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Book review: Jeffrey Grey’s The War with the Ottoman Empire

2 March 2018: my review of Jeffrey Grey’s 2016 book, The War with the Ottoman Empire, appears in the current issue of the International Journal of Turkish StudiesThe book is part of an Oxford series on the Great War in Australian history (full text available here). From the review:

Proceeding chronologically, the book includes the expected examinations of Gallipoli and the Dardanelles campaigns but also advances new comprehensive and archivally sound analyses on the defense of the Sinai, the Palestine stalemate, the conquest of Jerusalem, and the defeat of the Ottomans in Palestine and Syria. Grey pushes back on the historiography of flashpoints and snapshots that tend to dominate European studies of the Ottoman theater, focusing not merely on major military campaigns but also on the quotidian organizational struggles and tensions as they developed within the Australian, New Zealander, and British leadership. He reveals the Australian encampments as sites of contest among commanders, where provisioning was a struggle and where indiscipline posed a persistent concern. Disaggregating the military and diplomatic chain of command, the author compassionately contextualizes disputes between rival commanders and demonstrates how quarrels over means, goals, and especially provisions impacted Allied plans in the eastern Mediterranean. London’s anxiety about the importance of the Ottoman theater in relation to the European Western Front produced intense disagreements between British civilian policymakers and military commanders, as well as between British strategists and their Australian counterparts. Strategic and political infighting “affected resourcing and (the) political direction of the fighting” in the Sinai, Gaza, and the Levantine campaigns in general.

The volume can be found on the Oxford University Press website. It will be useful for historians of the Great War (and not only Ottomanists) seeking a rich military history that branches beyond the hegemony of the European Western Front.

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Brief piece online: The Power of Small Stories: a Syrian Abroad in World War I

22 January 2018: I’ve posted a reflection on microhistory in the Syrian mahjar over at Medium. Based on the life of one Syrian migrant living in Boston, the piece considers how the pursuit of individual stories can challenge the expectations of nationalist histories and area studies alike.

From the post:

“[Khayrallah’s] story defies the expectations of nationalist historiographies which would scatter his life across several contexts, depriving it of its coherence and explanatory power. The collapsing of contexts — the Syrian with the American — was precisely his political goal. Historians of migration must build analytical units which remain true to the social geographies of such individuals. In such a story, migrants like Jurj Khayrallah appear not as liminal agents at the margins of many histories at once; they are central actors in a transnational history which microhistorical methods render accessible.”

The entire piece can be accessed here:

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Found: George Matook (Massachusetts State Library Archives)

12 December 2017: a friend recently discovered an image of Syrian American U.S. Army translator George Abraham Matook, a figure who plays a major role in chapter 3 of my forthcoming book, Between the Ottomans and the Entente.

George A Matook, 1918. Source:

Born in Boston, Massachusetts to Syrian parents, George Matook enlisted in 1918 and was sent to France to serve as an interpreter between a contingent of Arabic-speaking troops and the larger 101st Engineer Corps. I have written about Matook in a couple places: I  introduced one of his letters home from the Western Front, preserved in a digital sourcebook, Cultural Exchange in a Time of Global Conflict (link) and in the collections of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI. Matook (and that letter) also appears in my 2016 article in the Journal of Global History (full text).

It is nice to put a face with the name and to include this photograph in the book, out next year with Oxford University Press.

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Book Review: Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA in the Journal of American Ethnic History

5 August 2017- my review of Maria Narbona, Paulo Pinto, and John Karam’s edited collection, Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA appears in the current issue of the Journal of American Ethnic History. (full text available here). From the review:

Despite five centuries of Muslim settlement in the Americas, Islam is often depicted as a foreigner’s faith. Challenging the notion that the Latin American and Islamic worlds are discrete and separate cultural spaces, Crescent over Another Horizon tracks Islam’s historical indigenization in Latin America by migrants com- ing from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and the contemporary conversion of Latino/as, Brazilians, and African Americans. Editors Narbona, Pinto, and Karam employ Islam as an analytic that has the power to undo the Cold War–era area studies’ assumption that cultures map neatly into territories. They fashion a fresh scholarly approach for examining the “Latino American architecture of a wider Islamic world,” a world they define by a shared historical experience of colonialism, by the preoccupation of Latin American societies with Islam as the faith of the Other, and by the tension that exists between diverse Muslim communities and their desires for pan-Islamic unity: a Latin American ummah.

The volume can be found on University of Texas Press’s webpage. It’s excellent work and will be invaluable to anyone working in migration history, ethnic studies, or Islam in American contexts.

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Interview on CSPAN’s American History Television

17 June 2017- my interview with CSPAN3’s American History TV ran today on Syrian migrants in the United States during the First World War. The interview took place at the Organization of American Historians annual meeting in April in a series of tapings to commemorate the centenary of America’s entry into the war.


The full interview can be accessed at this link:


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New piece published: “Teaching Migrant and Refugee Histories in the Shadow of Trump” in IEHS Online

27 March 2017: a new brief piece of mine on teaching migration and refugee history appears on IEHS ONLINE, the website of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society. My Spring 2017 course, Migrants and Refugees in the Middle East, meets Tuesday evenings, and it seems like each week I am revising my course materials to speak to rapidly  changing public attitudes and policies towards migrants from the region.

From the piece:

Migrants do not “pour in” to places. Refugees do not arrive in “flows” or “waves.” And migrants are not vectors for a terrorist contagion, their bodies carrying within them the “seeds” of radicalism. Border walls do not stymie migration because walls are not levies and migrants are not water. Migration does not work that way. Now more than ever, it is critical that we talk about migration systems.

The rest can be read here:

This blog post accompanies another piece (which appears HERE) to offer new readings and learning modules on how to “rethink” migration history through systems-based historiography.

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April 4 event on Fresno State campus: Symposium for Syrian Refugees


On April 4, Fresno State will host speakers from US CIS, a variety of organizations devoted to resettlement of Syrian refugees, as well as Dr. Keith Watenpaugh, historian of refugees and human rights at UC-Davis. The all-day event features expertise on all sides of the Syrian refugee issue and will hopefully continue campus-community conversations about the dozens of Syrian refugee families resettled in California’s Central Valley. Fresno is a city with a deep and rich history of refugee relocation. Students will learn more about the Syrian conflict, the necessity for refugee resettlement, and new challenges faced by professionals working in this field.

The complete agenda can be viewed at this link: 4 April Symposium for Syrian Refugees

All events are free and open to the public. Please email me at sfahrenthold @ to coordinate class visits or press interviews. Ahlan wa Sahlan and Thanks!

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New piece, “What We Can Learn from America’s Other Muslim Ban (Back in 1918),” appears in Tropics of Meta

8 February 2017: Tropics of Meta: Historiography for the Masses has published my brief piece on Donald Trump’s 2017 Executive Order in relationship to the first “Muslim Ban” in American history: Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s Executive Order 2932 (1918).

The piece can be read at this link:

From the piece:

Trump’s proposal is that we grant his administration a state of exception with regard to Middle Eastern migrants and refugees. With that permission he would suspend a century of legal protections built after Wilson’s 1918 executive order in order to reinstitute legalized discrimination against Muslim immigrants, overtly on the grounds of nationality and covertly through religious identity. Trump couches his request in rhetoric borrowed from the “War on Terror,” language which jumps the shark by implying a connection between terrorism and Middle Eastern migration despite all evidence to the contrary. No, Trump is not the first president to try to ban Muslim immigration, but with luck, lawyers, and migration/refugee advocates aligning against this executive order, Trump will be the first to fail to do so.

The essay is based in part on research done for my first book on World War I in the Syrian diaspora. The 9th District’s decision to not lift the stay on President Trump’s EO mirrors the result of Wilson’s wartime orders, but the White House’s announcement today that it intends to issue a brand new executive order restricting immigration from the Middle East also, sadly, repeats the experience of 1918.


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Ottoman Minorities Workshop at Fresno State: a summary of events


Bedross Der Matossian, Sergio La Porta, Laura Robson, Devin Naar, Janet Klein, and me at the Ottoman Minorities Workshop. 

3 February 2017: today a workshop on Religious and Ethnic Minorities in the Ottoman Empire brought together four scholars working in Armenian, Kurdish, Assyrian, Sephardic, and Arab Christian histories to Fresno State. The meeting was co-organized by the Islamic Studies lecture series, the Armenian Studies Program, and the History Department, and included speakers Janet Klein, Devin Naar, Bedross Der Matossian, Laura Robson, and myself. Fresno State’s press release can be viewed at this link.

We had a morning roundtable discussing the concept of the minority as it has been used in Ottoman and Middle Eastern historiography, about the problems inherent in conflating “minority” with non-Muslim or using it in historical cases where is was not meaningful, and about the politicization of the term within laws directed at the Middle East following the First World War. We discussed minoritization and how the imposition of the logic of minorities and majorities in late Ottoman contexts rendered the category useful for non-dominant groups in the Middle East. We also had a conversation with Fresno State students about the pragmatics of doing historical research in Ottoman and Middle Eastern archives.

In the afternoon, we had a private meeting to discuss further inquiry into the concept and ways to continue the conversation, both within our scholarly community and with with general public. We planned a series of publications  that this group will roll out to prompt further research on minorities. More news on that as it develops.

The day capped off with a Keynote Address by Laura Robson called “War, Peace and the Making of Minorities in the Post-Ottoman Middle East, 1919-1923.” Dr. Robson’s talk focused on the first refugee resettlement programs initiated by the League of Nations in the Arab Middle East after the First World War. She argued that the invocation of rhetoric over the protection of religious/ethnic minorities in the region created new hierarchies in the League’s provision regime and that the international organization invested itself in “unmixing populations” along the lines of this understanding of minorities as compact, moveable, and non-Muslim groups. A new politics of “minorities and majorities” emerged as a result, and we continue to see the legacy of this politics in international legal structures today.