This image is the cover for the book Archive Wars

Archive Wars

A study of the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s efforts to construct and disseminate a historical narrative to legitimize its rule.

The production of history is premised on the selective erasure of certain pasts and the artifacts that stand witness to them. From the elision of archival documents to the demolition of sacred and secular spaces, each act of destruction is also an act of state building. Following the 1991 Gulf War, political elites in Saudi Arabia pursued these dual projects of historical commemoration and state formation with greater fervor to enforce their postwar vision for state, nation, and economy. Seeing Islamist movements as the leading threat to state power, they sought to de-center religion from educational, cultural, and spatial policies.

With this book, Rosie Bsheer explores the increasing secularization of the postwar Saudi state and how it manifested in assembling a national archive and reordering urban space in Riyadh and Mecca. The elites’ project was rife with ironies: in Riyadh, they employed world-renowned experts to fashion an imagined history, while at the same time in Mecca they were overseeing the obliteration of a thousand-year-old topography and its replacement with commercial megaprojects. Archive Wars shows how the Saudi state’s response to the challenges of the Gulf War served to historicize a national space, territorialize a national history, and ultimately refract both through new modes of capital accumulation.

Praise for Archive Wars

“An instant classic. With incredible insight, creativity, and courage, Rosie Bsheer peels away the political and institutional barriers that have so long mystified others seeking to understand Saudi Arabia. Bsheer tells us remarkable new things about the exercise and meaning of power in today’s Saudi Arabia.” —Toby Jones, Rutgers University, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia

“There are now two distinct eras in the writing of Saudi Arabian history: before Rosie Bsheer’s Archive Wars and after.” —Robert Vitalis, University of Pennsylvania, author of Oilcraft

Archive Wars explores with conceptual brilliance and historical aplomb the various forms of historical erasure central not just to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but to all modern states. In a finely-grained analysis, Rosie Bsheer rethinks the significance of archives, historicism, capital accumulation, and the remaking of the built environment. A must-read for all historians concerned with the materiality of modern state formation.” —Omnia El Shakry, University of California, Davis, author of The Great Social Laboratory: Subjects of Knowledge in Colonial and Postcolonial Egypt

Rosie Bsheer

Rosie Bsheer is Assistant Professor of History at Harvard University.

Stanford University Press