Monday, January 20, 2020

Shana Minkin's "Imperial Bodies"

Shana Minkin is Associate Professor of International and Global Studies at Sewanee: The University of the South.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Imperial Bodies: Empire and Death in Alexandria, Egypt, and reported the following:
The end of the first paragraph of page 99 of Imperial Bodies reads as follows:
Civil registers and inquests helped empires know their subjects, imperial bodies that could be divided into the categories that the empire might need. There was always a desire to delineate in empire; the imperial state needed to know the difference between citizen, subject, and protégé in order to function properly. The institutions of such divisions created [the] “liminal subject of empire,” the person who crosses those legal lines. In Alexandria, it was often the consulates that moved those lines in attempting to capture the body of that liminal subject. The French Consulate used registers to document, divide, and manage its dead. By doing so, it showed that the barriers between citizen, subject, and protégé were at times firm and at times supple. Nonterritorial empire moved and shifted as needed to fill the pages of its registers, to claim its subjects, including protégés, and citizens. The inquests, in memorializing British subjects who lived far beyond the boundaries of British community, did much of the same work. Together the registers and inquests reveal that the process of investigating and recording death intertwined the consulates with local space and governance. Thus were consulate bureaucrats turned into archivists of Egypt even as they produced the building blocks— or, rather, the building bodies—of imperialism.
This paragraph concludes the introductory section of the fourth chapter, “Dying to be British, Dying to be French.” It lays out the primary argument, which is that the documentary processes of death (registrations, inquests) facilitated the sorting of peoples into the categories of empire. These bureaucratic practices were tools of community, of the British and French empires, and of the nascent Egyptian state. This argument is a central feature of my book, which uses hospitals, funerals, and cemeteries alongside the documentation of death to demonstrate that death was essential to the building and maintenance of empire in Egypt.

Page 99 also introduces the reader to primary actors in my book: the British and French consular officials who played the role of the mundane creators of empire. A key finding of mine is that, in the realm of death, the central British colonial state was mostly irrelevant. Consulates worked with the Egyptian national state, and the British consulate and community had no special benefit evident in the struggle for land to build hospitals and cemeteries. In this chapter, consular workers serve as the primary interlocutors among the dead, the communities of the living, and the imperial and national states. As such, with its introduction to both the primary arguments and some of the main actors of this book, page 99 is a very good representation of what is in store for readers.
Learn more about Imperial Bodies at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue