Between the Ottomans and the Entente
For empires and states, diasporas present a tantalizing transnational frontier to be reclaimed for state-building purposes. Between 1880 and 1920, a half million Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian Arabs left the Ottoman Empire, settling in “Syrian colonies” across the Atlantic. This introduction explores the processes by which nationalist historiographies have marginalized Arab migrants. It critiques the silences that place-based archives produce and argues that reclaiming, controlling, and containing Syrian migrants abroad lay at the center of Ottoman, American, and French projects aimed at the Middle East. Writing migrant histories from indigenous archives restores the scope of such projects. Examining the papers migrants carried with them across the diaspora—papers, passports, petitions, correspondence—allows this work to pursue Syrians across multiple archival regimes. Migrant print culture is more than the sum of its writings; rather, what makes paper powerful is its ability to define the scope of Syria’s transnational geography.
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