American Univesity of Beirut

The story of AUB and its neighborhood in 150 years of photos

​​​​​Sally Abou Melhem,, Office of Communications

A new book, AUB and Ras Beirut in 150 Years of Photographs, published by AUB Press, was recently launched in an event at the Rose and Shaheen Saleeby Museum. The book documents the special relationship that has existed between the university and its surrounding neighborhoods since AUB’s founding in 1866.  It is based on the public exhibition that was displayed during the spring and summer of 2016 as part of AUB’s 150th anniversary celebrations. 

The exhibition, which consisted of sixty-one panels that were mounted on the AUB fence along Bliss street, showcased photographs that capture the development of the neighborhood surrounding AUB’s campus since the university was founded over 150 years ago. Photographs collected for the exhibition and now featured in the book include images of the changing landscape, built environment, and personae of Ras Beirut and Ayn al-Mreisseh. 

The concept of the exhibition originated with Cynthia Myntti of AUB’s Neighborhood Initiative and Fatmeh Charafeddine of the Research and Instruction Department at Jafet Library who proposed creating an exhibition that tells the story of Ras Beirut, the people and the place, over the century-and-a-half of AUB’s history. The project developed further as the research process progressed, where it naturally began to reflect the intertwined story of the university and the areas surrounding it, as they grew and changed side by side, rather than just exploring the history of the area separately.

The book includes an introduction and separate sections on the seafront, the Manara neighborhood, Bliss Street, Hamra Street, views of AUB, and Ayn al-Mreisseh. Unlike the exhibition, the book has been published in English only, with the hope that in the future an Arabic version will follow.

“It seems banal to say, but putting this book together has been a journey of discovery, not only in reinforcing the understanding of the deeply-rooted ties between AUB and Ras Beirut, but also in the interpersonal connections between people and place that we so often take for granted,” said the author of the book, Maria Bashshur Abunnasr, who was also the project leader appointed to collect the photographs and curate the exhibition. “This discovery, moreover, also revealed the power photographs have, especially in their collection, to bring cohesiveness to community over time and in perspective.”

Around 30 percent of the photographs came from AUB’s Jafet Library Archives and Special Collections Department. Other photos were collected from both public and private collections as well as institutional archives including the Arab Image Foundation, the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

“This project would not have been possible if not for the selfless generosity of the many who contributed photographs and those who supported the process of transforming the 2016 exhibition into this beautiful book,” said Abunnasr.

AUB’s Neighborhood Initiative provided logistical support throughout the project. “This book is a great photographic documentation of the urban and social development of Ras Beirut showing the intertwined history of AUB and its neighborhood,” said Director of the Neighborhood Initiative at AUB Mona El Hallak. “It clearly underlines the mission and vision of the AUB Neighborhood Initiative as it reflects Ras Beirut’s livability, vitality and diversity throughout the past 150 years; values that we aim to celebrate, preserve, and promote through interdisciplinary research, advocacy, and innovative outreach activities.”

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