Pelle Valentin Olsen


Førsteamanuensis, Associate Professor




I am a cultural, social, and transnational historian of the modern Middle East. My research and teaching focus on the history of leisure, labor, gender, sexuality, popular culture, and cultural production. I focus specifically on Iraq, but my work simultaneously explores transregional and transnational connections, highlighting everyday perspectives and voices often left out by traditional political and state-centered histories. I received my PhD with honors from the University of Chicago in 2020. Previously, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Roskilde University in Denmark, where I worked on the ‘Entangled Histories of Palestine and the Global New Left’ project. I came to Bergen via the University of Oslo, where worked as a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow on a project about the history of cinema in Iraq.  

On the basis of my dissertation, I am preparing a book manuscript entitled Idle Days and Nights: Leisure, Time, and Modernity in Iraq. The book, which extends the dissertation’s temporal scope from the mandate to the early years of the republican period, argues that leisure in twentieth century Iraq became one of several frontiers upon which the individual and citizen came into contact with, confronted, and interacted with new ideas about gender, sexuality, class, time, labour, and discipline. The book draws upon my dissertation wherein I traced the cultural, transregional, and transnational history of new urban practices of leisure in Baghdad. Idle Days and Nights draws on Arabic and Hebrew archival records, fiction and poetry, photography, popular song and music, periodicals, and published works held in institutions in Lebanon, Iraq, the UK, Italy, Israel, and the US. Examining the new institutions, practices, and distractions of leisure that took up increasing space and time in the life of Iraqis, the book explores uncharted aspects of both modern Iraqi and Middle Eastern history.  

My second project, “Iraqi Cinema Beyond the Screen,” explores the history of cinema in Iraq, a subject that has received virtually no scholarly attention. This project is a cultural, material, and transnational history of cinema, technology, labour, capital, and infrastructure in twentieth-century Iraq. The project interrogates the transnational circulation of cultural products and material objects, including films and technology, and explores how they came together at a particular historical moment with capital, performers, and people with technical skills to establish cinema as a form of leisure in Iraq. The project also maps the local Iraqi capitalist and entrepreneurial elites, who invested in film exhibition and production technology.  

My work has appeared in edited volumes as well as in Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, Arab Studies Journal, Journal of Palestine Studies, Middle East Critique, Regards, Journal of Arabic Literature, Journal of Social History and elsewhere.  


  • Ph.D. (2020), Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago 
  • MPhil Middle Eastern Studies (2014), University of Oxford, St. Antony’s College 
  • BA Middle Eastern Studies (2012), University of Copenhagen  

Grants & Awards 

  • Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies Annual Graduate Student Paper Prize (2018)        
  • The Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TARI) dissertation award for Best Dissertation on Modern/Medieval Iraq (2021) 


Idle Days and Nights: Leisure, Time, and Modernity in Iraq. Manuscript under preparation.  



2024      “A Tale of Three Brothers: Ezra, Meir, and Hayyawi Sawdai and the History of an Iraqi Jewish Cinema Business," Intertational Journal of Middle East Studies, 55:4, 630-649. doi:10.1017/S0020743823001484 

2024       “The Riḥlas and Road Trips of Modern Iraqi Literature: Safa’ Khulūsī’s Abū Nuwās fī Amrīkā,” with Rachel N. Schine, Journal of Arabic Literature, forthcoming.  

2024      “The Atomic Future: Technology, Labor, and World Peace in the Thought of ‘Ali Rashid Sha‘at,” with Hebatalla Taha, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, 17, 29-46.

2023      “The Emergence of Palestine as a Global Cause,” with Sune Haugbølle, Middle East Critique, 32:1,

2023       “The Legal and Medical Categorization of Juvenile Delinquency in Hashemite Iraq, 1921- 1958,” with Sara Farhan, Journal of Social History,

2022     “At the Juncture of Internationalization: Palestine Solidarity Conferences in the Global Sixties,” with Sune Haugbølle, and Sorcha Thompson, Journal of Palestine Studies, 51:1, 27-49.  

2021     “Early Iraqi Cinema and the Archives of Leisure.” Regards 25, 129-141.  

2021      “Al-Qahira-Baghdad: The Transnational and Transregional History of Iraq’s Early Cinema Industry.” Arab Studies Journal 29: 2, 8-33.  

2018     “Cruising Baghdad: Desire Between Men in the 1930s Fiction of Dhu al-Nun Ayyub.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 14: 1, 25-44.  



2024     “Iraqi Jews and the Emergence of Cinema Culture in Hashemite Iraq,” in Jews of Iraq: Engagement with Modernities, edited by Orit Bashkin, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (forthcoming) 

2024    “Atomic utopias in Egypt: intellectual thought and popular science, 1945-1950,” with Hebatalla Taha, in Utopias in the Middle East, edited by Thomas Pierret and Simon Fuchs, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (forthcoming) 

2023      “Nocturnal Baghdad: Nightlife, Performance, and Sex Work,” The Arab Nahda as Popular Entertainment, edited by Raphael Cormack, Hala Auji, and Alaaeldin Mahmoud. London: I.B. Tauris.  

2023    “Nursing the Revolution: Norwegian Medical Support in Lebanon as Solidarity, 1976-1983,” in The Fate of Third-Worldism in the Middle East, edited by Rasmus Elling and Sune Haugbolle. London: One World Publications. 


2024    Ruling the Waves: Transnational Radio Broadcasting in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, co-edited with Peter Wien et. al. Manuscript submitted to Brill. 

2023    Palestine in the World: International Solidarity with the Palestinian Liberation Movement, co-edited with Sorcha Thomson. London: I.B. Tauris.  



2022      Review of Return to Ruin: Iraqi Narratives of Exile and Nostalgia, by Zainab Saleh (Stanford 2020), Journal of Contemporary Iraq and the Arab World 15: 2.  

2018     Review of Queer Beirut, by Sofian Merabet (Texas 2014), H-Levant, H-Net Reviews,  

2016     Review of Poetic Trespass: Writing Between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine, by Lital Levy (Princeton 2014), Journal of Middle Eastern Culture and Communication. 9: 2. 



2022     Jadaliyya, new texts,,-%E2%80%9CAl-Qahira-Baghdad-The-Transnational-and-Transregional-History-of-Iraq%E2%80%99s-Early-Cinema-Industry%E2%80%9D-New-Texts-Out-Now. English and Arabic.  

2018     “Jesuit Archives and Research Center, Saint Louis (MO),” Hazine  

2016     “Idle Days in Baghdad: A Brief History of the Coffee Shop in Iraq,” Standart Magazine, Issue 5, June.  


Vitenskapelig artikkel

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