British Academy Programme on Contemporary Palestinian History

The British Academy research project ‘Teaching Contemporary Palestinian Political History: Setting a Collaborative Research Agenda and Building Capacity’ was initiated under the BA’s UK-Middle East Capacity Sharing Partnership scheme. The programme pioneers extensive collaboration between Oxford and universities in the Arab world, including scholars from the occupied Palestinian territories and Lebanon, working at An-Najah (Nablus), Al-Azhar (Gaza) and the Lebanese University and other institutions (Beirut). The project aims to build teaching and research capacities in the field of political history in general and in contemporary Palestinian politics in particular. Among the questions to be investigated are the sources required for teaching contemporary Palestinian political history, the research methods to be deployed in gathering these sources, and the conceptual paradigms and analytical frameworks most suitable for introducing these sources to advanced university-level students.

The focus is on the pivotal three decade period that began with the establishment of the PLO in 1964 and ended with the signing of the Oslo Peace agreements in 1993. Four principal challenges confront scholars working on this period. First, the sources are fragmented and dispersed across the Middle East. Second, the field is thematically dominated by the study of political elites; in contrast, important themes such as the pivotal role played by political institutions, as well as mid and lower level cadres, have received little attention. Third, much of the available literature fails to account for the historical simultaneity of political activity in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, and in refugee communities across the Middle East. Finally, there is a lack of comparative focus and a failure to consider Palestinian political history within the context of its wider revolutionary and anti-colonial history.

In order to address these challenges, surveys of archival and documentary material will be undertaken in the first year of the programme, culminating in a comprehensive bibliography. In the second year the focus will be on oral history approaches and techniques. The programme will examine best practices from the oral histories of other liberation movements, and will establish a collaborative oral history database. In the final year, the workshops will explore useful methodologies and approaches for both gathering and teaching political history of this kind.

The development of sources will be conducted with an eye towards tackling thematic challenges especially relevant to the study of underground liberation movements, and will focus on four specific areas of political organization: the repertoire and means of political dissemination; the structure and power of organisation; doctrinal rules and rituals; exile groups and solidarity networks. The workshop sessions will draw upon the experience of scholars exploring similar questions in other parts of the world. These include the pioneering South Africa Democracy and Education Trust (SADET), as well as distinguished scholars who contributed to the British Academy sponsored programme, Republicans Without Republics, a network previously directed by Karma Nabulsi, which explored republican movements, philosophy, and ideology across the same four themes.

The programme begins in the autumn of 2009 and ends in the autumn of 2012. Six workshops and three video-conferences will be held in Oxford, Nablus, Gaza and Beirut over three years. The findings will be disseminated through scholarly publications and, in the final year, through the creation of an accessible website that will provide original sources for the teaching of Palestinian political history.