Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. A historian and architect, his research interests include the history and historiography of Islamic architecture, urbanism, and cultures, Mamluk history, modern Arab history, contemporary Arab art, and post-colonial criticism.
Professor Rabbat has published several books and numerous scholarly articles. His most recent books are The Destruction of Cultural Heritage: From Napoléon to ISIS (2016), co-edited with Pamela Karimi, and Al- Naqd Iltizaman: Nazarat fi-l Tarikh wal ‘Ururba wal Thawra (Criticism as Commitment: Viewpoints on History, Arabism, and Revolution) (2015). He is currently completing an intellectual biography of the 15th century historian al-Maqrizi and a book on the “Dead Cities”, a unique and threatened late-antique site in Syria.
He has previously published: Mamluk History Through Architecture: Building, Culture, and Politics in Mamluk Egypt and Syria (2010); Thaqafat al-Bina’ wa-Bina’ al-Thaqafa (The Culture of Building and Building Culture) (2002); and The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture (1995). He edited The Courtyard House between Cultural Reference and Universal Relevance (2010, 2nd edition 2016), co-edited Making Cairo Medieval (2005), and co-authored Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition (2001).
Professor Rabbat regularly contributes to a number of Arabic newspapers on political and cultural issues. He lectures extensively in the US and abroad, consults with international design firms on projects in the Islamic world, and maintains several websites focused on Islamic architecture and urbanism. He has recently become involved in the debate on reconstruction and heritage conservation in Syria. He has established a collaborative research project at MIT, named “Ethics of Intervention”; co-founded Syrians for Heritage (SIMAT), an association concerned with the preservation of Syria’s cultural heritage; and co-curated, with Filiz Çakır Phillip, the exhibition “Syria: A Living History” at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in 2016-17.
Rabbat, Nasser. "?Aj?b and ghar?b: artistic perception in medieval Arabic sources." Medieval History Journal 9, no. i (2006): 99-113.
In the tiny part of art in the prodigious medieval Arabic historical output the mention of specific art objects reveals unfamiliarity with elementary aesthetic vocabulary. The authors usually refrain from judging the quality of art unlike the expert discussion of literary works. This article uses a famous, relatively long and oft-quoted text form al-Maqrizis Khitat describing three examples of Fatimid painting to explore how did Arab historians see the visual arts, and why. It explores the linguistic roots of the most frequently used terms, such as 'ajib and gharib' in twelfth and fifteenth century texts and how they were transposed from their semantic fields to the description of art objects. It then examines the sources' reticence vis-a-vis the description of art and seeks an explanation in the intellectual formation of the historians and class distinction between historians and artists.