AUB Libraries Online Exhibits

Syria during the 19th Century

During the early 19th century, the political turmoil in the Ottoman Empire, especially after Muhammad Ali Pasha’s campaign in Syria, urged the Sultanate to launch the Tanzimat in 1839 to last till 1876, and aimed to achieve administrative, military, cultural, and political reforms across the Ottoman Empire. Despite that, the political situation in the Empire did not improve due to the European intervention in the Empire’s internal affairs and the widespread administrative corruption. On the contrary the situation in Syria deteriorated due to the tension between the Druze and Maronites, which finally culminated in the 1860 civil unrest, directly leading to the birth of Mount Lebanon Mutessarifat in 1861, and that in return led to creating the Vilayet of Beirut in 1888.

In this era of political unrest, Protestant and Jesuit missionaries landed in the Levant trying to convert the people of this area through multitude ways, either through education by founding schools, or through publishing religious books at their presses, or through medical aid and social work. In this ambiance local scholars and authors like Butrus al Bustani, Nassif al Yaziji, Ahmad Fares al Shidyaq, and Khalil Sarkis, considered the pillars of an Nahda, or “Arab Renaissance” were actively writing and editing articles in local newspapers.

During their missionary work American preachers, who arrived in Syria as early as 1820, felt the need to establish schools around the country to educate the people of this land. As the number of students increased, more schools were established, and the missionaries were not able to meet the rising need for tutors. The limited number of local instructors urged Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck to start the Abeih Seminary for Boys in 1843, as the first teachers’ training school.

Exhibit Curators: Samar Mikati and Dalya Nouh

Acknowledgments: Many thanks go to Shaden Dada for her technical support.