This article was published on the AUB website’s News Section on December 6th, 2016: http://www.aub.edu.lb/news/2016/Pages/spc-ww.aspx
Established in 1866, the American University of Beirut (AUB) stood firm, surviving many wars, including World War I and World War II. The Archives and Special Collections department at the Jafet Library organized an exhibit recounting the story of how AUB survived the tough days of WWI and WWII. The exhibit in Malhas Common Room, West Hall, features photos, documents, letters, diaries, posters, pamphlets, and oral history interviews from its archival collections.
Dr. Kaoukab Chebaro, Associate University Librarian for Archives and Special Collections, explained to us that the purpose of the exhibit is to highlight the difficult times through which AUB survived, for the tough times tell you a lot about the identity of the University.
“During WWI, AUB played a vital role of resilience through its medical center, by rationing sustainability and offering the citizens medical care and food,” she said. “After WWI, AUB made the transition from being a college to becoming a university; it witnessed a change of name from Syrian Protestant College to American University of Beirut, and became a full-blown liberal arts model.”
During WWII, Chebaro insists the role AUB played was societal and diplomatic. After WWII, AUB had a regional impact influencing the rise of Arab nationalism. Although Lebanon was not as badly affected by the war in comparison to WWI when one third of the population died, WWII was what Chebaro calls “a push and pull” politically.
“During those times Lebanon gained its independence, and many students were granted medals by the state of Lebanon for avidly participating in the protests against the French,” she said, “AUB graduates of those times had key ideas that shaped that century, and that’s due to the Liberal Arts program they followed during their years as students; in the 1945 San Francisco Conference leading to the declaration of the UN, AUB had the biggest proportion of graduates attending the conference, charted as representatives of their states.”
Mrs Samar Mikati, Librarian at the archives and Special Collections, told us about the richness of the documents they found as they were bringing together this exhibition.
“It was hard to choose the material to uncover, however, we know that there are some areas that weren’t properly covered in the exhibit, we lack documents about the 40s and the 50s,” she said.
Chebaro and Mikati proceeded to thank the dedicated team that worked tirelessly to put the exhibition together, with a special thank you to graduate student Nichola Larkins who devotedly participated in the background research and played a solid role in the execution of the exhibit.
The exhibit was launched in a ceremony attended by President Fadlo R. Khuri, former President Peter Dorman and a number of staff, faculty, and visitors, on December 5. Dr. Lokman Meho, Director of University Libraries, opened the ceremony with a speech thanking the staff for putting this exhibit together and emphasizing on the fact that this only a small part of what the collection found at the archives.
“Visit us in Jafet, you will be amazed with the amount of material that we can provide you with for your research,” said Meho.
President Khuri highlighted the role AUB played during the wars, often as the safest place in the city. According to him, the leadership of AUB was able to rise as hero during those difficult times. He believes the exhibition to be very significant at the end of this celebratory year.
“We are getting close to closing the celebrations, and two days exactly from the 150th anniversary it is fitting that the archives and special collections at Jafet libraries should treat us to this magnificent exhibition where the focus is on some of the most impactful moments of this university’s history,” he said.
Dr. Abdelrahim Abu Husayn, Professor of History at the Department of History and Archaeology, then took the podium to further emphasize on the role of the University during the wars, especially World War I when it provided citizens with medical relief. Abu Husayn also spoke about the importance of documenting history.
“There is always another side to history that it not properly told or is not properly documented. I issue a call to donate whatever material individuals have on WWII and the Lebanese Civil War to Jafet,” said Abu Husayn, “Jafet Library will not only organize it and preserve it, but it will also make it available to the public.”