Monday, August 8, 2016

excerpt from "From Foreign soil to the ʾArḍ of Beirut: A history of the American University of Beirut and the Anglo-American Cemetery"

2016 marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the American University of Beirut, one of the institutions responsible for the establishment of the AAC, its restoration and current functioning. As part of the anniversary's commemorations, Christine Lindner contributed a chapter to the edited volume One Hundred and Fifty, edited by Nadia Maria el Cheikh, Lina Choueiri and Bilal Orfali. In this chapter, Dr. Lindner explores the history of the AUB and AAC. Below are excepts from this chapter.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Syrian Protestant College (SPC), as the American University of Beirut (AUB) was then called, faced an unexpected problem. The success of the college, as an institute of higher learning in the Eastern Mediterranean region, attracted an increasing number of American and British national for its faculty and staff. Drawn to Beirut, these new immigrants sought to reconstruct their lives in this emerging center of cultural, political and economic activity. While creating a new, transnational community in the suburb of Raʾs Beirut, the new migrants were only loosely connected to the American Protestant mission from which the SPC had sprung during the mid-19th century. The classrooms where the new SPC “staffites” taught, the medical offices where they served, and the houses where they resided, were concentrated along the new streets of Raʾs Beirut, rather than within the Mission Compound just south of the old city walls. This short distance, of a mile and a half, nevertheless reflected SPC’s emerging position as a new nexus of Anglo-American activity in the city....

            It is unclear from the archives why land on Raʾs Beirut was not chosen for the location of the new Anglo-American Cemetery. As the cemetery catered primarily to those working at the SPC, locating the cemetery on Raʾs Beirut would have been an obvious choice that reinforced SPC’s position on the ‘head’ of the city.[1] Virgin land was available as the quarter remained sparsely developed even until the mid-20th century.[2] However, it could have been the undeveloped nature of this area, on the edge of red sand hills with its ever present threat of sand-storms, which deterred its selection for the location of the new cemetery.[3] Contemporary Anglo-American views on death resulted in garden-like cemeteries on the edges of cities, where graves would remain undisturbed for relatives to visit.[4] The instability of the Raʾs Beirut’s landscape would have been unsettling for those deciding a location to inter their loved ones.[5]

            As a result, a plot of land was purchased in Furn al-Shubbak, a south-eastern suburb of the city. Like Raʾs Beirut, this area was still developing during the early 20th century, but its terrain was much more stable amongst the pine trees near the Beirut River.[6] Although three and a half miles from SPC, the new cemetery was situated just off the busy Beirut-Damascus Road and was one mile south of the Protestant cemeteries in Raʾs al-Nabaʾa. Moreover, Furn al-Shubbak was a terminal stop for the Beirut Trams.[7] This made the trip from SPC’s Main Gate to the AAC a simple ride along this new medium of modern transportation. By transversing the city, either by car or tram, in order to attend the burial of an associate or annually commemorate a relative’s death, members of the SPC community turned these transportation routes into extended branches of SPC. Noticeably two other cemeteries were eventually built around the AAC,[8] creating an enclave of sacred space that paralleled Raʾs Beirut ‘s enclave of exceptionalisim. Thus, SPC’s influence extended beyond its immediate neighborhood and reached across the city even into a distant suburb.
            The connection between the AAC and AUB (as the SPC had been renamed in 1920) was strengthened in 1960 when the Mission Cemetery in Zuqaq al-Blat was closed. Two years prior, the American Mission was notified that an urban planning project was to be enacted,[9] for which a new road would cut through the Mission Compound and disrupt the cemetery.[10] Accordingly, the missionaries arranged for the graves to be exhumed and reburied at the AAC.[11] The result was the unification of graves for the Anglo-American AUB staffites. Although miles from the buzz of College Hall, the AAC, by 1960, was the resting place for three generations of the SPC/AUB Anglo-American community, and it’s second permanent mark on Beirut’s cityscape.
The chapter continues with a discussion on the use of individual gravestones as sources for international history (and the silences that they can hide). It concludes with an exploration of the relationship between the Crawford-West family and AUB as revealed through their graves at the AAC.

Christine B. Lindner, "From Foreign soil to the ʾArḍ of Beirut: A history of the American University of Beirut and the Anglo-American Cemetery"," in: Nadia Marie El Cheikh, Lina Choueiri and Bilal Orfail, (eds.), One Hundred and Fifty (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 2016), 189-200. The book is available for purchase at the AUB Press.

[1] In Arabic, Raʾs Beirut means the 'head of Beirut'.
[2] Khalaf and Kongstad, Hamra of Beirut: 31-33; Abunnasr, ‘The Making of Ras Beirut’: 256.
[3] Controlling the sand was a major feat tackled by the erection of the Sanayah on the other side of the sand dunes. See Khalaf, Heart of Beirut: Reclaiming the Bourj, (London: Saqi, 2006): 73
[4] Carlton Basmajian and Christopher Coutts, ‘Planning for the Disposal of the Dead’, Journal of the American Planning Association, 76:3 (2010): 306.
[5] Another fear could have been the jackals that ran wild in the suburbs. Edward W. Hooker, Memoir of Mrs. Sarah Lanman Smith, Late of the Mission in Syria, [First Edition], (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1839): 183. Folklore of Raʾs Beirut recalls that the sand dunes were the location to bury criminals, which could be another reason why the AAC was not located there.
[6] Henry W. Glockler, ‘Grave Removals and other data on the cemetery’, ([Beirut]: [May] 1960): RG 115-3-17, PHS.
[7] Jens Hanssen, Fin de Siècle Beirut: The Making of an Ottoman Provencal Capital, (Oxford: Clarendom Press, 2005): 101-103. Noticeably, it was from Furn al-Shubbak that the 1922 boycott of the trams emerged, which disrupted access to the AAC by tram and car as the protests also occupied the streets. Carla Eddé, Beyrouth: Naissance D’une Capitale, (1918-1924), (Beirut: Sindbad, 2009): 302-315
[8] In 1924, the Armenian community purchase part of the AAC land for a cemetery catering to its own community. James H. Nicol to Henry W. Glockler, (Beirut: 15 April 1924): RG 115-3-15, PHS; James H. Nicol to Members of the Cemetery Committee, (Beirut: n.d.):  RG 115-3-15, PHS. A Maronite Cemetery was also built to the east of the AAC.
[9] There is evidence suggesting that the project dates to the Mandate Period, although the earliest concrete evidence comes from the American missionaries who inquired about relocating the graves of the Mission Cemetery to the AAC in 1948. n.s., ‘[Regulations] governing the removal of a cemetery’, ([Beirut]: 26 August 1948): RG 115-3-17, PHS.
[10] An undated and non-titled map held by NEST Special Collections shows the road proposal plans, which would only partially disrupt the cemetery, but would cut it off from the rest of the Mission Compound.
[11] Glockler, ‘Grave Removals and other data on the cemetery’.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Bonjour,
    J effectue des recherches sur le cimetière évangélique français rue de Damas qui a accueilli des angloamericains jusqu'en 1912 .
    .sans doute en lien avec l AAC...
    Merci de me contacter au: