Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research

Merchants and Miracles: Global Circulations and the Making of Modern Bethlehem

Merchants and Miracles is an AHRC funded project exploring modern Bethlehem and its history of global connectivity. The project will produce a book on the life of one merchant from the town, and an archive that makes publicly available a large collection of digital objects relating to Bethlehem and its global diaspora.

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. 

Merchants and Miracles Congregation of the Holy Rosary, Palestine. (Library of Congress, Washington D.C.)Congregation of the Holy Rosary, Palestine

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.

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.

For the full project page click HERE

Merchants and Miracles is a collaborative project led by historian Jacob Norris and based at the University of Sussex. The team at Sussex is working with a number of project partners.