2017/ 2018

Michael Allan

EUME-CNMS Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2017-18

Picturing the World: The Global Routes of Early Cinema, 1896-1903

Previous Fellowships: 2016/ 2017, 2011/ 2012

Michael Allan is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oregon, where he is also program faculty in Cinema Studies, Arabic and Middle East Studies. He is the author of In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt (Princeton, 2016) and of articles in venues such as Modernism/Modernity, Comparative Literature Studies, Early Popular Visual Culture, the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and the Journal of Arabic Literature. He was the guest editor of a special issue of Comparative Literature (“Reading Secularism: Religion, Literature, Aesthetics”), and with Elisabetta Benigni of an issue of Philological Encounters (“Lingua Franca: Towards a Philology of the Sea”). He earned his PhD in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Judith Butler, Saba Mahmood and Karl Britto, and his BA in History and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. He was previously a EUME Fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin (2011-12), a member of the Society of Fellows at Columbia University in New York City (2008-09) and a fellow at the Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley (2006-07). In 2017 (February-July) and 2018 (June-August), he is a EUME-CNMS Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung.


Picturing the World: The Global Routes of Early Cinema, 1896-1903

With the support of the Alexander von Humboldt fellowship, Allan will be writing a book-length project, Picturing the World: The Global Routes of Early Cinema, dedicated to the transnational history of camera operators for the Lumière Brothers film company. The various chapters discuss the global dissemination of the Cinematograph between 1896 and 1903 and focus in particular on Alexandre Promio's journey across North Africa and the Middle East. The book connects specific Lumière films to the sites they depict, including the pyramids in Egypt, the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem and a rooftop in Algiers, and it contrasts these filmic depictions to other media forms: David Roberts’ lithographs in Egypt and Palestine, William Henry Jackson’s photographs of Algiers, and Henry Aston Barker’s panoramas of Constantinople. At a time when film studies extends its scope across national traditions and media platforms, this account of the Lumière camera operators is meant both as a historiographical intervention (telling the story of the Lumière Brothers in the Middle East) and as a methodological model for scholarship committed to comparative analysis across various languages, territories and media.

2011/ 2012

Inventing World Literature: How Adab Became Literary in Colonial Egypt

His current book project, "Inventing World Literature: How Adab Became Literary", offers a colonial history of literature at the intersection of the French, British and Ottoman empires, nineteenth-century moral education and reforms in Qur'anic instruction in Egypt. The book examines how modern disciplines reshape practices of relating to texts and, in doing so, draws from methods in anthropology, film and visual culture, religion, and postcolonial studies. Focusing on transformations of literature in modern Egypt, the various chapters address the relation of literature to realism, moral education, empirical science to discourses of secularization.

During his EUME-fellowship, Allan plans to complete two new chapters: the first tracing the foundations of Dar al-Ulum (Teachers College) and Dar al-Kutub (The Egyptian National Library) in the 1870s, and the second dealing with Taha Husayn's novella "Adib" and the author's earlier correspondence with André Gide.