Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Columbia University
Tracing Tarbiya: Women, Education, and Childrearing in Lebanon and Egypt, 1865-1939

My dissertation examines the history of tarbiya as both concept and practice in Beirut and Cairo between 1865 and 1939. Tarbiya had long been the Arabic term for the cultivation of livestock. In the nineteenth century, it came to refer to new structures of formal schooling and new pedagogies, as well as to the female labor of childrearing, moral cultivation, and subject formation in the home. Tarbiya was seen by both men and women writers as a way to reform their communities in order to fend off European domination and intervene in top-down Ottoman and Egyptian modernization initiatives. Drawing on Lebanese school archives and close readings of debates in the Arab press, I show how tarbiya brought traditionally female knowledge about subject formation and childrearing into the heart of Arab intellectual life, putting both actual women writers and the "question of women" at the center of a new kind of historical and political thought that linked modernizing discourses about the uplift of women, the transformation of the state, the impact of European missionaries, and the renewal of Islam. In turn, I argue, debates about tarbiya changed women's lives, opening up new professional and educational opportunities and introducing new forms of discipline and surveillance. Today, tarbiya remains central to the political practice of women in contemporary Islamist groups, including Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. I show that the concept of tarbiya emerged at the turn of the twentieth century from within a social and intellectual world shared by Muslims, Christians, Americans, and Europeans. By tracing tarbiya, I highlight a set of debates and reforms that turned women's domestic practice into political work and put women's knowledge and women writers at the center of key debates about the Arab relationship to Europe, the future of Eastern Christianity, and the revival and reform of Islamic civilization.