Constructing the ‘Public Intellectual’ in the Premodern World: Keynote speakers

A medieval Islamic illustration of Socrates. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A medieval Islamic illustration of Socrates. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Constructing the ‘Public Intellectual’ in the Premodern World

5th-6th September 2019 | Chancellors Hotel, Manchester

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Keynote speakers


Khaled Fahmy


Forensic medicine played a central role during the Egyptian uprising of 2011-2013. From determining the cause of death of hundreds of demonstrators, to deciding whether or not the deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, could stand trial; and from performing infamous “virginity tests” that the army enforced on female demonstrators, to adjudicating hundreds of torture cases, forensic doctors found their expertise called upon to speak on behalf of mute, sometimes dead, bodies. Drawing on historical research on nineteenth-century Egyptian forensic medicine as well as ethnographic research on the present Egyptian Forensic Medicine Authority, this talk will analyze the role of the forensic doctor in moments of national upheaval, and how her/his expertise often proves decisive in people’s quest for justice.

Khaled Fahmy is a historian of the modern Middle East, with a specialty in the social and cultural history of nineteenth-century Egypt. Born and raised in Egypt, Fahmy studied economics for his BA, and then political science for his MA, both degrees he received from the American University in Cairo (AUC). He then went to the University of Oxford where he wrote his DPhil dissertation on the history of the Egyptian army during the first half of the nineteenth century. After receiving his doctorate in 1993, Fahmy moved to the US where he worked first at Princeton University then at New York University. After seventeen years in the US, he returned to his home country in 2010, and joined his alma mater, AUC, as chair of the Department of History. In 2013, Fahmy returned to the US, this time as a visiting fellow at Columbia University, then as a visiting professor at Harvard University. He joined the University of Cambridge in 2017. His latest book, In Quest of Justice: Islamic Law and Forensic Medicine in Modern Egypt, was published by the University of California Press in 2018.


Christopher Stray


For several centuries, the languages and civilisations of classical antiquity occupied an exemplary status in European culture and society. This paper looks at the maintenance of and challenges to this status, and the ways in which its demise led to new forms of knowledge and to new kinds of intellectual authority. ‘Classics’ is seen as form of social action in which exemplary pasts are deployed to maintain stability and universality against change and relativity. In the nineteenth century this was undermined by the normalisation of change (historicity) and the emergence of powerful alternative sources of value. Classical languages (Greek, Latin, and to some extent Hebrew) had been used for both communication and boundary maintenance; their declining status led to the modern academic formations, in which an interim phase (academic knowledge exemplified by the rigours of Latin) gave way to the formal parity of all academic knowledge.

Christopher Stray has been an honorary research fellow in the Department of Classics, Swansea University since 1988, and has held visiting positions at Wolfson College, Cambridge, Yale University and the Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton. He has worked on the history and sociology of classical scholarship, textbooks, examinations and institutional slang. He contributed chapters on Classics, history, law and education to the History of Oxford University Press (2013), and is currently working on chapters for the forthcoming history of Trinity College, Cambridge, ed. A.J.B. Hilton and E.S. Leedham-Green.