PH.D. The University of Texas at Austin (Anthropology)
M.A. School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University (Arab Studies)
B.A. Wellesley College (Anthropology)
2014 Preserving the Old City of Damascus. Syracuse University Press
Articles and Book Chapters
2014 “Nothing has changed: Social Continuity and Gentrification in the Old City of Damascus.” Anthropological Quarterly 87(4): 1195-1221.
2013 “The Memory Keeper: Gender, Nation, and Remembering in Syria.” Journal of Middle East Women Studies 9(1): 1-29
2012“The Making of the Old City: Suq al-Hamidiya in Damascus.” In The Bazaar in the Islamic City: Design, Culture, and History. Edited by Mohammad Gharipour. I.B. Tauris and American University in Cairo Press, 75-96
2009“Return to the Origin: Negotiating the Modern and Unmodern in the Old City of
Damascus.” City and Society21(1): 58-81
2012“Egyptian Ultras Uprising or Boys Just Wanna Have Fun?” Anthropology News(http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2012/06/08/ultras-uprising-or-boys-just-wanna-have-fun/)
2012“The Syrian Regime and the Opposition” Opinion piece, American Anthropological Association Blog, Huffington Post
My research interests include urban renewal, the nation-state and globalization, and urban refugees. My region of expertise is the modern Middle East, especially Syria where I lived and traveled widely. Over the past decade, and before the civil war, I explored the the social and economic impact of gentrification on the Old City of Damascus in Syria. The results of this research were the subject of the book Preserving the Old City of Damascus published in 2014 by Syracuse University Press. I also authored several articles dealing with Syria and the Middle East. Currently I am working on a manuscript that examines the political role of Palestinian urban refugees in Damascus.
News and Events:
Preserving the Old City of Damascus
“A rich, personal, ethnographic account of the gentrification of one of the world’s oldest cities. Totah narrates with passion the local processes involved in the city’s current place making efforts and unlocks the secrets of what she terms the divine protection of its heritage.”
—Nezar AlSayyad, University of California, Berkeley
“Through nuanced, sensitive, and often touching portrayals of Damascenes from all walks of life—from children and young men and women navigating the streets, to energetic entrepreneurs intending to capitalize on a transformative moment—Totah offers us a unique perspective onto a city and a population undergoing rapid change.”
—Jonathan Shannon, Department of Anthropology, Hunter College
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and a major cultural and religious center, Damascus is a repository of numerous civilizations, ancient and modern, that embody the collective national as well as Arab/Islamic memory. Although a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, the Old City attracted the interest of investors only toward the end of the century. The historic center of greater Damascus became the focus of private investment when the government implemented economic reforms geared toward globalization. Distinguished from other neighborhoods by the large number of religious buildings, historic monuments, and a wall with foundations in the Roman period, the Old City is important for government efforts to promote heritage tourism as part of the country’s entry into the global economy.
In Preserving the Old City of Damascus, Totah examines the recent gentrification of the historic urban core of the Syrian capital and the ways in which urban space became the site for negotiating new economic and social realities prior to the civil war. The book illustrates how long-term inhabitants of the historic quarter, developers, and government officials offer at times competing interpretations of urban space and its use as they vie for control over the representation of the historic neighborhoods. Based on over two years of ethnographic and archival research, this book expands our understanding of neoliberal urbanism in non-Western cities.