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.

“Democracy in the Feminine: Concepts of Social Change in the Arabic Women’s Press” (Article in preparation)

The late nineteenth century brought the rise of new questions about governance and social change in the Arab East, and with them, a new and varied political vocabulary. Especially after the Ottoman Constitutional Revolution of 1908, Arab intellectuals who hoped to forge new structures to govern communal life turned to discussions of constitutionalism, representation, unity, and party. This article traces the history of four primary political concepts in the Arabic women’s press between 1908 and 1939: hizbiyya (factionalism), tarbiya (upbringing), ra’i al-aktharīn (majority opinion), and dimuqratiyya (democracy). It argues that women writers who were fighting for a place in the new political order were uniquely positioned to elucidate both the possibilities and the gendered contradictions of the different visions for collective life forged at the height of the Arab world’s liberal age. Specifically, it shows that the English concept of “democracy” (by the 1930s, often translated in Arabic as “dimuqratiyya“) was only one among several conceptual and political options theorized by Arab intellectuals to confront questions about how to govern and be governed.

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

In 1874-75, American Protestant missionaries in Beirut published two astronomy textbooks in Arabic. While male college students studied Cornelius Van Dyck’s The Foundations of Astronomy, girls and boys at secondary schools studied Eliza Everett’s The Principles of Astronomy: For Use in Schools. These texts appeared at the height of a cross-cultural encounter between American Protestants and the inhabitants of Beirut and Mount Lebanon that transformed categories of age and gender as well as adding new meanings to the Arabic concept of ʿilm. Historians have analyzed the discussions of elite, adult men to chart how ʿilm, once a broad category akin to “knowledge” in English, came to include a neo-Baconian understanding of the modern English “science.” This article turns to science pedagogy to argue that the conceptual transformation of ʿilm entailed a previously-unremarked epistemological division along lines of age and gender. Through Van Dyck’s textbook, college students—all of whom were men—encountered “science” as the production of experimental knowledge. Meanwhile, Everett’s textbook presented “science” to girls at the region’s secondary schools—the terminal phase of girls’ education until after World War I—as a process of hierarchical discovery based on respect for adult male experts and appreciation of God’s perfect world. This divide in the concept of science in Arabic naturalized different institutional and professional pathways for men and women into the twentieth century..

 “Escaping Developmentalism: Sex, Sovereignty, and the Biological in the Interwar Arab East” (Article in preparation)

This essay revises the assumption that the heterosexual body enters into politics primarily as a site of discipline, regulation, and control. In the early days of the French Mandate in Lebanon, cosmopolitan Arab nationalist Fu’ad Sarruf (1900-1985) argued for an anti-colonial nationalism that tied the temporality of rupture and event to the sexual development of the male body. Sarruf argued that the development of sexual characteristics equipped male adolescents to enter a “new age” marked not only by political capacities for solidarity and sovereignty, but also by the potential to escape the linear belatedness of colonial development for an open future. In so doing, Sarruf harnessed an older eroticism around the figure of the male youth for the purposes of an anticolonial time. Meanwhile, other writers in the interwar Arabic women’s press figured the body of the child, managed by women, as both model and site of gradual, top-down reform. Together, these two responses by Arab intellectuals to the problem of colonial belatedness show how the biological body—a space defined by sex, age, and the problem of growth—came into anticolonial politics as an active agent of political transformation.