Kitchen Histories in Modern North Africa
Gaul, Ann Marie
This dissertation is a comparative study of modern Egypt and Morocco from the turn of the twentieth century through the 1970s, narrated through the lens of the urban middle-class kitchen. Scholars of the region have paid increasing attention to domestic spaces and the politics of gender in the formation of national identity, but with a tendency to focus on written sources, nationalist movements, and formal concepts. I suggest that the notions of modern home and family that underpinned nationalist politics and cultures in Egypt and Morocco cannot be fully understood without an exploration of the kitchen as b oth a conceptual and material space. By tracing the histories of cooking stoves and cookware, cookbooks, and foods associated with “national cuisines,” I use the kitchen to tell a narrative that grounds abstract processes in everyday material, affective, and sensory contexts. I show how the home kitchen was crucial to the formation of modern national cultures as well as the figure of the middle-class housewife as a new kind of worker, and the concept of domestic happiness.The dissertation uses literary analysis, archival data, and ethnography to explore relationships between dominant discourses and quotidian experiences. These methods bridge the seams that both connect and differentiate vernacular accounts from formal histories, domestic spaces from publics, and rationalizing tendencies from intuitive ones. By pursuing a comparative approach with examples from comparable yet distinct cases, I also highlight the historical contingencies entailed in the emergence of modern home kitchens. Why did Arabic cookbooks written for women emerge as a popular genre in Egypt in the 1950s and 60s, but not Morocco? How did similar models of gas stoves become attached to different subjectivities, sensibilities, and cookware materials in each society? Why was middle-class refinement associated with urban dishes featuring cinnamon and saffron in Morocco, but hybrid dishes featuring béchamel or other European techniques in Egypt? In addressing these questions, I contend that everyday culinary practices and spaces were essential to forging new understandings of national identity, gender, and class––often in ways that elided or overwrote existing narratives and categories.
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