Exporting the Holy Land: Artisans and Merchant Migrants in Ottoman-Era Bethlehem
Keywords:Arab migration, Palestine, diaspora, religion, popular memory, pilgrimage, Holy Land, merchants, Bethlehem, migration, peddler, Ottoman Empire, religious souvenirs, mahjar, Arab diaspora, nineteenth century
This article explores an aspect of Arab migration in the nineteenth century that is often retold in popular memory but rarely discussed in academic work: that of Bethlehem merchants and the “Holy Land” wares they sold. Beginning roughly in the 1850s, these travelling salesmen established trading connections in all corners of the globe, constituting one of the earliest manifestations of the wider movement of Arabic-speaking people away from the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To properly contextualize the emergence and significance of this merchant activity, the article firstly offers an account of how Bethlehem came to be the manufacturing center of a global industry in religious souvenirs. It then turns to the nineteenth-century merchants themselves, exploring their multi-directional trajectories in the nineteenth century. Through these twin dynamics of production and circulation, the article questions some of the commonly held assumptions about the nature of the nineteenth-century “Arab diaspora” or mahjar.
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