[P5865] The Stories They Tell: Building Archives of Arab America

Created by Matthew Stiffler
Saturday, 10/17/20 11:00 am


There are very few institutions in the United States dedicated to preserving the archival record of the Arab American community. But the size and scope of the community, which reaches back to the 1880s and across the entire continent, means that there must be many “hidden” archival collections, either in basements and attics of community members or in local libraries and historical societies. We also know from the existing record that Arab immigrants were quick to establish houses of worship, social clubs, businesses, and newspapers in almost every city they settled in. But even as historians and other scholars find the traces of these institutions in scattered archival holdings, there exists no systematized manner of cataloguing and making discoverable the record of these Arabic-speaking immigrant communities.

Due to the diverse nature of the Arab American community, especially the myriad ways that Arabs in the U.S. have self-identified throughout the last 100 years (including by nationality, such as Lebanese, Syrian, or Iraqi; or by broader geographic terms, such as Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or North African), it is not possible to simply type “Arab American” into search engines, like WorldCat for instance, and receive exhaustive results for related archival holdings. Taken together, the papers on this panel will envision a framework for finding, collecting, and archiving stories and objects of the early Arabic speaking immigrant communities: From New York and Massachusetts to Oklahoma, Texas, California and all point in between. This panel features perspectives from scholars with a range of disciplinary backgrounds, including history, sociology, and anthropology, all unified through their work to uncover and preserve the archival record of Arabic-speaking diasporas in the United States. Panelists will present on their current projects working with the archival record of Arab Americans, including: using recordings of Arab immigrants to re-narrate the Palestinian refugee story, archiving community-based newspapers throughout the country, using recently-archived publications to map the national community, uncovering and preserving stories of intrepid Syrian women immigrants, and using Arab American family histories to re-present the development of the Oklahoma “frontier.”