Ruins typically mark the endpoint of historical stories, regarded as objects worthy of attention only for the bygone times they represent. But what might a history reveal if it took ruins as its departure point? How would a history of ruins look? This article aims to write ruins into history by pondering the case of Gaza in the aftermath of World War I. The ruins of the city, it is argued here, were the site of a transformation in the modalities of urban change: what had been a ubiquitous and organic process of evolution in the cityscapes of the Middle East up to the late nineteenth century was replaced by top-down spatial convention, imposed by the modern state. This transformation deprived ruins from their long-standing role as essential elements of the urban landscape and flattened them into mere emblems of cultural decay. Consistent with the ontological stance of the progress/decline binary, by the early twentieth century, spatial ruination had become regarded as a unidirectional rather than multidirectional process. This modern framing of ruins proved especially significant for postwar Gaza, whose reconstruction efforts were consequently plagued by internal contradiction.

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