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Cash and Kin Go to Court: Legal Families and Chosen Families in Nineteenth-Century Egypt

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Court records have offered historians an unparalleled source of information about the Ottoman period, particularly in the Empire's Arab provinces, where abundant documentation tells us about society's material conditions. As far as family history is concerned, Ottoman courts have yielded much important information regarding women's rights and status, as revealed in marriage contracts recorded before the Ottoman qadi. In the field of economic and social history, estate inventories have offered a glimpse of how people lived, what they might have consumed, and how wealthy they were. To date, however, less work has been done on how the family was structured by material relations, as indicated by financial transfers carried out upon a family member's death. In my paper, I will follow some of these transfers, in the form of pre-mortem gifts as well as post-mortem bequests, in an attempt to understand how individuals expressed their sense of obligation toward different elements in their social universe. I will seek to demonstrate that cash flows indicate individual preferences regarding the beneficiaries of wealth. I will also examine the relative importance of different associations, both kin and non-kin, in an individual's social network.

Affiliations: 1: The American University in Cairo;, Email: ghazaleh@aucegypt.edu

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