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History Writing and History Making in Twentieth Century Beirut



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This dissertation takes the idea of modern history as its subject of study. It investigates one thread of Arab historicism—belief in the primacy of history as the key to all human knowledge—by examining the intellectual and pedagogical endeavours of Constantine Zurayq (1909-2000) and his ilk. In doing so, it draws on their published writings, textbooks, history curricula, lecture transcripts, personal papers and records of administrative service. The dissertation firstly investigates this milieu’s understanding of historical truth as a category of knowledge. It traces the changing scientific and philosophical methods employed in understanding, interpreting and judging the past. In doing so it traces the rise of the professional academic historian as the guardian of historical truth and explicates the ‘intellectual virtues’ historians ought to cultivate in their character. Secondly, the dissertation elucidates the link Zurayq forged between knowing history and making history, and how knowledge of the past became foundational to building consciousness in the present and planning for the future. It thus unpacks Zurayq’s conception of history as a progressive sequence of human civilisations and explores this conception’s connections to the historiography of science burgeoning in the inter-war period. Lastly the dissertation explores the modern university as the site in which these ideas were initially developed and then operationalised. It reveals that higher education curricula in general, and the fields of History and Arab Studies in particular, were a site crucial to the development of thought. They were also the place in which this thought was distilled into the collective consciousness of the educated elites.





Arsan, Andrew


History of historiography, Modern Arab Thought, Arab Historicism, History of Higher Education, Constantine Zurayq, Asad Rustum, Nabih Amin Faris


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
My research was supported by the Cambridge Commonwealth, European & International Trust; the Orient-Institut Beirut and the Constantine Zurayq Cultural Foundation.