“Even if the Sons of Rum are not like Him” The Spatial and Temporal Journey of a Late 19th Century Egyptian Song

  • Olga Verlato New York University
Keywords: transportation infrastructures, mobility, Egypt, army, popular culture, 19th century, song


This paper follows the material and discursive circulation of the Egyptian popular song “Fī-l-Jihādiyya” as it traveled from the urban context to Upper Egypt throughout the 19th century. The song narrates the farewell of a mother to her son recruited to war, and her helpless attempt to save him. I explore how centuries-old local forms of mobility enacted by authors and performers intersected with the infrastructural changes in transportation under British colonization increasingly since the third quarter of the 19th century. Additionally, by reflecting on the long durée of the song’s circulation and performative replication, I investigate the continuities within the military social infrastructure throughout the century, and argue that the ongoing exploitation of Upper Egyptian soldiers helps explain the endurance of “Fī-l-Jihādiyya’s” social relevance. I thus provide a case for the study of material and social infrastructures as interrelated realms of analysis, specifically with respect to the different implications of the material and social mobilities that my analysis uncovers.

Author Biography

Olga Verlato, New York University

is a doctoral student in the joint history and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies program at New York University. Her research focuses on the cultural history of media in 19th century Egypt and the Mediterranean. As part of her doctoral project, she is currently investigating the role of multilingual printing in Egypt at the intersection of transregional networks of linguistic, cultural, and material circulation within the Mediterranean realm. Her paper “Even if the Sons of Rum are not like Him” was awarded the Honorable Mention by the Falak Sufi Memorial Essay Prize in 2017.

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