Equine Cultures at WOCMES Recap

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“Intersections of Equine Cultures in the Middle East, Europe and North Africa”
World Congress on Middle Eastern Studies
July 16-20, 2018
Seville, Spain 

Tunis
“Conquest of Tunis”

   Horses cross borders, sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively. A panel dedicated to “The Intersections of Equine Cultures” at the recent World Congress on Middle Eastern Studies, hosted by the Three Cultures of the Mediterranean Foundation in Seville, explored equine connections between the Middle East, Europe and North Africa. 

   The panel, brought together by Gwyneth Talley (UCLA), discussed equine knowledge from translations of classical texts in Latin, Arabic and Persian, to contemporary racing cultures and their transnational relevance to questions of ethnic and class identity. 

FerdinandIII
Ferdinand III

The presentations began with Hylke Hettema[1] (Leiden University) who assessed the profound influence of Orientalism on descriptions of horses in the Middle East as “Arabian” by early colonial enthusiasts. Christoph Lange[2] (University of Cologne) described his anthropological fieldwork at horse racetracks in the Middle East, showing that long-standing popular culture offered a local inspiration for elite involvement in global racing circuits, beyond the influence of the British Empire. Marjan Afsharian[3] (Institute of Ismaili Studies) traced the numerous manuscript variations on a Sanskrit text translated into Persian and found in both British and French collections. Finally, Kathryn Renton (UCLA) discussed the common classical origins of both Arabic and Latin traditions of equine knowledge in the Iberian Peninsula, despite multiple routes of transmission. Together, the panel demonstrated the long-standing and shared interest in horses as carriers of culture across national and linguistic boundaries.

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Carriage horse napping in Seville

[1] Hylke is the founder of Al Safy Arabians in Cairo, Egypt.

[2] Christoph published some of his research in “Purity, Nobility, Beauty and Performance: Past and Present Construction of Meaning for the Arabian Horse” in The Meaning of Horses: Biosocial Encounters edited by Dona Davis and Anita Maurstad (Routledge, 2016).

[3]  Marjan is an editor for the Encyclopaedia Islamica project at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, UK

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Left to right: Christoph Lange, Hylke Hettema, Marjan Afsharian, Kathryn Renton
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