Hana Sleiman: An Intellectual History of a Milieu: Pedagogy and Curricula Formation in Beirut, 1920-1956

Sleiman’s dissertation explores the relationship between higher education curricula, the history of Arab liberal thought and processes of national subject formation in early-twentieth-century Beirut. It investigates the pedagogical-intellectual milieu at the American University of Beirut (AUB)’s School of Arts and Sciences, and its connections and exchanges with other universities, especially the Syrian University in Damascus. While centered on Constantine Zurayq (1909-2000), a prominent Syrian intellectual, historian, diplomat, educator, and one of the earliest Arab nationalists, the dissertation includes figures such as the historians Philip Hitti and Asad Rustum, the philosopher Charles Malik, the Arabist Nabih Amin Faris, and others.
The project contributes to two overarching debates. The first is a methodological one about expanding the site and archive of intellectual history beyond published texts into the interlocutors’ pedagogical and bureaucratic archives and examining their operationalization. Sleiman hopes to reveal that situating ideas in their social, political and institutional context — and tracing the transformations that arose from their operationalization — is necessary for intellectual history. Her dissertation treats pedagogy as the space where intellectual projects are caught in the tentacles of institutional and state bureaucracies, funding schemes, and shifts in global trends of knowledge production, and are thus fundamentally transformed by them. The second debate this dissertation contributes to is that surrounding the different schemes and visions centred on the formation of liberal national subjects in the first half of the twentieth century. Sleiman’s project examines the curriculum of the modern university as an apparatus for constructing the knowledge basis of truth claims and/or national imaginaries, and as an effective tool for cementing those claims and imaginaries in collective consciousness. In particular, it traces the way in which Arab/Near Eastern history has served as especially fertile ground for constructing this knowledge.

Hana Sleiman is an archivist and PhD student of History at the University of Cambridge. Her archival work focuses on devising open tools and methodologies for ephemera and oral history archives. Her doctoral research is on the intellectual history of the modern Middle East, focusing on two generations of scholars and educational reformers in Beirut and Damascus, and the contest over higher education curricular reform in the early twentieth century. After receiving her MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University (2013), she worked as a Special Collections Librarian at the American University of Beirut Archives, where she co-led the Palestinian Oral History Archive.


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