Ca. 1500-1900

30 March-1 April 2017

Conference presented by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the Penn Libraries, co-sponsored by the Penn Humanities Forum, Perry World House, the Middle East Center at Penn, the department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, and the Asian American Studies Program.

Conference Overview

Conference Overview

La carovane américaine au cénacle (The American caravan at the Cenacle). The Lenkin Family Collection of Photography. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

Home page image: Portrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro), Charles Willson Peale (1819). Oil on Canvas. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art


American and Muslim Worlds: Ca. 1500-1900

Long before the age of twentieth-century geopolitics, the American and Muslim worlds informed, interacted, perplexed, inspired, confounded, and imagined each other in ways far more numerous than is frequently thought. Whether through the sale of American commodities in Central Asia, Ottoman consuls in Washington, orientalist themes in American fiction, the uprisings of enslaved Muslims in Brazil, or the travels of American missionaries to the Middle East there was no shortage of opportunities for Muslims and the inhabitants of the Americas to meet, interact, and shape one another from an early period.

The opening keynote by Denise Spellberg will take place at the Perry World House. Friday’s panels will be held at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and the final day’s panels on research in progress will be held at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. The program will close with a keynote by Sylviane Diouf, award-winning historian of the African diaspora, and author of Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas.

The conference is free and open to the public but registration is required.

Conference papers will be circulated to all registered attendees prior to the conference and will only be briefly summarized by the presenters.


The conference is sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the Penn Libraries. It is made possible by the generous support of University of Pennsylvania Libraries’ Thomas Sovereign Gates Library Lecture Fund and by the co-sponsorship of the Penn Humanities Forum, the Perry World House, the Middle East Center at Penn, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and the Asian American Studies Program.


John Ghazvinian (Co-chair)
Mitch Fraas (Co-chair)
Karoline Cook
Edward Curtis
Mehmet Darakcioglu
Kambiz GhaneaBassiri
Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet
Tim Marr
Daniel Richter
Heather J. Sharkey
Karine Walther




American and Muslim Worlds: Ca. 1500-1900

Thursday, 30 March

Perry World House (3803 Locust Walk)


5.00-6.30pm – Opening keynote “Islam and the Founders: Documenting Shared Spaces”

Denise Spellberg (University of Texas – Austin)

Reception to follow


Friday, 31 March

All events at the Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts (6th floor Van Pelt-Dietrich Library)


8.30-9.00am – Registration & coffee


9.00-10.30am – Opening plenary “American and Muslim Worlds”

Karoline Cook (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Kambiz GhaneaBassiri (Reed College)
Paul Lovejoy (York University, Toronto)
Bethel Saler (Haverford College)
Karine Walther (Georgetown University – Qatar)
Chair: John Ghazvinian (Independent Scholar/McNeil Center)


10.45am-12.15pm – Panel 1 – The American Oriental Gaze

Mona Hassan (Duke University), “Visions of Empire: Muslim Women in the Cultural Imagination of the Late Nineteenth-Century United States”

David D. Grafton (Hartford Seminary), “Exotic Images of Late Ottoman Palestine: The Beginnings of an American Biblical Orientalism”

Eleanor Finnegan (University of Alabama), “Orienting America in Place Names”

Nerina Rustomji (St John’s University), “Byron's Houris in America: Visual Depictions of Muslim Heroines in the Gallery of Byron Beauties”

Chair/Commenter: Christine Heyrman (University of Delaware)


12.15-1.30pm – Lunch on your own


1.30-3pm – Panel 2 – Captivity and Freedom in Barbary narratives

Anna Diamantouli (Kings College London), “Barbary Renegades: Converts to Islam in American Barbary Captivity Narratives of the Late Eighteenth Century”

Brett Goodin (Smithsonian Institution), “Our Man in Algiers: Captain Richard O’Brien’s captivity diary and correspondence”

Neval Avci (Northeastern University), “The Importance of Feeling Captive: Colonial American Responses to the Barbary Captivity Crisis”

Chair/Commenter: Malini Johar Schueller (University of Florida)


3.15-4.45pm – Panel 3 –Reading and Writing in Muslim America

Ira Dworkin (Texas A&M University), “Nicholas Said, the Civil War, and the Emergence of African American Narrative”

Michel Kabalan (Freie Universität, Berlin), “The Qur'an in my notebook: Slavery, revolt and the teaching of Arabic in 1830s Bahia, Brazil”

David Babaian (Harvard University), “‘Those Who Believed: an Arabic Manuscript of 'Umar ibn Sayyid, as Translated for Charles Sumner”

Chair/Commenter: Paul Lovejoy (York University)


Saturday, 1 April

All events to be held at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (3355 Woodland Walk, 34th and Sansom Streets)


8.00-8.45am – Coffee


8.45-10.15am – Panel 4 – Americans abroad

Bill Hunt (Virginia Commonwealth University), “The Caliph and The General: Simulation and Simulacra in the Unlikely Friendship of Lew Wallace and Sultan Abdul Hamid II”

Tarık Tansu Yiğit (Bilkent University), “Strangers in the Stranger Lands”: The “Rebs and Yanks” in the Khedival Citadel

Henry Gorman (Vanderbilt University), “American Ottomans, or, How American Missionaries in Beirut Learned to Stop Worrying and Love an Islamic State, 1820-1919”

Brahim Jadla (Université de la Manouba, Tunisia), “Amos Perry in Tunis, (1862-1867)”

Chair/Commenter: Heather Sharkey (University of Pennsylvania)


10.30-12.00pm – Panel 5 – America and Islam in the Philippines

Oliver Charbonneau (Western University), “Staging Grounds: US Precolonial Visions of the Islamic Philippines”

Joshua Gedacht (University of Wisconsin-Madison), “From South Dakota to the Sublime Porte: Colonial Discourses of Race, Religion and Progress in the Southern Philippines”

William Gervase Clarence-Smith (SOAS, University of London), “Sayyid Wajih al-Kilani, Palestinian shaykh al-Islam of the Philippines: Mission to America, 1915-16”

Chair: Timothy Marr (University of North Carolina)
Commenter: Michael Hawkins (Creighton University)


12-1.30pm – Lunch on your own


1.30-3pm – Panel 6 – America and Islam in South and Central Asia

Jacqueline Fewkes (Florida Atlantic University), “How the American West won Central Asia: Silver, Synthetic Dyes, and other American Commodities along the Silk Road”

Susan Ryan (University of Louisville), “Islamic India in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. Imaginary”

William Sherman (Stanford University), “The Lost Tribes of the Afghans: Mobility and Apocalypse in the Entangled History of Christians and Muslims in Nineteenth-Century South Asia”

Chair/Commenter: Mitch Fraas (University of Pennsylvania)


3.15-4.45pm – Panel 7 – Islam in Early American Literature and Culture

Omar Siddiqi (Indiana University), “Playing for Prophet: The Figure of Mahomet in Early American Drama”

Matthew Pangborn (Briar Cliff University), “Bombo’s America: An Energy-Humanities View of the Early American Oriental Tale”

Zeinab McHeimech (Western University), “Transcending Transcendentalism: An Exoteric Reading of African Muslim Slave Narratives in Antebellum America”

Chair/Commenter: Jacob Berman (Louisiana State University)


5.15pm Closing keynote
Sylviane Diouf

Reception to follow

Online Registration

Pre-registration has ended. Registration will continue onsite at the conference.

Travel and Accommodations

Philadelphia is easily accessible by plane, train, or automobile. Amtrak service is frequent on the Northeast Corridor line between Washington and Boston. Most major airlines serve Philadelphia International Airport. SEPTA commuter trains, various limousine services, and taxis provide quick transportation from the airport to Center City or University City.

Club Quarters

1628 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Hilton Inn at Penn

3600 Sansom Street (215) 222-0200 (800) 445-8667

Holiday Inn Express Philadelphia-Midtown

Click Here for Website

1305 Walnut Street
(215) 735-9300

The Warwick Hotel-Rittenhouse Square

Click Here for Website

220 South 17th Street
(215) 735-6000

Sheraton University City Philadelphia

Click Here for Website

36th and Chestnut Streets (215) 387-8000

Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square

1800 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103