Becoming Arab: A Community Book Read by Sumit Mandal
April 26, 2021 — 8:00-9:30pm EDT
Registration will close on April 23, 2021.
A community book read with Sumit Mandal, author of Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World and winner of the 2020 Benda Prize. This read is organized by the consortium for Graduate Education and Training in Southeast Asian Studies (GETSEA).
Sumit Mandal is a historian at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. He is currently doing research on Muslim shrines as inscriptions in the landscape of transregional histories of the Malay world. He is working towards a book from this research that is tentatively titled “Saints of the Southern Indian Ocean: Sacred Geographies, Popular Faith Practices, and the Politics of Islam from Jakarta to Cape Town.”
As the AAS Southeast Asia Council (SEAC) describes it: Sumit Mandal’s Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World (2018) is a powerful and important work of history, the result of prodigious archival research. Beyond its importance in challenging conventional understandings of the category ‘Arab’ in the Malay world, it suggests new ways of thinking about the project of colonial racial categorization more broadly. Mandal importantly argues that most scholarship assumes that racial categorizations deployed in postcolonial nations stemmed from colonial practices aimed at dividing populations in order to rule them. He upends this argument by breaking down what the category, Arab, meant in historical contexts prior to, during, and after Dutch colonial rule. In particular, Mandal’s argument that colonial racial categories are not ‘totalizing’ but are subject to reinterpretation and subversion, encourages the reader to think hard about the historical processes through which such racial categories come to exist, and shift over time. Working from Malay, Dutch, French, and English language sources, this is a book whose importance will center the field of Southeast Asian studies in broader conversations about creole histories and racializing area studies.