American University of Beirut

Ras Beirut Oral History Project


To many, Ras Beirut possesses a particularly strong sense of place based on its diverse social fabric.   The neighborhood epitomizes what is called “ta‘ayush” or coexistence.  Because of its diversity and tolerance, Ras Beirut is considered special, and somehow different from other neighborhoods of Beirut, Lebanon, and the region. 

Drawing on the theoretical framework of memory studies and the practice of oral history, this project examines the claims of Ras Beirut’s uniqueness in stories that describe a distant, and in many cases, mourned, past.  But far from being an older generation’s futile longing for that past, their stories demonstrate how individuals and families created this special place. 

The project interviewed a group broadly representative of the many categories of Ras Beirutis, those who are well-known and others who are not at all known:  the ‘original’ families of Ras Beirut; those from families with historical connections to AUB; members of significant national or ethnic groups, such as Palestinians; prominent business people, professionals, and cultural leaders; small business owners; other longtime residents; and others who are iconic neighbors (such as Abu Muhammad , the shoe shine man opposite the Main Gate of AUB).

Open-ended interviews were carried out by Dr. Maria Abunnasr during the summer of 2014, with a participant list of 60 men and women over the age of 70.  Individuals of this age group would have entered adulthood before the Civil War, and lived in Ras Beirut during its heyday.

Interviews were conducted in Arabic and were recorded on audio-tape and interviewees were photographed once permissions were granted.  And with permission, interview transcripts and tapes will be donated to the Jafet Library Special Collections and Archives to become part of the permanent record of life in Ras Beirut.

AUB Press plans to publish the book "We are in this Together": An Oral History of Ras Beirut in 2020.  For more information, please contact  Maria Abunnasr

The Ras Beirut Oral History Project was recently featured in a podcast on Hamra Street, Click here to listen.

For the project brief and list of interviewees, check the finding aid document .

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