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Archive Fever! at the Russell J. Ebeid Library & Resource Center at the Arab American National Museum

This post introduces readers to the rich resources of the Russell J. Ebeid Library & Resource Center at the Arab American National Museum, a research destination for Arab American scholars. Interested in visiting the collections yourself? Apply for the Museum’s 2016 Evelyn Abdalah Menconi Travel Grant.

The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich. – the only institution of its kind in the United States – documents, preserves and presents the history, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. What you may not know is that the Museum is also home to a growing research space: the Russell J. Ebeid Library & Resource Center (L&RC). The L&RC administers the single largest collection of published materials by and about Arab Americans.

The physical holdings of the L&RC are extensive and include more than 4,000 books and 14 archival collections. Among the reading materials are three continually expanding special collections: the Community Cookbook Collection, the Geoff Marieb Johns Graphic Novel Collection, and the Arab Representations in Popular Fiction Collection, which features romance and mystery novels with stereotypical portrayals of Arabs, in an attempt to understand how these characterizations contribute to (mis)understanding of Arab culture. Of special note to academics is the large collection of theses and dissertations, spanning from the mid 20th century to present day.

The L&RC also houses a vertical file of non-rare but important documents, such as community directories from the 1980s and 1990s, brochures and newsletters from a series of Arab American organizations, unpublished or informally published works by scholars and researchers, as well as newspaper and magazine clippings from local and national publications.

On the web, the L&RC has some digital versions of rare Arab American texts, such as the 1908-09 Syrian Business Directory.

The archives contain a diverse object collection as well as some of the most important archival materials for Arab American scholars, including the papers of Evelyn Shakir and Michael Suleiman, drawn from notable individuals and organizations. Our newest project is our digital special collections, which is home to both digitized archival materials and born-digital materials, like oral histories and “digital scrapbooks.”

Researchers can access the archives by visiting the L&RC during regular business hours on Wednesday-Saturday or by special appointment on Mondays and Tuesdays. It is recommended that you alert the Librarian of your visit ahead of time to ensure that the materials will be available and ready for your use.

Additionally, the L&RC is open to the public Wednesday – Sunday. The L&RC offers a comfortable space to conduct research and is equipped with free WiFi. Researchers can also access the Community History Studio, which offers an array of equipment, such as a large format scanner, Mac computer, microphone, and video camera to aid in your research and writing. Members of the Museum may also check out books from the library collection.

In addition to operating this research space, the L&RC administers two national programs: the Arab American Book Awards and the Evelyn Abdalah Menconi Travel Grant. The Book Awards is a literary program created to honor non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and children’s/YA books written by and about Arab Americans. The program generates greater awareness of Arab American scholarship and writing through a yearly competition and educational outreach. The Travel Grant is awarded annually to a scholar to spend a week in residence conducting research at the Museum and in the Dearborn community.

For more information, or to work with the archival materials, contact Librarian Kirsten Terry-Murphy at (313) 624-0223 or kterry@accesscommnunity.org.

Ahlan wa Sahlan!


Kirsten Terry-Murphy is the librarian at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., where she facilitates the annual  Arab American Book Awards and manages the largest collection of books written by and about Arab Americans. She serves on the board of directors of the Detroit Area Library Network. Kirsten received her M.S. from the University of Michigan’s School of Information in 2013.

Syrian Arab Amreeka: The AASA Blog: “Refugees Have Done Nothing to Deserve the Hysteria; Hatred is its Maker.”

By Louise Cainkar

President, Arab American Studies Association
Associate Professor, Marquette University

Arab American Studies is a strong and growing group of interdisciplinary scholars. Whether our work is about the historical, literary, political, or current social conditions, we have much to contribute to matters of public debate because we are driven by knowledge and the search for accuracy. Many of us feel an imperative to speak out because our work concerns persons who have been maligned in the West for a very long time. Today’s popular hysteria in the U.S. over Syrian refugees is only one of many such cases. Emotions have reached such a zenith not because of anything Syrian refugees have done, but rather due to the circulation of misleading information by irresponsible hate mongers. Their stories implicate Syrian refugees in violence, when in fact Syrian refugees are the ones fleeing violence. Incendiary material about Syrian refugees circulates as if truth and is kept afloat by pumping up hostility and hatred, sentiments that rarely direct anyone to fact checking.

We are witnessing a historical repeat. After the 9/11 attacks, widespread government and popular targeting of Arab and Muslim Americans was able to continue for years not because of the attacks themselves but because pre-existing animosities towards Arabs and Muslims as human beings made it possible to hold millions responsible for the acts of few. A devastating invasion of Iraq, a country bearing no relationship to the attacks, could be sold to the public as legitimate retaliation. Japanese internment in the US bore witness to the same sequence of events: widespread negative stereotypes and racism made it easy for the government to cast tens of thousands of Japanese, including US citizens, as dangerous to the nation. This relationship between the mass incarcerations of Japanese, efforts to block Syrian refugees, and talk of banning Muslims from the US may be the only thing that Donald Trump got right. He says we have implemented such policies before and implies that historical precedence makes it right. Our work demonstrates quite the opposite: collective animosities lead to practices that bring on national shame, often only acknowledged as such many decades later.

In my class on immigration at Marquette University we watch the film “The Letter” and discuss what went wrong in Lewiston, Maine after the arrival of a large number of Somali refugees. Was it that they were culturally different? Black? Muslim? Poor? Non-English speaking? Of course, all of these played a role in the negative turn of events there, when hatred of Somalis became the tenor and meaning of the daily lives of a significant proportion of the town’s population. But we also find a failure of leadership; the mayor at the time was key to cultivating that hatred among Lewiston’s long time residents. He gave it the green light that culminated in a nationally organized white supremacist rally, and then he fled. History tells us that we should never underestimate the power of hatred. Hatred drives the murders committed in the name of ISIS; it drove the murders of three Palestinian Muslim students in North Carolina and the murders of Sikhs in Wisconsin. Hatred nurtured by “leadership” is the foundation of all genocides, as widespread support for mass killing must be cultivated and rewarded. In my view, persons claiming to be leaders who use their positions to foment hatred are no more than bullies wielding power irresponsibly and dangerously; they possess less human dignity than any single Syrian refugee.

Let’s look at a few of the facts.

No one in a position of authority has said that a Syrian refuge was part of the Paris attacks. What they have said is that all of the attackers are assumed to be EU citizens, that a false Syrian passport was found next to the body of one of the attackers, and that it is tied to a person who moved through Turkey, Greece, and on through Europe, “posing” as a refugee, presumably to hide his identity. I am trying to find a situation in which an entire group has been found guilty for a crime attributed to someone “posing” or sneaking in as one of them, but so far I have been unable to do so. Nazi sympathizers snuck into countries of the Americas posing as displaced Germans, but I do not know of talk of expelling all Germans to be on the safe side. Likewise, it was well known that convicted criminals were part of Cuban refugee movements, but halting that refugee movement was not on the table, while at the very same point in time, refugees from Haiti were incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay simply because they were Haitian. These examples speak to my point: pre-existing sentiments towards people determine responses to them, not facts. And if fear and hatred of Muslims were not there to begin with among some in the US, certain prominent U.S. political figures have done their absolute best to create these feelings.

The Syrians who fled to Europe did so because the border countries of Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey have been overwhelmed with almost 4 million refugees over the past few years. In Lebanon alone, 1.4 million Syrian refugees now make up about ¼ of the population. While the Syrian refugee crisis has been going on for quite a while, it seems that few across the world cared until the refugees entered Europe. Technically, the Syrians who fled to Europe are asylees seeking refugee resettlement, for which they will be interviewed and vetted. This status makes them more comparable to the children from Central American who have surged the US border over the past few years, similarly fleeing desperate conditions and traveling by foot and dangerous modes of transportation.

As compared to these types of sudden, large, risky, and unmonitored flows of people, US refugee policy works quite differently. Persons must first be interviewed and registered with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], usually in a country bordering their homeland. Later, those selected for resettlement are interviewed multiple times and vetted. The US vetting process is complex and takes up to two years to complete. According to an Arab American Institute blog post it “involves multiple domestic and international agencies, including the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), State Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center, and the National Counterterrorism Center. The process includes extensive paper applications, in-person interviews, and medical screening tests.” While it is convenient to scare people with images of mass invasion, this is a politically driven tactic that seeks to polarize and plays on the worst of human emotions.

What we do know is that the more a group of people is stigmatized, the more strongly its members will seek ways to develop pride in that identity. Socially imposed identities become “an anchor of subjectivity” and are used to empower their holders,” argues Kim Crenshaw [1993: 1297]. She says, “A strong case can be made that the most critical resistance strategy for disempowered groups is to occupy and defend a social position rather than to vacate and destroy it.” Despite the wishes of some who are uncomfortable with difference and use fear tactics to sway others their way, neither Syrian refugees nor Muslims are going to disappear.

Yet the monster these American demagogues of hate are creating is really quite scary. They would benefit from a bit of reading, a taking stock of the actual damage done in the name of US foreign policy. The information is there, ready for consumption. Using uninformed collective animosity to drive the policies of the wealthiest country and largest military in the world is a very frightening proposition indeed.


Professor Cainkar has published dozens of articles and book chapters in the field of Arab American studies. In 2004 she won a Carnegie Scholar Award for her work on the reinvigoration of Islamic practices among second generation Muslim Americans. Her 2009 book, Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience after 9/11 (Russell Sage Foundation) was honored as Outstanding Adult Non-Fiction by the Arab American National Museum. She serves on the board of directors of the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies and is President of the Arab American Studies Association. Her current research is on transnational Arab American teenagers who attended high school in Yemen, Palestine, and Jordan.

Who Are We and Where Are We Going?: A Critical Look at Arab American Studies

By Akram Khater and Rachel Norman

 

As recently as 2011, Arab American scholar Steven Salaita stated that Arab American Studies is not yet a field. Rather, Salaita suggests, Arab American Studies should be considered an “emerging subject.”[1] As we write this inaugural blog post, we can’t help but wonder if this statement is still true. In the last four years, have things changed? Or are we still just “emerging”?

The last four years saw the establishment of the Arab American Studies Association, its first national conference, the creation of a Modern Languages Forum dedicated to Global Arab and Arab American topics, as well as individual panels on Arab American subjects at a variety of conferences around the nation. There was a temporary museum exhibit dedicated to Lebanese Americans in North Carolina housed at the state’s history museum, as well as continued rich programing at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

North Carolina State University founded the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, which houses Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East Migration Studies and offers a postdoctoral fellowship. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor program in Arab and Muslim American Studies continues to be active at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the University of Michigan at Dearborn has an Arab American Studies Program that offers an undergraduate minor. The University of Minnesota offers the Francis Maria Fellowship in Arab American Studies at the graduate level, their Immigration History Research Center houses an Arab American Collection, and San Francisco State University houses the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative.

 

Additionally, the number of scholars working on topics related to Arab American Studies within American Studies, Asian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies departments around the nation is quickly growing. For example, between 2000 and 2005 only 2 MA theses or PhD dissertations dealing with Arab Americans were indexed on ProQuest. In the following 5 year period (2006-2010) the number jumped to 433, and then doubled to 877 between 2011 and 2015. Although not all dissertations are indexed, these numbers give us a fairly good idea about the growth of the field.

But beyond just asking whether or not we’ve proven ourselves a field, though, another question that we would like to pose regards the ethos of academic allegiances. As Arab American Studies continues to grow, where does it belong? Under the larger rubric of Middle Eastern Studies, or should it be aligned with American Studies? AASA continues to hold its annual meeting as part of the Middle Eastern Studies Association’s conference, but at our first independent conference last year we heard compelling reasons for why Arab American Studies fits best with American Studies. As we continue to grow, these are questions we may have to answer, but do these labels really help us to define ourselves, or do they merely limit?

Similar questions can be asked about ethnic studies and area studies. At many universities the divide between ethnic studies and area studies can be deep, and funding programs that insist on adherence to one methodology exacerbate the issue. However, Arab American Studies seems to question the very premise of these categorizations as separate entities. To write of people like Philip Hitti and Afifa Karam or Palestinian youth in Detroit as if they are containable within the rubric of an insular America is simply impossible. In essence, the very trans-national nature of the field is what makes it critical and necessary for academe as well as public discussions about identity and location of Arab Americans within the American landscape.

While there is no doubt that there is a numerical growth and concomitant qualitative shift in the Arab American Studies field, there is still a great deal of room for development and maturity. Historical studies of Arab Americans, for example, remain quite limited in number and scope, but that promises to change as a cadre of young scholars are entering the field. While cultural studies are perhaps the most mature, they still focus in large part on literary genres with little to say about other areas of Arab American cultural productions. Sociologically we are still struggling to collect comprehensive and accurate data about the community. Finally, we need to transcend the specter of 9/11, which paradoxically energized the field even as it constrained its scope. As scholars within this burgeoning field we are uniquely poised to shape it as it continues to grow. While issues of citizenship, belonging, security, and other such subjects are important to investigate, the historical and lived realities of Arab Americans surely go far beyond these matters. So too must Arab American Studies.

[1] Salaita, Steven. Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide. Syracuse University Press. Syracuse: New York, 2011. Pg. 1.


Akram Khater is current President of the AASA and Professor of History at North Carolina State University. He is a University Faculty Scholar, holds the Khayrallah Chair in Lebanese Diaspora Studies, and is Director of the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies. He also serves as Editor for the International Journal of Middle East Studies.
Rachel Norman is a doctoral candidate in the Comparative Literature Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she specializes in multi-ethnic literature in North America, sociolinguistics, and critical race theory.  Her dissertation examines Arab American literature in Anglophone, Hispanophone and Francophone North America.

Coming Soon! The AASA Blog

Arab Amreeka: The AASA Blog will be launched in the next few weeks!

Stay tuned for updates on this new feature.

Want to contribute the AASA’s intellectual community? The Communications Committee and Web Coordinator are seeking volunteers who would like to contribute a blog post once or twice throughout 2015.
  • Posts should be between 750-1000 words
  • Topics include and are not limited to: research methodology, teaching and pedagogy, conference/panel reflections, professionalization (how-to tutorials, etc), and beyond! All topics should be relevant to academics, scholarship, and Arab American studies as a field.
  • Blog posts will be open for comments and will be publicized through the AASA website, email newsletter, and social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook).
  • Blogs will be due to the Web Coordinate on the last Friday of each month for publication on the first Monday of each month.
Blogging is open to current members who have paid their membership dues. We are currently setting up a schedule for 2015. If you would like to write a post please contact the AASA Web Coordinator, Umayyah Cable, at web.coordinator@arabamericanstudies.org. Please include the following information:
  • The topic/theme you would like to write on i.e. research methodology, teaching and pedagogy, conference/panel reflections, professionalization (how-to tutorials, etc), or pitch a topic/theme of your own.
  • A working title and 2-3 sentence abstract.
  • Your top 3 preferred deadline dates (last Friday of a month).
The AASA Board is committed to fostering a rich online intellectual community through our blog and social media accounts. We look forward to getting the conversation rolling!