November 15, 2021

Interview with Fulbrighter Dr. Harrison Guthorn on his latest book

In this interview with Fulbright alumnus, Dr. Harrison Guthorn, we discuss his latest book based on his Fulbright research titled, Capital Development: Mandate Era Amman and the Construction of the Hashemite State, 1921–1946.

After completing his Fulbright award as a Student researcher back in 2014, American alumnus, Dr. Harrison Guthorn continued his research while pursuing his doctorate degree, and recently shared the news of publishing the book based on that research titled: Capital Development: Mandate Era Amman and the Construction of the Hashemite State, 1921–1946. In the press release shared by the publication house, Gingko Library, this scholarly yet accessible academic monograph presents the history of Amman’s development under the rule of the British mandate from 1921 until Transjordan gained independence in 1946, and explores how the growth of the Anglo-Hashemite state imbued the city with physical, political and symbolic significance.

The book is further explained as being divided into three parts, Part I of Capital Development explores the institutional and infrastructural development of Amman as an amalgam of Ottoman, Arab and British characteristics; Part II focuses on the government’s utilization of the legislature for elite manipulation; and Part III analyses the development of Amman’s urban fabric, including an examination of the architecture of Amman as a reflection of the state’s limited interest in the city’s buildings, streets and other urban infrastructures.

The front cover of the book (photo courtesy of Gingko Library)
We asked Dr. Harrison a few questions to learn more about the process of writing and researching this book, along with his reflections on how he sees the city of Amman through the lenses of history and modernity:

Q: What was the process of researching and writing this book having lived and experienced the city of Amman for yourself?

HG: Doing research in Amman was really two different overlapping processes. The first was conducting archival research at the National Library of Jordan and the Jordanian Parliamentary Library. The primary sources found at both locations were integral to the entire research project. Beyond locating critical archival sources, much of my time in Amman was learning about the city by exploring it on foot and by talking to its people. Walking down the steps from Jabal Amman and Jabal Luweibdeh in to Al-Balad (downtown) reinforced the centrality of this downtown corridor. As I learned more about the connections between Al-Balad and the surrounding neighborhoods it helped to shape the direction and argument of the book. These spaces were opened up by talking with scholars, like Dr. Rami Daher (Jordanian Fulbright Scholar), as well as the regular inhabitants of the city. 

Q: In your opinion, why do you think it’s important to learn about the colonial history of Jordan in order to understand it today, both as a Jordanian or non-Jordanian?

HG: Jordan is frequently presented as being a new country disconnected from its pre-war past. Understanding the colonial development of Amman as an Anglo-Hashemite project illustrates that the story of colonial Jordan, and Amman by extension, is more a story of continuity than disruption. The mandate period in many ways was an extension of the Ottoman period and the systems and interpersonal connections that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is also the story of a truly new urban space. Amman is the only capital city in the Levant that didn’t exist as a city before the colonial period. In this way, its development is distinct from Damascus, Beirut, or Jerusalem. As such, Amman’s earliest days as a city is a direct reflection of this colonial upbringing. 


Q: As a reader, what do you think is a surprising takeaway one can take from reading your book covering the era between 1921 and 1946?

HG: The most surprising takeaway for me was the lack of oversight into the actual urban development of Amman during this period. While the city was hugely important to the colonial government’s function and authority across Transjordan, the government did not shape the urban fabric of the city. Neighborhoods developed in response to how the populace used them, not because they were designed in an overarching urban plan. This lack of intervention allowed for Amman to be a multifaceted dynamic urban space, which was home to people with different and at times conflicting perspectives.  

Q: Looking back to your time during your Fulbright award, what do you miss about the city and its people?

HG: I miss the energy and excitement walking around suk al-juma'a in Abdali. Walking down to Al-Balad for dinner with friends at Shaharazade's and then eating kunafeh at Habibah (always na’ama, not khishnah) for dessert. More than the food I miss the friends I made in and outside of Amman throughout my Fulbright.  

After the interview, we reached out to Dr. Rami Daher, who is a Fulbright scholar himself as a Jordanian Post-Doctoral Research Alumnus, and a much respected figure in the field of cultural presrvation and architecture. As mentioned by Dr. Harrison, Dr. Daher who was of great help during his research, and we asked him about his thoughts on this book, and here is what he said:

This monograph by Dr. Harrison Guthorn on the development of Amman during the mandate period is considered a valuable contribution of knowledge as there are already very few scholarly works on the city compared to other cities in the region.  The book, and through an indulgence in the archives, makes an important argument for the significant role played by this re-emerging city not only in the development of trans-Jordan, but also in the geopolitical and socio-economic role it played within the region.  The book, and through its thorough and crucial analysis of the first legislative Council’s documents and archives, sheds light on the politics, realities, and mediations between the mandate government on one hand, and the general population and the Council on the other.   Furthermore, the monograph illustrates the multiplicity and diversity of Amman’s residents and how this specificity affected the humble, yet unique, urban reality of the city.  
Dr. Guthorn (right) pictured with Dr. Rami Daher (left) during a presentation in Jordan (photo courtesy of Dr. Guthorn)

We want to thank our Alumnus, Dr. Harrison Guthorn for taking part in this interview, and sharing more about his research and recent publication. We look forward adding his book to our Fulbright library at the Commission.

More about Dr. Harrison Guthorn:

Dr. Guthorn is a Strategic Leader at EAB in Washington, DC, specializing in public and private institutions. He completed his PhD at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2015. He was a 2013–2014 Fulbright IIE Fellow in Amman, and was awarded both a University of Maryland Dean’s Fellowship and Dissertation Fellowship for his research. In addition to various research roles, he has worked as a Lecturer of Modern Middle East History at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland.

Capital Development: Mandate Era Amman and the Construction of the Hashemite State, 1921–1946 by Harrison B. Guthorn was published by Gingko Library, a London-based publisher and charitable foundation.

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