Academic journal article Hagar

"The Little Kingdom over Which God Made You Queen":1 the Gendered Reorganization of a "Modern" Arab Home in Turn-of-the-Century Beirut

Academic journal article Hagar

"The Little Kingdom over Which God Made You Queen":1 the Gendered Reorganization of a "Modern" Arab Home in Turn-of-the-Century Beirut

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, the major urban centers of Greater Syria underwent significant changes. Following the Tcmzimat. and provincial reforms of 1864 and the ensuing efforts at centralization and modernization, concerted efforts were made to rationalize the urban space and plan its expansion in advance. Historians have devoted considerable attention to these developments, to the emergence of various architectural styles (both public and private) and to the great impact these changes had on peoples' lives. However, the reorganization of the interior domestic space, which went hand in hand with these changes, has barely been touched upon. In this article we examine the spatial implementation of an emerging modern Arab discourse of domesticity in the homes of the bourgeoisie in Beirut (the leading city of the region). Using a selection of newspaper articles, advice columns, novels and texts of public lectures (1880-1914), we trace the emerging contours of the home, paying close attention to the rearrangement of rooms and their decorations, the new consumer items which entered the home and the psychological impact these changes were intended to generate among the residents. Last, but not least, we look at the person put in charge of the reorganization of the home, the wife and mother.

Introduction

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, the major urban centers of Greater Syria underwent significant changes. Following the Tcmzimat (lit., re-ordering; 1839-1876) and the provincial reforms (1864) and ensuing attempts at centralization and modernization, concerted efforts were made to rationalize the urban space and plan its expansion in advance. During this period (particularly 1864-1918), countless administrative buildings (e.g., municipal buildings, police stations and law courts), transportation hubs (tram and train stations) and grand private homes were built; new water and sewage systems were put in place; and gas and electric streetlights were installed. Old streets were enlarged, and new ones were paved to and in the newer urban and suburban areas. Shopping, leisure and entertainment areas were planned, and would soon come to include department stores, marketplaces, hotels, coffeehouses, theaters and parks (Hanssen, 1998; Masters, 2010).

In recent years, historians investigating architectural developments and changes to the major cities of Greater Syria, such as Beirut (Bodenstein, 2002), Aleppo (Watenpaugh, 2010) and Damascus (Hudson, 2006; Weber, 2002, 2003), as well as the major Ottoman centers, such as Izmir and Istanbul (Exertzoglou, 2003; Isenstadt andRizvi, 2008), and those of Egypt (Fay, 2003; Russell, 2003) have found increasing material evidence of these interior and exterior changes. As elite and bourgeois families began to move out of the courtyard houses into apartment buildings and suburban villas in the latter half of the nineteenth century, they increasingly adopted and combined old and new architectural features, furniture and decorative items. However, the social and gendered meanings of this reorganization of the interior domestic space, which went hand in hand with the architectural changes, have only been touched upon recently (e.g., Abou-Hodeib, 2011).

In this article, we examine the ways an emerging modern Arab discourse of domesticity was spatially implemented in the homes of the bourgeoisie in Beirut, one of the leading cities of the region and, as of 1888, a provincial capital. We begin with a brief overview of the scholarly literature on the home and an introduction to the city of Beirut in the late nineteenth century. Then, using a selection of newspaper articles, advice columns and the texts of public lectures (1880-1914), we trace the emerging prescriptive contours of the modern Arab middle-class home at the turn of the twentieth century, paying close attention to the suggested rearrangement of rooms and their decorations, the new consumer items that entered the home, and the psychological impact these changes were intended to generate among residents. …

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