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Abstract

The Arabo-Islamic world of the later medieval period (thirteenth–sixteenth centuries) witnessed substantial transformations in the writing and reading of Arabic literary texts. For a long time, the study of these texts and of their diversity and changes was determined by the model of a “post-classical” literary field in fossilizing decline. In the twenty-first century, however, new trends in literary and historical scholarship have been disengaging from these old, but still widespread, negative paradigms. They have managed to replace a condescending insistence on what Arabic literary texts no longer represented, or could no longer do, for more critical appreciations of what they really were, did, and meant for contemporaries. This special journal issue brings together five articles that were written in the context of a collaborative research project that aims to remedy this challenging situation in current understandings of late medieval Arabic history writing. This project, funded by the European Research Council and entitled “The Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate-II (MMS-II): Historiography, Political Order, and State Formation in Fifteenth-Century Egypt and Syria,” runs for five years (2017–21) at Ghent University (Belgium). MMS-II is aiming to tackle this challenge by arguing with and beyond, instead of against or irrespective of, this historiographical production’s vexed interests and related subjectivities. The MMS-II project studies more specifically how not just fifteenth-century historians’ truth but also the political order of their courtly surroundings were constructed in textual practice. This introduction seeks to explain in more theoretical, programmatic, and empirical detail why and how MMS-II considers this textual relationship between history writing and dynamics of power to be a valid and valuable—yes, even a necessary—research perspective in the study of fifteenth-century Arabic historiography. It furthermore aims to explain how MMS-II research is unfolding in practice, and how this journal issue’s five articles tie in with this approach as well as with their wider context of fifteenth-century history writing. This introduction pursues these goals by first explaining how MMS-II considers the construction of political order, within the wider framework of a revaluation of the concept and reality of state formation in fifteenth-century Syro-Egypt. It then presents the texts of history with which MMS-II engages, focusing especially on sketching the current state of scholarship on these texts. Third, this introduction explains in more detail how MMS-II research takes up a particular position within that scholarship and aims to connect the study of history writing with that of state formation. Finally, the fourth part summarizes not just how the five articles in this issue of MSR fit into this research program, but also what they contribute to it, both individually and collectively.

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