Since the American University of Beirut opened its doors in 1866, the campus has stood at the intersection of a rapidly changing American educational project for the Middle East and an ongoing student quest for Arab national identity and empowerment. Betty S. Anderson provides a unique and comprehensive analysis of how the school shifted from a missionary institution providing a curriculum in Arabic to one offering an English-language American liberal education extolling freedom of speech and analytical discovery.
Anderson discusses how generations of students demanded that they be considered legitimate voices of authority over their own education; increasingly, these students sought to introduce into their classrooms the real-life political issues raging in the Arab world. The Darwin Affair of 1882, the introduction of coeducation in the 1920s, the Arab nationalist protests of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the even larger protests of the 1970s all challenged the Americans and Arabs to fashion an educational program relevant to a student body constantly bombarded with political and social change. Anderson reveals that the two groups chose to develop a program that combined American goals for liberal education with an Arab student demand that the educational experience remain relevant to their lives outside the school's walls. As a result, in eras of both cooperation and conflict, the American leaders and the students at the school have made this American institution of the Arab world and of Beirut.
According to conventional wisdom, the national identity of the Jordanian state was defined by the ruling Hashemite family, which has governed the country since the 1920s. But this view overlooks the significant role that the "Arab street"—in this case, ordinary Jordanians and Palestinians—played and continues to play in defining national identity in Jordan and the Fertile Crescent as a whole. Indeed, as this pathfinding study makes clear, "the street" no less than the state has been a major actor in the process of nation building in the Middle East during and after the colonial era.
In this book, Betty Anderson examines the activities of the Jordanian National Movement (JNM), a collection of leftist political parties that worked to promote pan-Arab unity and oppose the continuation of a separate Jordanian state from the 1920s through the 1950s. Using primary sources including memoirs, interviews, poetry, textbooks, and newspapers, as well as archival records, she shows how the expansion of education, new jobs in the public and private sectors, changes in economic relationships, the establishment of national militaries, and the explosion of media outlets all converged to offer ordinary Jordanians and Palestinians (who were under the Jordanian government at the time) an alternative sense of national identity. Anderson convincingly demonstrates that key elements of the JNM's pan-Arab vision and goals influenced and were ultimately adopted by the Hashemite elite, even though the movement itself was politically defeated in 1957.