The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies has announced plans for a semi-annual peer-reviewed journal devoted to the academic study of history. Once published, Ostour will be the fourth peer-reviewed specialist journal published by the ACRPS; Omran focuses on social and humanist studies, Tabayyun on culture, thought, and philosophy, and Siyasat Arabia on political science, international relations and public policy. With the publication of Ostour, the ACRPS’s desire to provide a high degree of integration and complementarity in social science research will be complete.

The title, Ostour, is inspired by the linguistic and Quranic overtones of its Arabic root letters, and the Greek words istoria, istor, istorein, which serve as the historical root for “History/Histoire” in the West. While this derivation could raise questions, the connotations of the name Ostour are foundational, set in firm linguistic and semantic ground. The name also hints at the conceptual-lexical distinction between ustour, al-ustourah, and al-astarah in current Arabic usage or in cultural criticism and the social sciences. Also related, the word “legend” (ustourah), in both the Arabic language at large and in the specific field of semantic narrative, has developed a sense of contradicting written historical science, which is aimed at dismantling myth; in languages other than Arabic, however, it retained the meaning of writing history.

The journal’s symbolic title does not itself dispel the epistemological confusion that the field of history has engendered, and continues to engender, among Arabs. Beginning during the era of the al-Nahda, a new corrective path for historical narrative was forged. Since that time, modern and contemporary Arabic historical production has increased, growing to such an extent that it has surpassed its distinctly Western counterpart. The return to the old Arabic roots of ustour, al-ustourah, and al-astarah serves to root, consolidate, and mainstream the idea of writing in historical time, and in the historical time of the Arabs and the Muslims in particular. Consequently, we adopt the name Ostour with the lexical meaning provided by the Holy Quran (w-alqalam wa ma yasturoun) along with the modern technical meaning to form a foundation for a “New Arab History” that far from interrupting the early Arab achievements in writing history, will continue, renew, and expand these as a basis for new creativity.

Ostour’s vision is informed by the notion that history is a distinctive science in a state of continual reformulation, incorporating the methodologies and approaches of all other sciences—including the exact sciences—in its own open-ended and developing methodology. The journal aspires to stimulate all methods and curricula of historical inquiry, though it places a premium upon studies that broach new types of problems or incorporate new epistemological approaches to history that may appear on the surface to be “complete”. Epochs and historical periods aside, history is a quest, an on-going exploration, within which lies its uniqueness. It is not merely “past history,” but implies an understanding of future history as well, though this is not to be confused with any teleological philosophy of history.

The need for Ostour flows from Arab thought’s urgent need for a journal that will raise vital issues and questions in a space dedicated to writing history and presenting new approaches, going beyond research focused strictly on political chronology, to take up social history—comprehensive, qualitative, partial, unfinished—whether such histories be written, oral, virtual, or a micro-history of local and marginalized communities, environment, gender, and local communities. This may include trends associated with nouvelle histoire, although these are, of course, not a new school or doctrine of history-writing, nor do they constitute a tightly-hewn educational curriculum.

The journal calls upon Arab scholars and historians, whatever their area of expertise, to engage with and contribute to this project; to share their scientifically sound, original, and innovative work, demonstrating creativity in methodology, approach, analysis and data collection. The journal welcomes studies, research papers, and in-depth reviews that are holistically engaged with social sciences and humanities. The following thematic areas are of particular relevance:

World History and Comparative History of Civilization

Studies here would concentrate upon ancient civilizations: China, India, Iran, and the Eastern or “Oriental” civilizations (Mesopotamia, the Nile River Valley, Yemen/Arabia Felix), as well as Greek and Roman and Mayan and Incan civilizations.

History of Arab Civilization and its States, Dynasties, and Societies

This thematic area will be of special importance to the journal; as such, it is accorded commensurate space and weight. All eras and periods will be considered (pre-Islamic, Islamic Middle Ages [pre-Ottoman], Ottoman, and the Arab Renaissance [al-Nahda] and current history). Suggested topics include:

  • Studies of macro socio-political, economic, and intellectual structures over the long term, highlighting the key attributes and major shifts and transformations of different epochs and eras;
  • Studies of the minute particulars of specific societies or communities: the city, neighborhoods, districts, markets, transportation and communications, life styles, daily life, food, clothing, housing, social units, and local communities; and
  • Studies of states or regimes as authorities and structures of control and hegemony, governance modalities and political, or social and cultural relations.

Historical Anthropology and Historical Sociology

This theme comprises economic history, historical geography, urban and cultural history, architectural history, art history, history of science, literary history, history of ideas and religions, history of seafaring, and desert history. Within these topics, customs and traditions, diverse social units, power brokers, student, sectarian, tribal and clan movements, health and disease, environment and climate, and history of mentalities and psychologies are of foremost concern.

History of the Middle Ages, Modernity, and Current Contemporary History

Historical analysis of the following regions are of utmost import:

  • East Asia: Studies focusing on the Far East (Japan, China, Korea); Southeast Asia (India, Sri Lanka/Ceylon); Central Asia (Afghanistan, Iran, the Caucasus, and Anatolia)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • The Mediterranean
  • The West: Eastern, Central, and Western Europe; samples of European and American eras and transitions:
    • The Middle Ages: early, middle, and late (history of the feudal manor, the Church, European duchies and kingdoms)
    • From the Middle Ages to the Modern Era (History of Capitalism and its transformations)
    • History of Transformations and Revolutionary Leaps (scientific and political)
    • Political Ideas and Systems: Liberalism, Democracy, Socialism, and Constitutionalism
    • New World Histories: American history on the northern and southern continents; Australian and New Zealand
    • Revolutions, Transitional Rule, and Stable regimes
    • Colonial history: Age of Empires, Colonialism, Neo-Colonialism

Documentation and Manuscripts

  • Curricula and critical editions: The Critical Editions of Documents and historical papers
  • Display and Curating of Manuscripts (Manuscripts, MSS) from the Arab-Islamic heritage
  • Display and Curating of Manuscripts from Colonial Archives (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Austria, Spain) and Ottoman, Arab, and other archival documents
  • Display/presentation of varieties of memoires, chronicles, and travelogues
  • Studies in research methodologies, curating, and historical criticism of data, documents, and manuscripts

Oral History: Unwritten histories and histories of the marginalized

A holistic look at theories and approaches to oral history offers a category for oral accounts and testimonials, with their potential for future translation into historical documents, meant to chronicle the history of groups, persons, and sectors of the population who could not easily convey their voice or their role in a written history. The ACRPS plans to convene an annual oral history conference to enrich this body of work.

Analytical Reviews of New and Foundational Books

The ACRPS is set to publish Ostour’s first issue in 2014, and welcomes submissions that address relevant themes until the end of July 2014. For any questions, comments, or concerns, please write to ayat.hamdan@dohainstute.org or: ostour@dohainstitute.org