Centering Place in Tawfiq Canaan’s Literary Cartography

In the early-twentieth century, Palestinian physician and ethnographer Tawfiq Canaan published roughly forty-five studies on the cultural and narrative traditions of the largest section of Palestinian society, the fellaheen (peasantry). In this article, the author examines how Canaan’s expansive collection of stories related to holy sites across Palestine in Mohammedan Saints and Sanctuaries in Palestine (1927) produces a provocative literary cartography—a narrative that operates much like a map. In so doing, she contends that Canaan both contests orientalist constructions of the Holy Land as frozen in biblical time and, critically, unsettles the very spatiotemporal logic governing dominant colonial narrations of place. This epistemic shift, the author concludes, is the result of Canaan’s recentering of Indigenous Palestinian place-based knowledge as both the subject and method of his study. This approach offers instructive lessons applicable within and beyond the disciplinary, regional, and temporal boundaries that have so far circumscribed the study and reception of Canaan’s work.

Author biography: 

Amanda Batarseh is an assistant professor in the Department of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. She received her PhD in comparative literature from UC Davis and was a UC Chancellor’s postdoctoral fellow at UC Riverside. Her recent publications include “Raja Shehadeh’s ‘Cartography of Refusal’: The Enduring Land Narrative Practice of Palestinian Walks” (Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, 2021) and “Reading Indigenous Grammars of Place and Narrative Permeability in Bethlehem’s Mary” in Bethlehem: A Socio-Cultural History (printed by the editor, 2020).