Scholar in Residence Talk, 2009-2010

"Charlotte's Web: An American Epistolary Odyssey in Ras Beirut, 1911-1931"

A Stimson Room Tea presentation by Maria Abunnasr, LITS 2009-2010 Scholar in Residence

From 1911 until 1931, American missionary Charlotte Allen Ward (Mount Holyoke College class of 1903) wrote letters describing her family and community in Ras Beirut (Lebanon), where she lived, to her family and community in Massachusetts and beyond. For Charlotte, Ras Beirut formed the center of her worldwide missionary web, a web that expanded outwards in radiating circles, from the “Beirut Circle” to the “Longmeadow Circle” to the “China Circle.” While Charlotte used her letters to bind the innermost circles of her epistolary web to her outermost ones, what Maria Abunnasr will explore in her talk is the interrelation between the two innermost circles: Charlotte’s immediate family experience within the thriving yet insular American community of Ras Beirut. So self-contained and self-referential was this community that its members found little time and no need to learn Arabic in the “social whirl of Beirut.” (Letter of September 16, 1928, Charlotte A. Ward Papers)

Through her epistolary narratives, Charlotte provides a remarkably consistent twenty-year window on the American layer of the Ras Beirut landscape. While her letters foreground the everyday life of an American family in an American community, in the background are the intricate rhythms of a city in the midst of dramatic change. Indeed, it is in the spaces in between the strands of the web Charlotte crafts that she movingly evokes the sights and sounds which mark the temporality of Ras Beirut.

Maria Bashshur Abunnasr is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where her fields of study include Modern Middle East History, Nineteenth-Century American History, and Public History. She is writing her dissertation, the working title of which is “The Making of Ras Beirut: An Arab-American Landscape of Memory, 1870-1970.”

Event details:

  • Wednesday, April 21, at 4:00 p.m.
  • Williston Library Stimson Room: A Stimson Room Tea
  • This event is free and open to the public.