A Regional History of Medicine in the Middle East

Annual Conference in the Negev - The Middle East and Islamic Studies Association of Israel (MEISAI)

Posted on March 23, 2020 by Mayan Lalush

In December 2018 I received a surprising email. Atar David, an MA student at Ben Gurion University (today a PhD student in the History Department of the University of Texas at Austin), who had attended my lecture in the previous year’s conference, suggested that we could lead together a graduate student panel in the coming conference, scheduled for May 2019. Atar’s MA thesis was about food, food subsidies and Effendi discourse in Egypt between 1919 and 1939 and my MA thesis was about medical discourses on sex and sexuality in 1930s Egypt.   

Since we both studied Egypt in the first half of the 20th century we thought that it would be a good opportunity to share our findings and to be exposed to fresh ideas, as we were coming from different perspectives. Now the only challenge was to look for someone who could complete our panel, an obstacle which was solved very quickly. I thought of Dan Kedem, another MA student (currently a PhD student) in our project. Dan’s MA thesis was titled “The Time of the Doctor: Medical Discourse on the Health and Hygiene of the Egyptian Village during the 1930s.” I thought he would be a good option to complete an interesting and diverse panel. Dan agreed to join us, and after few weeks we received a positive answer – the panel had been accepted! Now we started to work seriously on our papers.

When the date arrived, we reached Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, excited and expectant. The small room assigned to us filled up quickly. Atar’s paper was about “Food, rights, duties and Fellahin in Egypt during the second half of the 1930s.” My paper connected to his, as I also talked about that period in Egypt, under the headline of “How Will You Deal with Prostitution?”. My paper focused on the medical discourse about prostitution in that period, relating to regulation, venereal diseases, law and morality. And the grand finale was Dan’s talk about public health, sanitation and hygiene in the Egyptian village. I felt there was a synergy between our papers, as each of us presented their own perspectives about Egypt, policy, colonialism and health during the first decades of the 20th century.