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Good Crime in Bad Times: Social Banditry and the Retelling of the Lebanese Famine of World War I

Tuesday, 8 November 2022, 4:30 – 5:30pm

Good Crime in Bad Times: Social Banditry and the Retelling of the Lebanese Famine of World War I

An online seminar by Dr Tylor Brand (NMES) as part of the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies Seminar Series.

The historical record of the famine that devastated Lebanon and coastal Syria during World War I is largely based on retrospective accounts from elite observers. Such sources often portrayed the Lebanese as victims of an autocratic Ottoman state whose depredations reduced the population to starvation and moral collapse. Although it has been the dominant framing in the historiography to date, this victimization narrative encounters a curious dissonance when contrasted with the memory of the crisis as told by those who lived it from within. While many of the latter narratives relayed similar themes of suffering and oppression, the plotlines of the two often differed dramatically. The most apparent difference is that the stories chosen by survivors and their kin frequently emphasized survival, agency, and even heroism rather than simple suffering and oppression. A common character in such tales is that of the smuggler, whose wartime role approximated that of the social bandit in the memories of their communities. In tales of resistance and survival, such rogues were cast as laudable rebels who used criminality as a weapon of the weak against the Ottoman authorities. This paper argues that such heroic re-memorialization functions as a rebuttal of the pejorative memories of victimhood in the dominant narrative. For the storytellers, the crimes of their ancestors were acts of defiance of both death and an autocratic Ottoman state. In both form and function, such tales of criminality have become sources of pride for storytellers re-narrating an era defined by suffering and shame.  
Tylor Brand is an assistant professor of Near and Middle Eastern Studies and the Arabic language at Trinity College in Dublin, where he specializes in the history of crisis and famine in Lebanon and the Middle East. He has published on famine, humanitarianism, and on eating and identity during the great Lebanese famine of World War I. His forthcoming monograph, Famine Worlds: Live at the Edge of Suffering in Lebanon’s Great War (Stanford University Press, 2023) examines how individuals and society were affected by and adapted to the horrors of the famine of World War I in their daily lives. Before moving to Ireland, he spent nine years living and working in the Middle East. 

To register and receive log-in details please email Raymond Davidson at:

Campus LocationTrinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute
Accessibility: Yes
Room: Online
Event Category: Lectures and Seminars
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Researchers, Postgrad, Faculty & Staff, Public
Cost: Free
Contact Name: Raymond Davidson

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