2022/ 2023

Diana Abbani

EUME Fellow of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation

Private and Public Sites of Modernity: Music Technology and Production in the Levant (1900-1948)

Previous Fellowships: 2021/ 2022, 2020/ 2021, 2019/ 2020, 2018/ 2019

received her doctorate in Arabic Studies from Sorbonne University with a thesis entitled “Music and Society in Beirut at the Time of the Nahda”. She holds double masters in History and Political Science from Sorbonne University and the University of Saint Denis in Paris. She is currently preparing a book that focuses on the Levant’s social history in the first half of the 20th century. In her research, she examines the implications of social, political and technological changes, as well as the emergence of the music industry and the entertainment world, on music and Levantine society. In her study, she focuses on alternative narratives, uncovering the forgotten stories of people who were affected by the sound transition and revisiting the experiences of those marginalized by official narratives. Diana was a EUME Fellow during the academic years 2018/19 and 2019/20. In the academic years 2020-23, Diana is a EUME Fellow of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. She is associated with the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at Freie Universität Berlin.


Technology, Market and Society: A Global History of Music in the Levant (1900-1948)

In this book project, Diana Abbani explores the history of the music industry in the Middle East and North Africa during the first half of the twentieth century (1900-1948). She focuses on the main Levantine cities, Beirut, Tripoli, Damascus, Aleppo, Haifa and Jaffa, to study the arrival of a music technology – the phonograph – to new markets, cultures and societies, and the routes the sound recordings took. The phonograph constitutes a medium through which music was commodified and circulated, thereby creating and shaping public and domestic sites, markets, tastes and social identities. A main drive behind this project is to probe music as a popular genre for rethinking conventional forms and tropes of narrating modern Arab history. Music and the recording industry produced new forms of social relations across borders. In her research, Diana Abbani follows how the circulation of music through the new recording technology and industry in the early twentieth century re-organized European overseas trade, local markets, consumption trends and social relations into the Levant’s publics and domestic spheres, wielding new social dynamics that affected local, regional and global relations. In doing so, she addresses music and the new recording technology and industry as important social factors in determining subject formation, the public and the private, as well as social imaginaries.


Lost Voices: Musical Life between Identity Quest and Modernity in Early 20th-Century Beirut

The book project is based on archival research (newspapers and memoires) and recorded songs from early twentieth-century Beirut. Combining interdisciplinary methods, it focuses on questions of modernisation, class and taste through the analysis of the changes occurred in the musical life. It follows the ways in which the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the French mandate changed and affected entertainment and leisure in Beirut by focusing on its evolving musical scene, as it manifested in changing places of consumption, sociality and the distribution of music as a new form of commodity. The reading of how the social and political transformations in early 20th-century Beirut affected and created new forms of entertainment, leisure, musical expressions and commodities allows to understand the role of music in making a national identity and discourse in the newly established State of Greater Lebanon. The research offers thus a historical analysis of how collective identities took shape in songs that built national imaginary during the 1920s and 1930s by setting myths (such as the Glorious Arab or Syrian Unity) and debating new social values, such as the decadence in the society or gender issues.