Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture at MIT where he has been teaching since 1991. His interests include Islamic art and architecture, medieval urban history and historiography, and post-colonial criticism and its ramifications for the study of architectural history. He teaches courses on architecture in the Islamic world in general, in specific cities, or on particular themes such as environmentally responsive vernacular architecture. His seminars include Islamic urbanism, cultural signification in architecture, and Orientalism.
Professor Rabbat earned his BArch from the University of Damascus, his MArch II from UCLA, and his PhD from MIT. His dissertation "The Citadel of Cairo, 1176-1341: Reconstructing Architecture from Texts" won the 1991 Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award from the Middle East Study Association. A book based on the same, The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture, was published in 1995. Professor Rabbat has a book of essays on architecture in Arabic which will be published in January 2002 by Riad Alrayyes Publisher, Beirut, Lebanon. The book is titled, Thaqafat al Bina1 wa Bina1 al-Thaqafa (The Culture of Building and Building Culture).
He is currently working on two projects: a book on the fifteenth-century historian al-Maqrizi and his Khitat, titled, Historicizing the City: The Significance of Maqrizi's Khitat, which will be published by Brill in 2003, and a book on the problems of representation in Mamluk sources, tentatively entitled, Shaping the Mamluk Image: The Scope of the Sources. He is also co-editing the 1999 Kevorkian Lectures at NYU, which will soon be published under the title, A Medieval Cairo for A Modern World. In addition to publishing essays in scholarly journals on Islamic cultural and architectural history and historiography, architectural criticism, and medieval urbanism, Professor Rabbat is a contributor to the following Arabic journals: Wughat Nazar, Akhbar al-Adab, Jaridat al-Funun, al-Hayat and al-Mustaqbal.
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.