Among historians of the history of the Middle East Professor André Raymond is known as the master of the Arab city. Described as "arguably the premier social historian of the Arab world," he is also considered to be the most important scholar of Ottoman Egypt of the 20 th century. Raymond's central focus is on Arab cities. His magisterial, best-known work,
Artisans et commerçants au Caire au XVIIIe siècle (1974), has been much translated and several times reedited and reprinted, supported by numerous articles and other later articles and books on Cairo (such as
Les marchés du Caire (with G. Wiet),
Le Caire (1979, 1993),
Le Caire des janissaries (1995),
Egyptiens et Français au Caire, 1798-1801 (1998), and many others. His works appear on the course syllabi of countless universities in the United States, Europe, China, and across the Arab world.
In a 1990 interview Professor Raymond described his "formation." Raymond came to his study of Arab cities by a circuitous route through the French Resistance, the Communist Party, posts in Tunis, Damascus, and Cairo, and the oblique influence of the French Annales school of history.
After studying general history at the Sorbonne, he requested and received a post in a secondary school in Tunisia (opting "for exoticism."), where he soon showed his disagreement with French colonial attitudes by giving up his post at the prestigious Lycée Carnot and moving to the College Sadiqi, a local secondary school, "the breeding ground of Tunisian nationalists," where he "began to understand national problems and to be in contact with Tunisian realities." Back in Paris in the French academic world, he realized that few people were interested in those realities, and he even had difficulty persuading Charles-André Julien, a rare supporter of anti-colonial history, to be his thesis director. Such opposition to traditional academic currents was to mark the remainder of his career.
Raymond later recognized the significance teaching in Tunisia had on his formation as a historian. His move to Oxford and association with H.A.R. Gibb and Albert Hourani was similarly important for his career, and resulted in a D. Phil from Oxford in 1954, "British Policy towards Tunis (1830-81)." In 1954 he obtained a scholarship at the French Institute in Damascus , and there he spent a year learning Arabic, studying Arab history, and traveling around Syria , Lebanon , Palestine , and Egypt , beginning "to orient [himself] a bit to the eastern Arab world." The following year he was a resident scholar at the French Institute in Cairo , having decided to write the two theses required for a University of Paris
doctorat d'etat on nineteenth-century Tunisia and on the guilds of Egypt.
After two years in Cairo he spent two years as lecturer at the University of Tunis , followed by six years (broken by a year of research at the
Centre National du Recherche Scientifique ) at the University of Bordeaux . He then directed the French Institute in Damascus from 1966 until 1975 when, following publication of his major work on Cairo , he joined the University of Provence , in Aix en Provence , as lecturer, and then served as professor from 1977 until his retirement in 1988. He was visiting professor at Harvard in 1981, and at Princeton in 1988 and 1990. While still at the University of Provence he served as director of the
Centre de Recherches et d'Etudes sur les Sociétés Mediterranéennes (1984-88)
, as founder and director of the
Institut de Recherches et d'Etudes sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman (1985-89), and then
as vice president of the
Institut du Monde Arab de Paris (1987-90), as founder and president of the
Association Française pour l'Etude du Monde Arabe et Musulman (1987-91), and founder and president of the European Association for Middle Eastern Studies (1990-91).
Raymond's work was not limited to the city of Cairo. In the early 1980s he broadened his research to make comparative studies of a number of other Arab cities:
The Great Arab Cities, An Introduction, appeared in 1984, and
Grandes villes arabes a l'époque ottomane the following year. In 1998 he published
La ville arabe, Alep, a l'époque ottomane ;
Arab Cities in the Ottoman Period appeared in 2002 and
sous les Mouradites in 2006.
Never an ivory-tower scholar, Raymond always sought out realities as he had, as a young man Tunisia. He acted in the French Resistance during World War II. When at the French Institute in Damascus in 1954 he found Syria "a thrilling country ... bursting with politics," journals, and political parties, and he sent articles on Syria to the French journal,
La Tribune des Nations. Caught up in the Suez crisis in Egypt in 1956, he "resolutely opposed French policy," and wrote numerous letters on the Suez situation to
Le Monde (sadly, they remained in his unpublished letters file). Later, at the University of Tunis, he was actively involved in the Algerian issue, writing letters and petitions and taking part in a study group on Algerian independence. His anti-colonial stance informed his approach to history throughout his career. With typical wry humor, he once said he was troubled by the fact that his government had never once consulted him on the policies it ought to adopt toward the Arab world.
Raymond's pioneering contribution to the study of the Arab city lay in his rehabilitation of the perceived view of Ottoman influence on those cities and his emphasis on local sources, versus what he called "the Eurocentrism of the classic studies." He avoided the "framework of the colonial political system" and studied "the mechanisms of the economy by using the local sources which were very rich, rather than the external sources-consular reports, travellers' accounts-which are inevitably biased." He emphasized the realities of economic and social history.
His exploration of the role of the masses in shaping the course of economic and social history is reflected in his style. Prowling the streets of Cairo he came close to the people. According to Albert Hourani, at the end of his "great book" on Cairo, "the economic activity of Cairo is living in our minds and eyes." Raymond provides the reader with "the impression of a historian who has not only studied documents, but who has walked the streets of the cities using all his senses, and above all the sense of sight. In his work there is a concern for the physical appearance of cities, the people who inhabited them and the places where they lived and worked." Hourani emphasized his student's "clarity of analysis" and his "gift for clear and even bold generalization." Looking at more than the houses of the rich, Raymond used court records, maps, monuments, the "collective dwelling of the poor"-what Nelly Hanna called "the historical materialism approach ... an enormous change in which the history of Egypt before Muhammad 'Ali was interpreted." Raymond, she wrote, profoundly influenced historians of the Middle East through his method, approach, and themes.
Much recognition has followed Raymond and his prolific output of books and numerous scholarly articles. In June 2006 the I nternational Council of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies in Amman presented him with the
WOCMES Award for Outstanding Contribution to Middle Eastern Studies.
Society and Economy in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean , 1600-1900; Essays in Honor of André Raymond appeared in 2005. He received the Giorgio Levi Della Vida Award in 2004. In awarding the IRCICA award to Raymond in 2003, the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art, and Culture praised his new insights into research on social and urban history. The English translation of
Cairo won the Lewis Galantiere Prize in 2002.
André Raymond's historical work on pre- and early modern Arab cities has left an indelible imprint on three generations of scholars of the Arab world. Equally important, his work illuminates present understanding. He once said with typical modesty, that the results of his research were "not totally new," but that taken together "they permit us to embark upon useful reflections on the urban achievement of the modern Arab world."