Over the past decade, scholars have vigorously reconsidered the history of Orientalism, and though Edward Said's hugely influential work remains a touchstone of the discussion, Karla Mallette notes, it can no longer be taken as the final word on Western perceptions of the Islamic East. The French and British Orientalisms that Said studied in particular were shaped by the French and British colonial projects in Muslim regions; nations that did not have such investments in the Middle East generated significantly different perceptions of Islamic and Arabic culture.
"European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean" examines Orientalist philological scholarship of southern Europe produced between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. In Italy, Spain, and Malta, Mallette argues, a regional history of Arab occupation during the Middle Ages gave scholars a focus different from that of their northern European colleagues; in studying the Arab world, they were not so much looking on a distant and radically different history as seeking to reconstruct the past of their own nations. She demonstrates that in specific instances, Orientalists wrote their nations' Arab history as the origin of modern national identity, depicting Islamic thought not as exterior to European modernity but rather as formative of and central to it.
Joining comparative insights to the analytic strategies and historical genius of philology, Mallette ranges from the complex manuscript history of the "Thousand and One Nights" to the invention of the Maltese language and Spanish scholarship on Dante and Islam. Throughout, she reveals the profound influences Arab and Islamic traditions have had on the development of modern European culture. "European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean" is an engaging study that sheds new light on the history of Orientalism, the future of philology, and the postcolonial Middle Ages.