Cover of A Taste for Home by Toufoul Abou-Hodeib
A Taste for Home
The Modern Middle Class in Ottoman Beirut
Toufoul Abou-Hodeib


280 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804799799
Ebook ISBN: 9781503601475

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The "home" is a quintessentially quotidian topic, yet one at the center of global concerns: Consumption habits, aesthetic preferences, international trade, and state authority all influence the domestic sphere. For middle-class residents of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Beirut, these debates took on critical importance. As Beirut was reshaped into a modern city, legal codes and urban projects pressed at the home from without, and imported commodities and new consumption habits transformed it from within.

Drawing from rich archives in Arabic, Ottoman, French, and English—from advertisements and catalogues to previously unstudied government documents—A Taste for Home places the middle-class home at the intersection of local and global transformations. Middle-class domesticity took form between changing urbanity, politicization of domesticity, and changing consumption patterns. Transcending class-based aesthetic theories and static notions of "Westernization" alike, this book illuminates the self-representations and the material realities of an emerging middle class. Toufoul Abou-Hodeib offers a cultural history of late Ottoman Beirut that is at once global in the widest sense of the term and local enough to enter the most private of spaces.

About the author

Toufoul Abou-Hodeib is Associate Professor of History in the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo.

"With its clear prose, original framework, and convincing argument, Toufoul Abou-Hodeib's brilliant book takes us into turn-of-the-century Beiruti homes, revealing a world of taste, class makeup, transnational connections, and gender codes. Examining what makes Ottoman-Arab modernity modern, Abou-Hodeib reads domesticity as an integral component of nahda studies in a global context."

—Tarek El-Ariss, The University of Texas at Austin

"A Taste for Home is a sophisticated analysis of domesticity and modernity in a burgeoning late Ottoman port city. Toufoul Abou-Hodeib illuminates the complex tensions between the public and the private, taste and identity, consumption and ethics, the modern and the authentic. This book constitutes a fundamental contribution to the social history of the Middle East."

—A. Holly Shissler, University of Chicago

"With commanding elegance, Toufoul Abou-Hodeib marshals a stunningly wide range of texts and objects to tell a story about the materiality of taste and the political economy of domesticity at the turn of the 20th century. Historically grounded and globally informed, A Taste for Home provides an alternative narrative about the formation of the modern in ways that readers will find compelling and innovative."

—Beshara Doumani, author of Family Life in the Ottoman Mediterranean: A Social History

"If the abundance of terms—'home,' 'taste,' 'modern,' and 'middle class'—convey the impression of an ambitious study, the title of this book is not misleading. Abou-Hodeib delivers both a thoughtful delineation of these terms and a strong analysis informed by them, which discusses the elements that form, and the contradictions embodied by, the middle class in Beirut....[A] highly sophisticated cultural and intellectual history that is considerate of the material conditions that produce modernity in a local context, which in turn affect production at a global level."

—Naz Yucel, H-Levant, H-Net Reviews

"The book's strength is the author's deployment of middle-class actors as tastemakers and trendsetters. Abou-Hodeib's innovative focus on taste discloses parts of Beirut's history that until now could only be imagined."

—Melanie S. Tanielian, American Historical Review

"A Taste for Home is a superlative book, offering specialists and non-specialists a rigorous yet approachable study on the material culture of the 19th century and the ways in which the production, circulation, exchange, and meaning of objects defined the middle class in Beirut but also the social (private and public) spaces in which they lived and defined themselves as individuals, citizens, and national (Ottoman) subjects."

—Stephen Sheehi, International Journal of Middle East Studies

"This brilliant book explores with range and depth many major themes in multiple scholarly fields concerned with the late Ottoman Levant. It is a valuable contribution to all of them."

—Ellen Fleischmann, Journal of Middle East Women's Studies

"[T]his is a well-researched and thoughtful work that succeeds in the rather difficult task it undertakes: to enter the privacy of the home and narrate its transformation in relation to wider processes of change. I hope it gets the attention it so clearly deserves."

—Avner Wishnitzer, Bustan

"Ranging widely across archival sources in French, English, Arabic and Ottoman Turkish, [Abou-Hodeib] looks at how Beirut became a place seen as 'neither Oriental nor quite Western.' She delves deeply into Beiruti lives, for example, by examining advertisements to understand how material objects defined notions of social status."

—Matthew Teller, Aramco World