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Words into Texts: Justice Politics and the Written Record at a Trial in Tunis in 1844

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image of Islamic Law and Society

Paolo Xuereb, a Maltese migrant in Tunis in the mid nineteenth century, was tried for murder in the court of the Bey of Tunis. Two contemporary documents describing the trial exist. One is a translated (into English) “transcript” made by the US consulate, the other is an Arabic statement of the verdict and sentence validated by some of the principal Islamic legal authorities of the Beylicate. The article compares these two documents and finds that where their focusses coincide they are nearly identical in content. But the differences between the documents are striking: one is an account of the course of the trial, the other a statement of its legalities and conclusions. This rare coincidence of documentation is used to tease out the implications for historians of how testimony given orally at a criminal trial in an Islamic environment is changed and transmitted when it is recorded in written form.

Affiliations: 1: University of Melbourne
; 2: University of Melbourne


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