Asad Rustum and the Egyptian Occupation of Syria (1831–1841): Between Narratives of Modernity and Documentary Exactitude

In: Philological Encounters
Peter Hill Department of Humanities, Northumbria University Newcastle upon Tyne United Kingdom

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The Lebanese historian Asad Rustum (1897–1965) devoted much of his career to the study of Ottoman Syria in the early nineteenth century. For him, this history culminated in the dramatic events of 1840–41, when a Lebanese armed uprising against an Egyptian occupation, combined with European intervention, triggered far-reaching changes in the region’s politics. This article explores how Rustum’s accounts of the Egyptian occupation period and its end refract the complexities of that moment itself, through the dilemmas of a self-consciously professional historian working under the French Mandate and in early independent Lebanon. By comparing his histories of the Egyptian occupation with both his documentary collections and his own private archive held at AUB, this article reveals the complexities, achievements and limits of Rustum’s historical method. Above all, it argues, Rustum’s desire to narrate Lebano-Syrian modernisation was held in check—paradoxically perhaps—by his conviction of his own modernity.

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