Event – November 19 | Royal Ontario Museum & The Ismaili Centre, Toronto: Looking for Women in Medieval Cairo: Imagined Histories and Historical Realities

During Fatimid rule, royal patronage, religious tolerance and commercial prosperity promoted the establishment and growth of a cosmopolitan urban society that brought to Cairo and the neighbouring city of al-Fustat women of varied religious, ethnic and social backgrounds.

Some of these women rose to become royalty while others left their mark as transmitters of learning.

Seeking them out deepens our knowledge of life in medieval Cairo.

Presented in Partnership by the Royal Ontario Museum and His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Canada.

EVENT: Looking for Women in Medieval Cairo: Imagined Histories and Historical Realities
SPEAKER: Delia Cortese, Middlesex University
DATE: Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
TIME: 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. EST
VENUE: The Ismaili Centre, Toronto, 49 Wynford Drive, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2C6 Canada

ROM - Ikat shawl with painted inscription Cotton tabby with warp ikat pattern, ink, gold leaf Yemen 10th century 970.364.19
Ikat shawl with painted inscription Cotton tabby with warp ikat pattern, ink, gold leaf Yemen 10th century 970.364.19 (ROM)

This lecture takes us on a virtual journey in search for women in medieval Cairo in the Fatimid period from 969 to 1171.

Exploring palaces and ordinary houses, markets and cemeteries, leisure pavilions on the Nile and ateliers, the quest for the attainment of a historically accurate portrayal of women in medieval Egypt turns the social historian into a veritable detective.

Armed with the forensic tools of textual analysis, material evidence, scarce documentary sources and a dose of intuition Dr. Cortese unpacks anecdotes, literary conventions, historical accounts and forged stories to shed light on women’s participation – whether real or perceived – to the political, economic, social and cultural life of the time and place they lived in.


About Dr Delia Cortese

Dr Delia Cortese is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies and University Religious Studies Co-ordinator. She is also Middlesex University Link Tutor for several collaborative partner institutions delivering MU-validated programmes in the areas of Theology and Religious Studies.

She holds a PhD in Islamic Studies awarded by the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her other academic qualifications include a Laurea (Summa cum laude) in Oriental Languages and Civilisations (Arabic and Persian), awarded by the Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples (Italy) a postgraduate diploma in Islamic Codicology, al-Furqan Foundation, London and a postgraduate diploma in Arabic language, American University, Cairo (Egypt). Dr Cortese was also post-doctoral fellow of the Istituto Universitario Orientale, Napoli (now Universita’ di Napoli L’Orientale) caring out research on women in the Fatimid period.

Dr Cortese is Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Prior and, for some time, in conjunction with her work at Middlesex University, she was Visiting Professor in Religious Studies at Regents’ American College London and Research Assistant (Middle East Department). Bernard Quaritch LTD, Antiquarian Booksellers.

Dr Cortese’s current and past external appointments are: 2013-To present: External Examiner for the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London and in 2008-2012, External Examiner for TRS University of Roehampton, London.

Dr Delia Cortese’s area of research is medieval Islam, particularly Ismaili studies and the Fāṭimid period. In recent years she has been focusing on gender and social history, Islamic codicology, and the interrelationship between Europe and the Islamic world. Beside Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam (with S. Calderini, Edinburgh University Press, 2006), she is also the author of Arabic Ismaili Manuscripts: The Zahid Ali Collection, IB Tauris, 2003 and  Ismaili and Other Arabic Manuscripts, IB Tauris, 2000. Recent articles include ‘Voices of the Silent Majority: the Transmission of Sunni Learning in Fāṭimid Ismā‘īlī Egypt’, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, vol. 39 (2012), and ‘A Dream Come-True: Empowerment Through Dreams Reflecting Fāṭimid-Ṣulayḥid Relations’ in O. Ali-de-Unzaga (ed.), Fortresses of the Intellect, Ismaili and other Islamic Studies in Honour of Farhad Daftary, London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011.


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About ROM World Art & Culture

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is home to one of the world’s most extensive and eclectic collections of art and other cultural and historical objects. The scale of our collection is enormous, with tens of thousands of artifacts representing the entire sweep of human history. As the product of human invention, the fine arts and design in various media, popular arts, functional objects and the built environment are a direct extension of human thought and experience, shaping and reflecting historical and cultural identities. ROM research examines the complex and fascinating histories of different times and places, and to relate these explorations to our contemporary experience.

ROM World Art & Culture explores millennia of visual arts and material culture.

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