Autobiography as a Language of Emotions: Arab Christian Adolescents in Ottoman Syria at the End of the Nineteenth Century.

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In recent years, there has been growing interest in children and childhood history in Middle Eastern studies and Ottoman history. However, in contrast to European and North American works, there are few studies combining the history of children and adolescents with the history of emotions. This article examines a corpus of twenty autobiographic narratives in English written by Arab Christian teenage boys (ages fourteen to seventeen) in Ottoman Syria in the final decades of the nineteenth century while attending the Syrian Protestant College (later the American University of Beirut), founded by Protestant American missionaries in 1866. These narratives are rare in the sense that they are reflections by adolescents on their not-so-distant childhoods. Teaching students to write essays in English on different subjects was part of the college's overall pedagogical mission. Students were encouraged to express their opinions and points of view and thus develop their individuality—one of the tenets of a liberal Western education, which contrasted with practices in Ottoman schools that consisted of memorizing texts written by adults. I argue that these narratives are never merely expressions but are formative of the self and reveal how emotions such as fear and happiness were expressed by adolescents living in nineteenth-century Ottoman Syria.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the History of Childhood & Youth
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Emotions
  • Autobiography
  • Christian youth
  • Missionaries
  • United States
  • American University of Beirut


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