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Dr. Naseeb Shaheen, historian

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 31.08.2007:

Dr. Naseeb Shaheen, the son of the well-known philanthropist Azeez Shaheen, was born in Chicago in 1931, but spent three years of his childhood, from 1935-1938, in Ramallah. He began his schooling at the Friends’ School, before the family returned to the United States in 1938.

He returned to the Middle East with his father in 1958 to attend the American University of Beirut, while his father began the construction of the Ramallah hospital. In 1962, Shaheen received his B.A. in English Literature with distinction. He obtained his Ph.D. in English Literature from UCLA in 1969. He is now professor of English Literature, specialising in Shakespeare, at the University of Memphis, and has published four books on Shakespeare, one on Edmund Spenser, and three books on Ramallah.

Shaheen has travelled to Ramallah every summer but two since 1972. His annual trips to Ramallah also take him to Jerusalem, to London, Oxford, Stratford and Cambridge, where he haunts antique and rare books stores in search of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions of Bibles that Shakespeare himself is known to have used. He now owns over one hundred copies of the Geneva Bible, published between 1560 and 1644. The result of his research into these Bibles and their usage by the Bard has been four books on biblical references. The first three published volumes explored biblical references in Shakespeare’s tragedies, histories, and comedies; all this information was extensively revised and expanded to make up Shaheen’s magnum opus, Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays, published in 1999. It is one of the most quoted Shakespeare books in print.

In 1982, he and his father published Ramallah: Its History and Its Genealogies, an 884-page volume in both English and Arabic that records the history of Ramallah from the time it was founded in 1562 by Rashed Haddad and his family. Shaheen worked for more than 30 years on family trees, carefully tracing each family and each member of that family. The book was published by Birzeit University Press in 1982. The family trees are complete up to 1980. The preliminary chapters of the book also give a thorough history of the city, as well as an account of the daily life, customs, and festivals of Ramallah, many of which are no longer observed.

Shaheen’s interest in Ramallah’s history extends into the present. He and his family have underwritten the construction of two buildings at Birzeit University, located seven kilometres north of Ramallah. The Naseeb Azeez Shaheen Building, a four-story structure that houses the administration and classrooms for graduate programmes, was dedicated in August 2001 by Shaheen himself.

Shaheen published a second volume on Ramallah in 1992, A Pictorial History of Ramallah. It contains 445 photographs of the inhabitants of Ramallah. Some of the photos date back to 1880.

In 2005, he published A Pictorial History of Ramallah, Part II. This volume contains 675 pictures that also date back to the 1880s. The volume also contains charts and graphs explaining Ramallah’s family clans, as well as the oldest map of Palestine that has Ramallah among the cities and villages of Palestine, dating from 1639, which Shaheen found in the British Library.

All of Dr. Shaheen’s books on Ramallah can be found in the Ramallah Public Library.


This Week in Palestine

September 2007

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