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The Making of Ras Beirut: A Landscape of Memory for Narratives of Exceptionalism

This dissertation examines the memory of Ras Beirut and the various claims to its exceptionalism. I frame its history as a landscape of memory born of the convergence of narratives of exceptionalism. On the one hand, Ras Beirut's landscape inspired Anglo-American missionary future providence such that they chose it as the site of their college on a hill, the Syrian Protestant College (SPC, later renamed the American University of Beirut [AUB]). On the other hand, the memory of Ras Beirut's "golden age" before the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 inspired longings for a vanished past to Ras Beirut's oldest inhabitants. Shaped by the push of prospect and the pull of recollection, Ras Beirut emerges as a place formed out of the contest of these overlapping articulations of exceptionalism. Moreover, Ras Beirut's narratives have a wider significance and application in their transnational and interconfessional relevance. The missionary New England microcosm of the SPC represented the transnational transposition of memory onto Ras Beirut in an architectural narrative of exceptionalism. The monumental size and scale of their buildings oriented Ras Beirut and realized a "city upon a hill." Drawing from letters written to and from the US, I examine their ambiguous relationship to Ras Beirut that made them both part of the place and apart from the people. At the same time, the local Muslim-Christian community of Ras Beirut argued that Ras Beirut's distinct character rested on their own history of harmonious coexistence. In the early twentieth century, Arab Protestant converts settled in Ras Beirut and became known as the Protestants of Ras Beirut in their affixed identity and collective rootedness to place. This dissertation draws upon archival research and tangible sources in the changing architectural and urban environment. It also relies on oral history and memory to capture the multi-disciplinary making of place that best relates the textured history of Ras Beirut while giving meaning to everyday lived lives. In the process, the connections between the Middle East and the US unfold in transnational terms while the idea of Ras Beirut as a paradigm of coexistence unfolds interconfessional terms.
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