Historian Wins Fulbrights

06.01.2005 | FacultyEllen Fleischmann, associate professor of history, has won four grants, including a Fulbright Scholar Award and a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Fellowship, to support her research in Beirut, Lebanon, during her sabbatical next year.

Her project, "'Under an American Roof': The Encounter Among Women of Greater Syria and American Protestant Women," looks at the role of American missionaries in Lebanon from about 1830 to 1950.

The work has earned a total of about $49,000 in external funding, including grants from the Presbyterian Historical Society and the Norwegian Research Council.

"I'm fortunate to be part of a growing wave of interest, post 9/11, in the interactions between Westerners and Middle Easterners," said Fleischmann, who serves on the board of directors of the Middle East Studies Association. Until recently, few studies, she said, have looked at the role of missionaries in the Middle East, where Protestants, Catholics, Europeans and Americans all played a part.

American Protestant missionary activity in the early 19th century was linked with America's westward expansion and tied to the religious revival called the Second Great Awakening, which boosted church membership nationally and contributed to secular reform movements.

"This wave of religiosity contributed to missionary activity," Fleischmann said. In the 19th century, religious zeal motivated highly educated women, who were mostly from New England initially, and either the wives of pastors or single, to become missionaries. For women in the 20th century, missionary work allowed them to seek adventure and career opportunities, often as physicians. In the process of spreading the Good News, they also disseminated American cultural and political values and contributed to social change, she said.

Fleischmann, a New Englander who taught at the Friends Girls School in Ramallah, West Bank, in the 1980s, is drawn to questions of gender relations and cultural interactions.

"I'm interested in how American women changed by living, often for the remainder of their lives, among people of the Middle East."

And in multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic Lebanon, where "Muslim girls were educated by ultra-religious Christians, what did it mean to them? How did it affect their relations with others in their society? I'm interested in how this common educational experience promoted a solidarity and created a common culture," said Fleischman, who explored similar issues of class and gender in her first book, The Nation and Its "New" Women: The Palestinian Women's Movement 1920-1948.

In Lebanon, she'll investigate the role that missionaries played and whether "a smallish, elite middle class of Middle Eastern women played a role disproportionate to their numbers in effecting social change. … I'm guessing it's possible that the impact of influence and of this encounter goes beyond actual numbers."

Fleischmann will live in Beirut from September through March, research the archives of the American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University (which was founded as a school for girls by the American Presbyterian Mission), and conduct oral history interviews. In April and May 2006, she will consult with a group doing missionary research at the University of Bergen in Norway.

For media interviews, contact Ellen Fleischmann at (937) 229-3046 or via e-mail at ellen.fleischmann@notes.udayton.edu.