palestine through archives held by the State of Israel. Given the vast amounts of documents expropriated by Israel during the Nakba (the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948) and the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israeli archives are an enormous — but difficult, policed and problematic — sources of information.

And in the episode “Palestine: the History of a Name,” Zachary Foster discusses the various ways in which the name “Palestine” was applied under the late Ottoman empire, used for different and often shifting geographical, religious and administrative units.

As well as podcasts which focus specifically on Palestine, the inter-related narratives of the different parts of the Ottoman Empire mean that other recordings are also a rich source of knowledge on Palestine and the way in which it has been touched by events across the Middle East and beyond.

In “Saharan Jews and French Algeria,” for example, Sarah Stein, a scholar of Sephardic Jewish history at UCLA, talks about the way in which the Jewish population of southern Algeria were treated under French colonial rule from the 1820s.

Zionists often claim that Israel has been a haven for Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. But Stein, amongst many other issues, discusses the fact that this group of Saharan Jewish people were regarded as “traitors” by Zionists, because in 1962 they chose to emigrate to France instead of the State of Israel.

And although “Silent Violence in the Ottoman Empire” concentrates on Anatolia in 1870 and Mount Lebanon in the aftermath of the First World War in discussing the horrors of famine, many of the issues also apply to the experiences of Palestine under British military occupation in 1918.

This is just a tiny snapshot of the resources made available by this inspiring history project, which makes often expensive books and dense academic writing accessible to a wide audience.


Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.