American Arabesque

Arabs and Islam in the Nineteenth Century Imaginary

288 pages

9 figures

June, 2012

ISBN: 9780814745182



Also available in


Jacob Rama Berman is Assistant Professor of English Literature and Comparative Literature at Louisiana State University.

All books by Jacob Rama Berman

American Arabesque examines representations of Arabs, Islam and the Near East in nineteenth-century American culture, arguing that these representations play a significant role in the development of American national identity over the century, revealing largely unexplored exchanges between these two cultural traditions that will alter how we understand them today.
Moving from the period of America’s engagement in the Barbary Wars through the Holy Land travel mania in the years of Jacksonian expansion and into the writings of romantics such as Edgar Allen Poe, the book argues that not only were Arabs and Muslims prominently featured in nineteenth-century literature, but that the differences writers established between figures such as Moors, Bedouins, Turks and Orientals provide proof of the transnational scope of domestic racial politics. Drawing on both English and Arabic language sources, Berman contends that the fluidity and instability of the term Arab as it appears in captivity narratives, travel narratives, imaginative literature, and ethnic literature simultaneously instantiate and undermine definitions of the American nation and American citizenship.


  • American Arabesque is daringly ambitious.  As a work of scholarship, it ventures an extraordinary range of reference, involving old and new works in English and Arabic. As a challenge to think differently about the United States in a larger world, it ventures to name its perspective ‘dirty cosmopolitanism.’ It makes good on both these risks."

    —Jonathan Arac, author of Impure Worlds

  • "This book will prove useful to both historians and literary scholars....always stimulating and should inspire many new avenues of research."

    —Anna Suranyi, New England Quarterly

  • "American Arabesque succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is its forging of a method of transnational scholarship. Berman places importance on translation, not only in terms of linguistics but also in terms of cultural forms. The result is a nuanced read of densely overlapping cultural forms and ideas...This is an important scholarly intervention that is sure to push forward transnational scholarship."

    Journal of American Studies

  • "Berman's work opens up extended vistas for consideration, and the central accomplishment of the book is immense: by reading Arabic-language texts from North Africa contrapuntally in relation to English-language texts, Berman points toward the possibility of reading nineteenth-century American literature through frames that are far more genuinely planetary and cosmopolitan that has yet been achieved.  Berman's study makes an important, indeed vital, contribution to the field of studies of American Orientalism and of Orientalism in Poe's work specifically."

    Poe Studies