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An American “Garden” in an Oriental “Desert”: The Modernity of Timber at the Syrian Protestant College of Beirut

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This paper explores the role of timber in articulating a modern American project in nineteenth-century Lebanon. It focuses on the spatial environments of the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut (SPC), an educational institution founded by American missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1866. The paper examines the significant and evolving role of timber within this foreign missionary project—deployed in multiple forms and scales—and traces the shifting values and meanings ascribed to its use. I argue that the missionaries used timber to elaborate specific relationships towards the students, the locals, and the city, reflecting cultural, racial, and religious notions of superiority, carving out an American “garden” in the “wilderness” of Ras Beirut. I analyze these theological aims, and their practical application, through the conceptual lens of “modern Orientalism,” defined by Edward Said as the moment in which “orientalism had transformed from discourse to imperial institution.” The deployment of timber as a claim-making and space-making device thus frames the construction of the Syrian Protestant College as a modern, imperial project.



33 Built Environment and Design, 3301 Architecture

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Architectural Theory Review

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Informa UK Limited


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Cambridge Commonwealth, European & International Trust Christ's College, University of Cambridge Institute of Historical Research, University of London British Foundation for Women Graduates