Research

Current Projects

Formative Years: Gender, Childrearing, and Democracy in the Arab East. (Book Manuscript in preparation).

Formative Years is a feminist conceptual history of education and upbringing as they were articulated by intellectuals writing in Arabic between the last decades of the Ottoman Empire and the outbreak of World War II. It tells the story of how nineteenth-century women writers reframed tarbiya, an old Arabic word for cultivation, to refer to new structures of formal schooling, new pedagogies, and the female labor of childrearing, moral cultivation, and subject formation in the home. As local elites, Ottoman and Egyptian statesmen, and a new class of educated intellectuals grappled with representative governance in Egypt and Lebanon between 1860 and 1939, tarbiya articulated a deep faith in the power of women’s capabilities as childraisers. That faith allowed new investments in liberal politics to co-exist with elite skepticism about “the people” as a political actor, emphasized biological differences between women and men, and naturalized the idea that gradual, top-down reform was the path to political modernity.

 “Astronomy for Girls: The Gendering of Science in Late-Ottoman Beirut” (Under Review)

The late-nineteenth century was a period of semantic inflation for the Arabic concept of ‘ilm, which came to encompass the neo-Baconian concept of “science” in English but maintained an older, broader remit. Previous histories of ‘ilm have focused on how missionary men and male intellectuals in both the modern and religious sciences transformed the term. This article, by contrast, argues that transformations in ‘ilm were deeply inflected by concurrent transformation in gender and knowledge: as girls’ schooling became a matter of intense concern in late-nineteenth century Beirut, for example, educators grappled not only with what ‘ilm meant but what ‘ilm meant for girls. This article reads two astronomy (‘ilm al-hay’a) textbooks penned by American missionaries for use in Beirut’s schools: Cornelius Van Dyck’s The Foundations of Astronomy (Uṣūl ‘Ilm al-Hay’a, 1874) and Eliza Everett’s The Principles of Astronomy (Mabadi ‘Ilm al-Hay’a, 1875) to show how science, knowledge, and gender transformed one another in late-nineteenth century Beirut.