January 25, 2023

EP. 301 — How Did Syrian Peddlers Experience America? with Dr. Charlotte Karem Albrecht

Starting in the late 1800s, a group of Syrian immigrants settled in America. Many of them took up peddling as a career. When American newspapers described these peddlers, it was often in derogatory ways—and through terms of queerness. This week, Dr. Charlotte Karem Albrecht joins Jonathan to explore this moment in Arab American history, how it’s been remembered, and what it reveals about “the sexual, racial, and gender machinery of American society.”


A note from Team JVN: In this episode, Dr. Karem Albrecht and Jonathan discuss how Arabs and Arab Americans were understood by white Americans. As part of that discussion, we reference various historical documents that include anti-Arab and anti-Semitic language. If you’d like to pre-screen those moments, you can find them in the transcript at jonathanvanness.com.


Charlotte Karem Albrecht is an Assistant Professor of American Culture and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she is also a core faculty member in the Arab and Muslim American Studies program. She is also an avid lover of plants and mushrooms and her five fur babies.


You can follow Charlotte on Twitter and Instagram @CKaremAlbrecht. You can learn more about her work at www.charlotteka.com.


Make sure to check out her new book Possible Histories: Arab Americans and the Queer Ecology of Peddling, published by University of California Press.


A free ebook version is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program. Head to www.luminosoa.org for details.


And if you’re curious for more, Dr. Karem Albrecht recommends:


Alixa Naff’s Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience

Mejdulene Shomali’s Between Banat: Queer Arab Critique and Transnational Arab Archives

Susan Schweik’s The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public

Sarah Gualtieri’s Between Arab and White

Randa Tawil’s work on Syrian interpreters

Vivek Bald’s work on Bengali migrants


Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @CuriousWithJVN to join the conversation.


Jonathan is on Instagram and Twitter @JVN and @Jonathan.Vanness on Facebook.


Transcripts for each episode are available at JonathanVanNess.com.


Our executive producer is Erica Getto. Our associate producer is Zahra Crim. Our editor is Andrew Carson.


Our theme music is “Freak” by QUIÑ; for more, head to TheQuinCat.com.


Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness & Charlotte Karem Albrecht  JVN [00:00:00] Welcome to Getting Curious. I’m Jonathan Van Ness and every week I get to sit down for a gorgeous conversation with a brilliant expert to learn all about something that makes me curious. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Charlotte Karem Albrecht, where I ask her: What’s the story of America, as told by Syrian peddlers? If the late 1800s had a phone, we’d have her on speed dial. We keep coming back to this era on the podcast. It’s central to our episodes on: racialized fatphobia with Sabrina Strings, abortion and eugenics with Jacki Antonovich, the Oregon Trail with Margaret Huettl and cheese, trash, banking, and beyond! You know what it is? I think a lot of shit went down in the 1700s and the 1800s. So today we are revisiting this pivotal moment in U.S. history with all new fare. Charlotte Karem Albrecht is an Assistant Professor of American Culture and Women’s and Gender St

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