Merchants and Miracles


Merchants and Miracles is an AHRC Leadership Fellows project led by Dr Jacob Norris at the University of Sussex. The project brings to life Bethlehem's modern history of global movement and exchange.

Kiev 1910Bethlehem family in Kiev, 1910

Merchants and Miracles documents the transformation of Bethlehem in the 19th and 20th centuries as a result of its residents' global circulations. In this period merchants from the town travelled to all corners of the world selling devotional objects and souvenirs produced in Bethlehem.

They helped shape today's global image of Bethlehem in tandem with the emergence of Christmas as the biggest Christian festival. They also brought back to their hometown a range of new social and cultural influences.

Leila Sansour collectionWedding in Bethlehem c.1940

By charting these circulations, the project presents a new way of thinking about the Middle East and its interaction with global forces. In the context of pre-1948 Palestine, this means taking seriously the role of local Arab actors as purveyors of global culture, trade and religiosity.

As well as producing an academic book, the project has a wider goal to create a new public history of Bethlehem. To do this the project's Principal Investigator, Jacob Norris, has teamed up with Leila Sansour, an aclaimed film maker from Bethlehem. Their collaboration will generate a series of public resources that use Bethlehem's global history to tell a new story about the Middle East and its relationship with the world. These resources will include a publicly accessible digital archive as well as educational materials, exhibitions and media engagement.