Stephen Sheehi, Professor of Arabic Studies, William & Mary

Toward a Methodology of Decolonizing Photography


Stephen Sheehi, Professor of Arabic Studies, William & Mary

Professor of Arabic Studies, College of William & Mary

Stephen Sheehi (MA, PhD, Michigan) is the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Professor of Middle East Studies. He holds a joint appointment as Professor of Arabic Studies in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the Program of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Prof. Sheehi’s work examines cultural, intellectual, art history, and the political economy of the late Ottoman Empire and the Arab Renaissance (al-nahdah al-‘arabiyah). In addition to interest in political theory, post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, and post-colonial theory, his scholarly interests extend to issues of globalization, developmentalism, Middle East foreign policy, and Arab and Muslim American issues.

Prof. Sheehi’s book, The Arab Imago: A Social History of Indigenous Photography 1860-1910 (Princeton University Press, 2016) is a ground-breaking study on the history of photography in the Arab world. The research is the first to comprehensively research native studios in Alexandria, Beirut, Cairo, Jaffa, and Jerusalem as well as early Hajj photography in al-Hijaz (now Saudi Arabia) during the late Ottoman period. In doing so, the book investigates the relationship between indigenous photography, social transformations and the creation of modern Arab society in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine before World War One.

Prof. Sheehi’s most recent book is Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2011). The book examines the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments in the West following the end of the Cold War. Sheehi analyzes the relationship between United States foreign and domestic policies and the mainstreaming of Muslim-baiting rhetoric as articulated by “rogue academics,” journalists, and national leaders from across the political spectrum. He shows how Islamophobia is expressed not only in the media but also state policy and American civil society. The book has been translated into Arabic as al-Islamofobia: al-Hamlah al-idiulujiyah dud al-Muslimin translation by Fatimah Nasr (Cairo: Dar al-Sutour, 2012).

Foundations of Modern Arab Identity (University of Florida, 2004) is Prof. Sheehi’s first book, offering a new paradigm on the foundational writing of intellectuals of the 19th century Arab Renaissance or al-nahdah al-`arabiyah. The book discusses how reformers such as Butrus  al-Bustani, Salim al-Bustani, Farah Antun, Jurji Zaydan, and others offered a powerful cultural self-criticism along side their critiques, advocacy, and debates regarding Arab “progress and civilization” in the face of European imperialism. In offering these critical assessments of Western and Arab culture, society and politics, these Arab intellectuals established the epistemological foundation for Arab identity that informed political and cultural thought for the subsequent hundred years.  

Prof. Sheehi has published in a variety of venues on Middle Eastern photography, art, literature, and intellectual history in venues such as Third Text, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, The British Journal of Middle East Studies, Discourse, The Journal of Arabic Literature, Critique, Jouvert, The Journal of Comparative South Asian, African, Middle Eastern Studies and Encyclopedia of Islam along with publishing commentary in Common Dreams, Mondoweiss, Jadaliyya, and al-Adab. He has lectured nationally and internationally including at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, and the Library of Congress. He is also a Board Member at Kultrans’ “Synchronizing the Universal” Program, an interdisciplinary research project at the University of Olso, directed by Helge Jordheim.