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Infrastructures of Learning: Authority, Mobility and Nation in the 20th Century Middle East

Panel VIII-09, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
Studies have by and large focused on particular actors, and frameworks in order to understand the significance of learning in the 20th century Middle East. Concentrating on urban areas, colonial, missionary or philanthropic institutions, these histories have tended to ask what role formal schooling plays in the development of nationalism, particularly within national frameworks, and to the exclusion of religious minorities. These four papers build on previous scholarship to push the boundaries, literally and figuratively, of the significance of schooling and educators across the region, concentrating on Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Rather than examining schools’ successes or failures in teaching national affiliation, these papers investigate education, educators, textbooks and pedagogical tourism as infrastructures, while analyzing the individuals, texts and ideologies which crossed national boundaries. The first paper explores how agricultural education became a site of contestation over definitions of expertise and influence in rural areas during the French mandate in Syria and Lebanon. The mandates coincided with a formative period of debate globally over the purpose of agricultural education. The paper demonstrates how these debates manifested in competing projects for rural infrastructures of learning that reflected the myriad interests attempting to lay claim to authority and influence under mandate rule. The second paper traces the first generation of women to receive higher degrees in the Arab world, and their travels to Iraq in the interwar era. It argues that foreign female teachers were necessary to the expansion of women’s education in Iraq, although their transnationalism tended to run counter to the curriculum they taught. Wrestling with these discrepancies, they nevertheless saw themselves as pioneers, trailblazing a new type of womanhood for their students to follow. A third paper brings to light intersections between tourism, pedagogy and national branding in Mandate Lebanon. As textbook authors wrote tourist pamphlets, and schoolchildren took field trips to national monuments, these processes combined to create a new understanding of Lebanon, constituted and shared between infrastructures of tourism and of education. The fourth paper examines how several transnational Jewish educational philanthropies collaborated and competed with one another to secure primacy among Iran’s Jews, and explores the collaborations and conflicts between local Iranian Jews and these foreign Jewish organizations. The paper will offer a more nuanced picture of the educational landscape in Iran, while demonstrating how Jews leveraged access to education and nationalist ideology to claim belonging to the Iranian nation.
  • Dr. Hilary Falb Kalisman
    In the late 1930s, Salwa Nassar, a Lebanese-born graduate of the American University of Beirut and by the 1940s the Arab World’s first female PhD in physics, traveled to Iraq as a teacher. There she joined luminaries such as Alice Kandaleft (later Kosma), who would go on to represent Syria at the United Nations, Najla Abu Izzeddin, a historian and likely the Arab world’s first female PhD overall, and Rose Ghurayyib, author and Arabic linguist. None of these women were born in Iraq. From the 1920s and into the early 1940s, nearly all of Iraq’s female secondary school teachers had journeyed from other corners of the Arab world. A lack of Iraqi women able, trained or willing to be educators drove the Iraqi government to hire outside its borders. Drawn by high salaries, adventure, and a dearth of local opportunities, the first generation of women in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Palestine to gain higher degrees came to Iraq to teach. The years in which foreign women made up the bulk of Iraq’s female educators coincided with a global heyday of domestic science. Governments and curricula, educationalists and popular culture, colonial officials and anti-imperial nationalists linked women’s education to their new role as modern homemakers. Worldwide, teaching allowed women professional opportunities within single-sex milieus. Iraq’s non-Iraqi female teachers however traveled hundreds of miles to teach, without husband or family. Schoolmistresses’ transnationalism was essential for the creation of expertly trained housewives, meant to bring about the modernization and development of their people. But, their lives went against those ideals. Analyses of globalization have linked women with domesticity, and men with economics and travel, thereby distorting our understanding of these processes. Reckoning with the impact of gendered understandings of the local, national and global, I argue that foreign female teachers in Iraq suffered through the disjuncture between the gendered expectations they lived and those they taught. Nevertheless, they expanded possibilities for women by forging transnational pathways: their students would follow in their footsteps. Using official documents, educational journals, memoirs and newspapers in Arabic and English, this paper demonstrates how women’s travels helped solidify Iraq’s place as a regional center of schooling.
  • Globally, the 1920s and 30s saw increased attention to the potential of agricultural education as a tool of political intervention. This paper examines how debates about this potential played out in the context of French mandate Syria and Lebanon. As international organizations such as the International Institute of Agriculture (IIA), the Commission Internationale d’Agriculture (CIA), and the International Labor Organization (ILO) deliberated over who this education was for and what kind of farmer it aimed to produce, technocrats in Syria and Lebanon insisted on the role it could play in creating links between village farmers and a national state space. Their ambitions clashed with those of French mandate officials who saw agricultural education policies as a means not only to increase dependency on French educational infrastructure, but also to exert influence in the countryside. Meanwhile, other foreign actors looked to this training, whether packaged as “technical assistance” for elites or “rural development” for village communities, as a pretext for spreading their influence under the mandate, prefiguring post-World War II development initiatives. Privileging different concepts of what constituted expertise, they each sought to use "scientific" agricultural infrastructure to forge connections between urban and rural areas. For mandate officials, control over infrastructure building under the mandate also provided an opportunity to reinforce claims to authority and hierarchies of knowledge between the metropole and the mandate and reinscribe them institutionally. Scholarship on education in the Middle East has tended to focus on urban institutions. This paper aims to add to this body of work by looking at the role played by diverse infrastructures of learning that targeted cultivators primarily in rural areas. Using reports, correspondence, and journal articles in Arabic, French, and English to explore these competing projects, it argues that internationally shared discourses about the importance of "scientific" or “modern” agricultural training were thus deployed by different actors to elaborate conflicting visions for educational infrastructure and regional economic development. These projects ranged from nationalist technocrats’ championing of multiple levels and purposes for agricultural training to mandate officials’ prioritization of only elementary agricultural education to the summer camp/workshop approach of the U.S.-based Near East Foundation’s initiatives with their base at the American University of Beirut. As local technocrats advocated using these infrastructures to expand national state space into rural areas through the intervention of nationalist, urban agronomists, French officials touted imperial tutelage and the NEF/AUB initiative championed “philanthropic” aid.
  • In 1898 the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU), the transnational Franco-Jewish philanthropy dedicated to “regenerating” Middle Eastern and North African Jews through western education, established a network of Jewish schools in Iran that would operate in the country for over eighty years. Fifty years later, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee began to subsidize educational and medical programs among the Jews of Iran, and several other international educational and vocational Jewish philanthropies ran schools throughout the country. In addition to the presence of transnational Jewish school networks, beginning in the 1950s, Jewish parents increasingly removed their children from Jewish schools and placed them in state schools, arguing that immersion in Muslim-majority spaces would aid their children’s upward mobility. Although most of the scholarship on Jewish schooling in Iran focuses on the AIU, a constellation of schooling options—both Jewish-run and state-operated—was open to Iran’s Jews by the mid-twentieth century. The attendance of Jews at religiously diverse schools in Iran, I argue, mitigated antisemitic experiences, engendered fruitful interreligious encounters, and helped Jews achieve significant upward mobility. Moreover, the various foreign Jewish organizations in Iran—working in tandem and at odds with one another—inadvertently helped Iranian Jews integrate within their broader non-Jewish milieus. However, Iranian Jews were not passive recipients of aid, but actively combatted these institutions’ paternalistic and Orientalist attitudes, which rendered them docile subjects in need of supervision. In this paper, drawing on reports, letters, speeches, newspaper articles, oral histories, and memoirs in Persian, French, Hebrew, and English, I examine how the various transnational Jewish educational philanthropies in Iran collaborated and competed with one another to secure primacy among Iran’s Jews. I also explore the collaborations and conflicts that arose between local Iranian Jews and foreign Jewish organizations to highlight individual and collective choices. In sum, this paper will offer a more nuanced picture of the educational landscape among Iran’s Jews and non-Jews, while demonstrating how Jews leveraged access to education and nationalist ideology to claim belonging to the Iranian nation.
  • When the National Museum of Beirut was inaugurated in 1933, the Lebanese public was surprised to learn that it fell under the Ministry of Education and Fine Arts. Yet this administrative locus spoke volumes about the intersections of education and tourism, inasmuch as the new mandated territory of Greater Lebanon (Grand Liban) now needed to be displayed, even marketed, to both newly-minted “Lebanese” as well as the French mandate authorities and foreign residents – both Arab and non-Arab – in Lebanon. It was also, in many ways, a logical culmination of the overlap between national education and tourism that was cemented over the 1920s and 30s, as the authors of new textbooks of Lebanese history were the very same authors of tourist brochures used to promote Lebanon to both western tourists and Arab visitors. At the same time, school curricula began to include field trips in which students became tourists. This paper investigates the processes by which the content of education in schools, and the content of tourism and process of national branding, co-constituted one another. In part, it will show how the quarters of the public actually learned about this new place, Lebanon, from the museum’s displays and narratives of national space and time, and how those narratives informed educational content in schools. Historiography of both tourism and education rarely discuss them in relation, or in conjunction to, one another. Drawing on the press, tour brochures, student memoirs, and school curricula, this paper will show how tourism and education were in fact “conjoined twins” of the mandate era in Lebanon.