June 4 2019: a new piece I wrote for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia went live this week, on labor migrants from Ottoman Syria, Mount Lebanon, and Palestine to the Americas. The piece sums up the state of the field in mahjar studies for an introductory audience, and also lays a foundation for thinking about labor and working-class histories in this diaspora. My hope is that it will be useful for scholars looking to bring class back into histories of Middle Eastern migrations, and/or who would like to broach these topics in the undergraduate classroom.

Syrian women examine raw silk for export, circa 1914. Source: Library of Congress.


Between 1880 and 1924, an estimated half million Arab migrants left the Ottoman Empire to live and work in the Americas. Responding to new economic forces linking the Mediterranean and Atlantic capitalist economies to one another, Arab migrants entered the manufacturing industries of the settler societies they inhabited, including industrial textiles, small-scale commerce (peddling), heavy machining, and migrant services associated with continued immigration from the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire enacted few policies to halt emigration from Syria, Mount Lebanon, and Palestine, instead facilitating a remittance economy that enhanced the emerging cash economies of the Arab world. After 1920, the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon moved to limit new migration to the Americas, working together with increasingly restrictive immigration regimes in the United States, Argentina, and Brazil to halt Arab labor immigration. Using informal archives, the Arab American press, and the records of diasporic mutual aid and philanthropic societies, new research in Arab American migration illustrates how migrants managed a transnational labor economy and confronted challenges presented by American nativism, travel restriction, and interwar deportations.

The ORE has made the piece free and open-access at this link: https://oxfordre.com/americanhistory/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-598

A PDF version is also here: https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:24561/