Making the Mahjar home: The construction of Syrian ethnicity in the United States, 1870–1930
Author: Gualtieri-Sarah-M-A Date: 2000 Institution: The-University-of-Chicago (0330) Subject:Literature Language: English
Abstract: This dissertation traces the development of Syrian ethnicity in the United States between 1870 and 1930. It describes the adaptation of pre-existing (or homeland) solidarities and cultural attributes, and analyzes the debates around gender, race, and nation that gave them meaning. The main conceptual outcome is a departure from an assimilation paradigm that has dominated the study of Arab immigration. In its place, I propose ethnicization, the construction of a sense of peoplehood vis à vis outsiders, as a more useful concept for understanding the history of Syrians - the first Arab immigrants in the United States - as they participated in economic, social and political networks that crossed geographical borders. Specifically, this study argues that Syrian ethnicity articulated around three problems in the pre and immediate post-World War One period. The first involved the nature and meaning of honor in the context of migration, the second addressed the racial identity of Syrians in relation to naturalization law, and the third involved their connection to a homeland national community during a period of transition from an Ottoman imperial order to a European colonial one. It is around this third issue, the diaspora's connection to the nation, that this project attempts to bridge the fields of American immigration and Middle East history. By showing how migration and ideas about the nation are linked, the argument is made that the Syrian diaspora must figure more prominently in our understanding of the discourse of Arab nationalism. The sources for this project consist of archival material from Damascus, Paris, and various locations in the United States. It also makes extensive use of the Arabic-language press published in Syria, and New York, the hub of Syrian immigrant literary culture and commercial activity. In addition to memoirs and other printed primary material, this dissertation uses oral histories deposited at the Smithsonian Institution, and those collected by the author in Syria and the United States.