AUB Libraries Online Exhibits

The Geography Book Issue


Portrait of William Hall, Preparatory School Principal  ca. 1916, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

In December 1915, the Ottoman authorities were notified that a geography book, which had not been cleared for approval per the new Ottoman Educational regulations, was used by an SPC Faculty member in one of the Preparatory Department classes. Upon inspection, it was revealed that the Ottoman authorities felt that some of the book's content was offensive, as it contained some clauses which were deemed unfavorable to the Ottomans. The Authorities demanded that the Principal of the Prep School, Prof. Hall resign, and that the geography book be withdrawn.


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Letter from Howard Bliss and the American Council in Damascus, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

To elucidate the Geography book incident President Howard Bliss issued the following clarification, stating the College's official posiiton regarding the incident: “His Excellency Azmi Bey, the Governor General of the Vilayat of Beirut, called my attention two months and a half ago to the fact that the Geography taught in our Fourth Form contained several passages and statements reflecting upon the Ottoman Empire. He expressed his strong displeasure at finding that such a book was in use in the College. I assured His Excellency that the infelicitous nature of these paragraphs had not escaped the attention of the teacher of Geography, and that, at the direction of Professor Hall; the teacher had explained to the class that these paragraphs did not represent the teaching of the College upon the subject. At the same time I expressed my sincere regret that we had made use of a book containing such paragraphs and urged upon the Vali the fact that, as President of the College, I assumed the responsibility for the unfortunate affair. His Excellency informed me that later on he would give me his final answer in the matter…”. “We have unanimously decided to withdraw Professor Hall from his position and to request him to leave the Ottoman Empire. Professor hall is one of our best men, and we have taken this action not because any one of us believes Professor Hall to be disloyal to the Ottoman Empire or the Ottoman Government, or hostile to Islam, or contemptuous of any one, but as a proof of our deep regret for the Geography Incident, and above all, in order to comply with the desires of his Excellency in this matter”

President's Annual Report, 1915/16, p:15-16, AUB Archives.





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A Letter from Howard Bliss to American Ambassador at Constantinople, Morgentheau, Jan. 14, 1916, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

The issue of the Geography book had numerous repercussions: several professors at the Preparatory Department were summoned to the Police Headquarters in Beirut, and relations, which until then had been relatively smooth and positive, suddenly got strained between the SPC administration on one hand, and the Turkish Vali, and Jemal Pasha on the other. President Bliss, the American Council in Damascus and the American Ambassador in Constantinople all worked very hard in order to appeal to the good will of Jemal Pasha and of the Turkish Vali, using all the credit that the past good relations, the trust and the numerous services the two parties had extended to each other allowed them, in order to smooth things over. Eventually, Prof. Hall resigned from his post, and SPC agreed to have all its books inspected by the Ottoman authorities prior to usage: later on, the Ottoman authorities eventually yielded and Prof. Hall was reappointed at the College in a different capacity.