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La matérialité du temps : usages patrimoniaux du passé en Méditerranée orientale (xixe et xxe siècles)

Tales of Tiles: Shifting Narratives of a Museum’s Islamic Artifacts

Contes de carreaux : récits changeants sur les objets islamiques d’un musée
Hala Auji

Résumés

Cet article examine l’histoire institutionnelle d’une collection modeste d’objets islamiques appartenant au Musée archéologique fondé en 1868 à l’université américaine de Beyrouth au Liban (AUB). L’étude se concentre sur un lot de cinq carreaux de céramique glaçurée de la période ottomane qui proviennent, selon le musée, du Dôme du Rocher à Jérusalem et sont exposés comme pièces maîtresses de la « Collection islamique » du musée, inaugurée en 2015. L’attention récente accordée à ces carreaux, qui font partie des fonds du musée depuis au moins les années 1950, est néanmoins largement façonnée par l’évolution des récits institutionnels du musée sur son passé comme collection biblique associée au programme missionnaire de l’AUB, à l’époque le « Syrian Protestant College » (fondé en 1866). Cet article démontre comment un petit musée libanais, comme celui de l’AUB, a remanié sans cesse son récit et son approche de sa collection d’objets islamiques, à l’égard de son histoire ainsi que des préoccupations socio-politiques locales et régionales en plein changement depuis la fin du xixe siècle.

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  • 1 Duncan 1995, pp. 7‑8, 12. See also Preziosi, Lamoureux 2006, p. 104; Duncan, Wallach 1980, p. 449.
  • 2 Preziosi 2002, p. 42.
  • 3 Brusius, Singh 2018, p. 2.
  • 4 Hereafter referred to as the AUB Museum or the Museum.

1Since the late 20th century, museum studies have expounded upon the socio-political implications of museum collections and displays with the understanding that notions of what objects are deemed valuable and worthy of exhibition, and what these markers of value are, vary according to an institution’s motives and the approaches of its employees. Museums have been considered for their function as ideological spaces —as modern sites of ritual— imbued with symbolic value, where the visitors’ experience is scripted by the institution’s grand narratives of history, nationalism, and citizenship, which frame and define the objects displayed.1 As art historian Donald Preziosi explains, museums and collections engage in the fashioning of histories, what he calls “the processes of fabricating histories —the very activity of constructing frames of understanding”.2 More recent studies have also called for a consideration of what goes into making visible these “frames of understanding” by examining “hidden” parts of museums —such as objects relegated to storage rooms or the “behind-the-scenes” aspects of exhibitions— in an effort to present a more nuanced picture of “the intermediate stage” of museums “coming into being”.3 While such considerations have been extended to collections at major public and private museums in Europe and North America, lesser-known collections at smaller private museums in the Middle East, many of which have a long and complex history in the region, remain unexplored. One such example is the “Islamic Section” of the Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon.4

  • 5 The inauguration took place under the patronage of Raymond Araiji, Lebanon’s former Minister of Cul (...)

2Although the AUB Museum was established in 1868, it did not include a designated “Islamic Section” until 2014; the latter was officially launched during a well-attended opening on February 25, 2015.5 The Islamic section’s display, which includes pre-Islamic to 18th century ceramic shards, tiles, and vessels from Iran, Iraq, and regions in the eastern Mediterranean, occupies a square-shaped interior that makes up only around five percent of the Museum’s building (fig. 1). The majority of the building is devoted to both a chronological, from the Chalcolithic period (3500-2300 BCE) to the Classical era, and thematic display of archaeological artifacts. The focus of the Islamic section’s display and the remarks during its opening night were not centered on the assortment of vessels, tiles, molds, and fragments in this newly reorganized section, but on five polychromatic glazed tile revetments that anchor this modest collection (figs. 2‑3). According to the Museum, these artifacts may have once graced the façade of one of Islamic architecture’s most discussed structures, Jerusalem’s 7th century Dome of the Rock.

Fig. 1. Map of the current AUB Museum, showing the “Islamic Section” outlined in dark green (upper righthand corner).

Fig. 1. Map of the current AUB Museum, showing the “Islamic Section” outlined in dark green (upper righthand corner).

Detail from AUB Museum’s promotional brochure. From the author’s personal collection.

Fig. 2. Display in the AUB Museum’s “Islamic Section” showing the five tile revetments (left of center) alongside other images and materials related to the Dome of the Rock.

Fig. 2. Display in the AUB Museum’s “Islamic Section” showing the five tile revetments (left of center) alongside other images and materials related to the Dome of the Rock.

Photograph by the author.

Fig. 3. Close‑up view of the five polychromatic glazed tile revetments from the Dome of the Rock. They are mounted on the wall in the Museum’s “Islamic Section”.

Fig. 3. Close‑up view of the five polychromatic glazed tile revetments from the Dome of the Rock. They are mounted on the wall in the Museum’s “Islamic Section”.

Photograph by the author.

  • 6 Carswell 2000, pp. 426‑427. See also St. Laurent, Riedlmayer 1993, p. 78.
  • 7 Carswell 2015, pp. 11‑14.
  • 8 Adra 2015, pp. 50‑53. This explanation is also included in the Museum’s display text. Restorations (...)

3The evening’s lectures and events highlighted these five tile revetments and their connection to the Dome of the Rock, underscoring the objects’ privileged position within the Museum’s collection as quintessential exemplars of the region’s early Islamic past. Archaeologist and then-Museum Director Leila Badre, in her opening words, described how her accidental discovery of the tiles in storage sometime after starting her tenure at the AUB Museum in 1980 turned most fortuitous when, during an impromptu visit to the collection (an exact date is not given), artist and architectural historian John Carswell recognized the artifacts as ones from the famed Umayyad structure. According to Carswell, a former professor at AUB (in the 1960s) who also gave a lecture during the exhibition’s opening, the tiles were produced in Ottoman Syria between 1721‑1722 for the restoration ordered by Sultan Ahmet III (r. 1703-1730).6 Carswell shared his experience with similar tiles, which he encountered while visiting the Dome of the Rock’s location at the Haram al‑Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) in Jerusalem in 1966,7 suggesting that the Museum’s tiles could have fallen off or been removed from the Dome of the Rock’s exterior during the façade’s restoration between 1897‑1898 in the late Ottoman period.8

  • 9 Adra 2015, p. 51.
  • 10 Mackay 1951, p. viii.
  • 11 Adra 2015, p. 53.

4The tiles’ journey to the AUB Museum’s collection and their eventual location at the center of the Islamic section’s display is not a clear‑cut or seamless narrative. In her explanation of the tiles’ provenance, Badre posited that they were gifted to the Museum by American archaeologist Frederick Bliss (1859‑1937), son of fellow missionary and AUB’s founding president Daniel Bliss (1823‑1916), since the former was excavating in Jerusalem at the time.9 However, the lack of accession records from the AUB Museum’s early history before its first catalog was published in 1921 makes such a definitive link to the Bliss family a difficult one to verify.10 Additionally, although Badre also claims to have made the auspicious “discovery” of these Dome of the Rock tiles in the dusty confines of its storage, the Museum’s catalogs from the 1950s indicate that the glazed tiles were in fact included in the display, albeit on the dusty floor shelves of cases containing other examples of ceramic wares. By 2014, these previously sidelined and uncategorized Ottoman tiles moved to the Islamic section’s main display wall on which they currently serve as the collection’s centerpieces. With their newfound prestige, these Dome of the Rock revetments “finally became an integral part of the AUB Museum”.11

  • 12 Preziosi 2002, p. 37. See also, Preziosi, Lamoureux 2006, pp. 108‑109.
  • 13 Preziosi 2002, pp. 31‑37.
  • 14 Brusius, Singh 2018.
  • 15 Adra 2015, p. 50.
  • 16 This narrative was repeated in the few media coverages of the inauguration.
  • 17 While a few sources on the history of the AUB Museum’s archaeological collection exist, they are of (...)
  • 18 Milwright 2010, pp. 11‑20. See also Kuklick 1996.
  • 19 Duncan 1995, pp. 7‑8.

5Although it may appear accidental or incidental, the relocation of these Dome of the Rock revetments, from floors beneath cabinets in the Museum’s archaeological galleries to their central role and display in the new Islamic section, is the focus of this article. The tiles’ journey across the Museum’s space from the 1950s to 2014 reveals a shift in the AUB Museum’s institutional narrative about its past. As Preziosi explains, museums historicize objects based on subjective presuppositions by those working within the institution, who strive to “render the visible legible” to a wide audience through streamlined, accessible narratives.12 Relatedly, any morphology of the museum objects is largely determined by the institution’s broader aims at a given moment, often with little awareness or consideration of their prior history within the institution.13 Informed by these views and others, this article considers “tales from the crypt”,14 or the backstory of the AUB Museum’s Dome of the Rock tiles in particular, and the “Islamic Section” in general, by reflecting on the “morphology” of Islamic objects in the AUB Museum’s collection, from shadows to spotlight, and from category to category. This entails probing the complexities of the Museum’s current narrative that connects these tiles to the Bliss family and locates these objects as ones of “esteemed heritage”15 linking the Museum to a prized Islamic (and Palestinian) legacy.16 In order to grasp how the Museum’s shifting narratives —about Islamic art, the institution, and the past— were articulated textually and visually, I take up an analysis of available organizational records, photographs, and publications.17 In so doing, I show how the current institutional narrative stems from a broader historical connection between regional missionary activity and a vested interest in biblical archaeology, within which Islamic (or Arab) history played a designated role.18 Concurrently, I consider how smaller, private establishments like the AUB Museum, while not operating in the same capacity as larger public museums that reinforce state narratives of nationalism and citizenship,19 nevertheless engage in buttressing nationalist ideals in tandem with the construction of their own narratives of institutional history. Thus, exploring the development of an Islamic section by this modest museum in Beirut, also provides insights into how such establishments engaged with, and responded to, the complexities of a region in flux.

From “Cabinets of Antiquities” to Biblical Museum

  • 20 American University of Beirut 1920‑1921, p. 189.
  • 21 Hereafter referred to as the SPC or College.
  • 22 Although the College was an offshoot of the Syria Mission and was able to operate in Beirut largely (...)
  • 23 “Meeting in New York, Jan 21st, 1868”, in Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Syrian Protestant (...)

6According to the AUB Archaeological Museum’s narrative, it was founded in 1868 by Dr. George Post,20 a medical professor at the Syrian Protestant College21 (today the American University of Beirut). The College was established in 1866 as an extension of the Boston-based American Board of Foreign Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) who set up the Syria Mission in the 1820s. The mission’s headquarters were in Beirut, an Ottoman sanjak (prefecture) in the Syrian Province.22 Interestingly, the College’s records do not clearly indicate an establishment of a “Museum” or a collection at this time. Rather, they simply mention Post’s appointment as a professor at the College.23 The Archaeological Department, which the Museum was eventually connected to, was not established until 1888.

  • 24 “[Report from] Beirut, June 1869”, in Annual Reports of the Board of Managers of the Syrian Protest (...)
  • 25 Mackay 1951, p. vii.
  • 26 “[Report from], Beirut, June 1869”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 7 [17].
  • 27 “[Report from], Beirut, June 24th, 1870”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 13 [23].

7Records indicate that the earliest collections, which would eventually be consolidated to form a “Museum” by the late 19th century, began as a small group of cabinets containing eclectic objects —from archaeological artifacts to fossils— donated by some of the College’s professors and other individuals. For instance, Daniel Bliss’ Annual Report of 1869 indicates that the College’s initial collection of “antiquities” included a hoard of “Greek, Phoenician, Roman, Jewish, Cufic [sic], and Alexandrian” coins (approx. 566) donated by one, otherwise unidentified, Mr. John Frazer. A more eminent gift by General Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832‑1904), the American Consul to Cyprus turned archaeology hobbyist, is described as “a variety of ancient pottery, taken from the Phoenician, Grecian, and Roman tombs found on that Island”24 that were considered a “typical series of pottery from his excavations”.25 Cesnola’s gift formed the core of the College’s nascent collection. Other items placed in the institution’s earliest cabinets were botanical examples, mineral and geological specimens, and taxidermy assortments from Egyptian fauna.26 This group of cabinets of “curiosities” were not meant for general display, rather they were actively integrated into the College’s curriculum for use in course instruction (fig. 4).27

Fig. 4. Example of the “Botany Cabinets” in a room at the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut, ca. 1880s.

Fig. 4. Example of the “Botany Cabinets” in a room at the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut, ca. 1880s.

Photograph by Franklin T. Moore. The Moore Collection. Courtesy of the AUB Library/Archives.

  • 28 Istanbul’s Imperial Museum did not open until 1880 (Shaw 2003, p. 93), while Jerusalem’s Imperial M (...)
  • 29 Shaw 2007, p. 258.

8At this time, the College’s cabinet collection was one of a few so‑called “museums” in the Ottoman world, which, for their first few decades, served more as depositories than public sites of exhibition and display. These collections included the Imperial Arms depot of Saint Irene Church in Istanbul (1846), the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (1858), and the Imperial Museum at Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace (1869). These were followed by Cairo’s Museum of Arab Art (1881) and Jerusalem’s Imperial Museum (1890).28 Contrary to other regional museums at this time, the AUB Museum was not connected to any government or state apparatus. For example, unlike the Imperial Museums in Istanbul and Jerusalem, which became the main depositories for Ottoman antiquities, the Museum in Beirut remained at the fringe as a smaller private collection closely tied to the practices of its Protestant College. The College’s collection of cabinets was very much informed by the evangelical Christian and Anglo-centric concerns of the institution’s faculty and Board. The College’s “museum” at the time was a marginal entity in the bigger picture of regional archaeology, even though there were no other imperial or private formal archaeological collections in the Beirut sanjak. For instance, findings from early Ottoman archaeological excavations in the area, such as the one in Sidon (44 km from Beirut) led by artist and director of Istanbul’s Imperial Museum Osman Hamdi Bey (1842‑1910) in 1887, were moved by sea to Istanbul.29

  • 30 Milwright 2010, p. 13.
  • 31 Milwright 2010, p. 13.
  • 32 Shaw 2018, p. 157.
  • 33 While European excavations took place in a haphazard fashion in Ottoman domains from the mid-18th t (...)
  • 34 Shaw 2018, p. 159.

9For members of the College, archaeological practices were a means through which the region’s “ancient” past, specifically that of Antiquity as it related to a biblical history of the European imaginary, could be separated from the region’s more recent past, particularly periods of Islamic rule. As historian of art and archaeology Marcus Milwright explains, western archaeological societies, such as the British Palestine Exploration Fund (est. 1865), the American Palestine Exploration Society (est. 1870), and the Deutsche Palästina-Verein (est. 1878), privileged “ancient history […] over the recovery of more recent —particularly Byzantine, Sasanian, and Islamic— occupation phases”.30 Indeed, the very reason such groups were founded was due to “an interest in the material culture of the biblical past”.31 Similarly, in her discussion of the 19th century European archaeological interests in Ottoman Syria’s Palmyra (present-day Tadmur), art historian Wendy Shaw elucidates how the colonial interest in this region’s history stems from an “Enlightenment classicism” through which historical sites are viewed, recorded, and reframed.32 As she explains, the European interest in “scientific preservation” (through the removal, reconstruction, and replication of artifacts33) at archaeological digs in Ottoman territories “completely disassociated the present from the past even as access to the past was only facilitated through the modern coalition of archaeology and the museum”.34

  • 35 “[Report from] 1882”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 63 [73]. The area referred to as the “museum” only con (...)
  • 36 Milwright 2010, p. 11.
  • 37 The framing of works as “Islamic” or “Mohammedan” became prevalent in the 20th century, with the es (...)
  • 38 Although published discussions or categorizations of Islamic artifacts do not appear before the 190 (...)
  • 39 Milwright 2010, p. 14.
  • 40 Milwright 2010, p. 12.
  • 41 Shaw 2018, p. 155; see also, Brusius, Singh 2018, p. 19.

10In the SPC’s Museum, specifically its “Cabinet of Antiquities” as the archaeological collection was called until the late 1880s,35 the coins, pottery, and busts that were highlighted in records were those categorized as ancient Greek, Roman, Palmyrene, Egyptian, Cypriot, Palestinian, and Phoenician. Non-classical examples of pottery or other objects from the region —if they were mentioned at all in records— were typically grouped with their contemporaries under labels like “Coptic”, “Arab”, “Turkish”, “Persian”, and other taxonomic terms prevalent in 19th century documents. For example, the Museum’s practice was similar to categorizations used in archaeological reports, such as those by Frederick Bliss and British Egyptologist Flinders Petrie (1853‑1942) during excavations in Jerusalem, in which any findings from Islamic periods were merely classified as “Arab” of origin, with only brief sections devoted to their descriptions.36 The categorization of artifacts as “Islamic” was also absent at the time because the prevalence of this very classification would not occur until the early to mid-20th century.37 This did not mean, however, that the material history of Islamic periods was not of interest to 19th century scholars.38 Rather, Islamic objects, deemed to have less archaeological significance than their more “ancient” counterparts, gained importance as luxury antiques in western markets and were retrieved illicitly at excavations “to feed the demands of connoisseurs and museums”.39 Thus, despite a lack of archaeological attention, discards from Islamic periods —including coins and various types of ceramics— were taken up by American and European scholars, dealers, and collectors.40 In the case of the SPC’s “Cabinet of Antiquities”, the emphasis on ancient objects mirrored that of European and American archaeologists because these artifacts reinforced a hegemonic narrative of a western classical past, infused with an ethnocentric biblical history. This recalls Shaw’s suggestion that early archaeology’s emphasis on a Eurocentric antiquity created “the European cultural imaginary through which contemporary events could be processed in narrative terms”.41 Any Islamic wares in the SPC Museum, despite their growing importance in the commercial sphere, remained academically inferior to the collection’s “ancient” centerpieces.

  • 42 “[Report from] 1889”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 114 [124]. Although the AUB Museum’s present narrative (...)
  • 43 Plans for the school were first discussed in 1886 as one similar to Athens’ American School of Clas (...)
  • 44 “Annual Meeting, New York, Jan. 24th, 1888”, BOT Minutes, Book 2, p. 155 [158]. According to record (...)
  • 45 Robinson, Smith 1841.
  • 46 Eli Smith’s missionary work with the ABCFM began in Malta in the 1820s before he was assigned to th (...)
  • 47 Kuklick 1996, pp. 5‑6, 120‑121. See also Greenhalgh 2016, pp. 45‑82.

11The SPC collection’s biblical underpinnings were solidified in 1889, when the previously haphazard groups of cabinets were consolidated to form a Museum of Biblical Archaeology with a designated “Museum fund” and an appointed curator.42 This collection was meant to support the educational needs of the College’s “School of Biblical Archaeology and Philology”,43 which accepted its first cohort of students in 1888 as a school that teaches the findings of local “Biblical explorations”.44 As a museum, the collection now focused on archaeological objects of antiquity and Levantine botanical specimens —as “natural evidence” of biblical history. This biblical reading of the Ottoman Levantine landscape and history was already being propagated by the American missionaries in Beirut in the early 1800s through their own publications. One example was Eli Smith’s (1801‑1857) travelogue Biblical Researches in Palestine (1841),45 which he wrote with biblical scholar Edward Robinson (1794‑1863)46. SPC’s plans for a School of Biblical Archaeology paralleled growing academic interests amongst American and European biblical scholars during the 1880s. These specialists, who underscored the importance of fluency in Semitic languages to understanding both the Bible and ancient civilizations, turned to the archaeology of the so‑called Near East as a way to provide material evidence of biblical accounts.47 The SPC, through the formation of an educational museum, similarly instrumentalized science, via archaeological practice, as evidence of the region’s western religious history. For the SPC’s School of Biblical Archaeology, the space of the museum served as a living laboratory, which could be populated with findings from local excursions and digs. This meant that biblical scholarship at the School was not limited to secondary knowledge in books and illustrations but could be viewed and engaged with directly.

  • 48 In today’s AUB Museum, the “Palmyrene Alcove” (the size of the Islamic section) is dedicated to the (...)
  • 49 Shaw 2018.

12Through the museum format, particularly its taxonomical categories and display practices, biblical history at the SPC’s Museum was also defined on a material and visual level via a comparative approach between different artifacts from the region. For example, in photographs of the Museum’s archaeological displays taken during the 1890s (figs. 5‑6), the upper shelves of the wooden cabinets were reserved for the Museum’s collection of Palmyrene limestone busts, thus locating them at the top of a visual hierarchy.48 The Protestant College’s interests in these busts mirrored those of other Anglo-European antiquity aficionados at the time who privileged a Eurocentric reading of Palmyra as an early Christian historical site.49 While these photographs make it difficult to identify the contents of the glass-covered cabinets at the back of the room, the display tables near the center appear to hold samples from the Museum’s collection of lamps and glassware (including Greek, Roman, and Islamic examples). Of interest in these images are the stone slabs, which are interspersed with amphorae, fragments of sculptures, and a plaster cast of a carved capital located on the floor. The stelae (visible in fig. 6) appear to be two examples of epigraphic headstones or architectural markers from the Fatimid and Mamluk periods, which are both currently on display in the section of the AUB Museum’s main hall dedicated to “Writing Through the Ages”. This section in today’s Museum includes similar stone slabs with Greek, Latin, Egyptian, and Phoenician writing on them, alongside smaller inscribed stone, wood, and stucco fragments, thus locating these cultures and languages within a common logocentric framework. In the Museum’s display from the 1890s, however, the epigraphic slabs with Arabic writing on them were positioned at the bottom of the display cases, alongside sundry, even commonplace, plaster copies, fragments, and everyday vessels.

Fig. 5. Harvey Porter (?) posing with objects from the “Cabinets of Antiquities” displayed in the Syrian Protestant College’s Archaeology Museum. September 1892.

Fig. 5. Harvey Porter (?) posing with objects from the “Cabinets of Antiquities” displayed in the Syrian Protestant College’s Archaeology Museum. September 1892.

Photograph by Franklin T. Moore. The Moore Collection. Courtesy of the AUB Library/Archives.

Fig. 6. “Cabinets of Antiquities” displayed in the Syrian Protestant College’s Archaeology Museum. Spring 1894.

Fig. 6. “Cabinets of Antiquities” displayed in the Syrian Protestant College’s Archaeology Museum. Spring 1894.

Photograph by Franklin T. Moore. The Moore Collection. Courtesy of the AUB Library/Archives.

  • 50 Preziosi, Lamoureux 2006, pp. 98‑99.
  • 51 American University of Beirut 1920‑1921, pp. 3‑4.

13Although these photographs, as constructed images, cannot serve as documentary evidence of what the Museum actually looked like during the 19th century, they still communicate a preferred hierarchy of display reminiscent of the “exhibitionary order” of the period’s world fairs (even if only for a posed picture). The white Palmyrene funerary busts appear to triumphantly crown the collection, showing how artifacts of early Christianity —those purportedly “untainted” by Muslim influence— were prized in the Museum’s overarching narrative of biblical history. Recalling Preziosi’s words about similar archaeological museums and exhibitions from the 19th century, one might further read the SPC Museum’s display as a “blueprint of patriarchal colonialism” that embodies Orientalist views of “what the world should be”.50 The Museum’s association with biblical history remained until 1920, at the end of WWI, when the Syrian Protestant College was renamed the American University of Beirut in the newly established State of Greater Lebanon under the French Mandate (1920‑1945). After this shift in the institution’s narrative and image, the collection officially became the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut.51

Islamic art and the politics of the AUB Museum’s catalogs (1921‑1967)

14The Museum’s inaugural guide, commissioned by the Museum Committee, was published in 1921 after the institution was renamed the AUB Archaeological Museum, thus obfuscating its explicit biblical connection. The first catalog was followed by the publication of three others in 1951, 1959, and 1967, under different curators and produced across a period that encompassed the French Mandate, the emergence of the independent Lebanese Republic (in 1946), and the decade just before the Lebanese Civil War (1975‑1990). Although these catalogs are not comprehensive sources, in the absence of detailed Museum records, they help to present an image of how objects from the collection were categorized and perceived. Entries on ancient objects from the Greco-Roman period, for instance, often included a few photographs of a selection of artifacts alongside narratives about these objects’ uses, histories, and modes of production. In the case of Islamic art examples, these catalogs show the shifting institutional lens, largely informed by regional socio-political conditions, through which such artifacts were read. These catalogs also shed some light on how Islamic wares, like the Dome of the Rock ceramic tiles, were displayed in relationship to other objects in the Museum’s changing exhibitions.

C. Leonard Woolley’s Guide to the AUB Museum (1921)

  • 52 He was an archaeologist who worked for the Palestine Exploration Fund in Egypt, the curator of the (...)
  • 53 Mackay 1951, p. viii.
  • 54 Woolley 1921, p. [i].

15The first Guide to the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut was written by British archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley52 at the request of the then-museum curator Harvey Porter.53 It is not clear why a catalog was commissioned at this time, but one can deduce, given the wider institutional changes during the early 1920s, that a publication of the newly renamed Archaeological Museum would help promote the collection to would‑be patrons, donors, and benefactors. This is hinted at in the catalog’s opening passage that discusses the provenance of the collection: “The University might justly expect from the Alumni a more tangible proof of their interest in their nation’s history and of their private gratitude to the institution in the shape of gifts to its Museum”.54 In addition to calling for the University’s alumni to donate funds or objects to their Alma Mater’s collection, the statement clearly connects the Museum’s collection with a local nationalist heritage, thus departing from the Museum’s previous narrative that overtly underscored biblical history.

  • 55 The Annual Report claims that the majority of Jewish and Muslim students chose to attend these Chri (...)

16It is worth noting that although the University’s new name dropped any reference to its missionary origins, this did not mean the complete removal of any religious affiliation. For example, the University’s Annual Report from 1920 explained that “religious life” (namely, Protestant Christian) continued along “normal lines”; students had the option to meet with instructors for “a simple devotional service” five times a week followed by a Sunday sermon.55 Although the University did not overtly promote is religious affiliation, that connection remained as part of the institution until the conclusion of WWII, when Lebanon established its independence. In the AUB Museum’s 1921 catalog, a similar link to its missionary tradition is evident in the collection’s teleological Eurocentric civilizational narrative.

  • 56 Woolley 1921, p. [i].
  • 57 Woolley 1921, p. [ii]. The main divisions are: The Stone Age, The Copper and Bronze Ages, The Iron (...)
  • 58 Woolley 1921, pp. 16‑17.

17The catalog text explains the narrative adopted for the collection as one “intended to illustrate as far as is possible the progress of civilization in Southern Syria, i.e. in Phoenicia and Palestine”,56 with an aim, I would argue, at erasing any connection to the recent Ottoman past. The displays, containing objects grouped by region, are arranged chronologically in categories from “pre-history” to the Classical period,57 with the latter focusing on Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman “influences” on artisans in Phoenicia, Palestine, and Syria.58 The only reference to Islamic objects in the collection is a single line in the catalog’s preface:

  • 59 Woolley 1921, p. [iii].

[t]he collection of Arab antiquities, at present in an embryonic state, is housed in wall cases 48‑49 and in the outer gallery, where also are local objects of modern date illustrating present-day survivals of Syria from biblical or still older periods.59

  • 60 Shaw 2018, p. 157.
  • 61 Milwright 2010, p. 13.

18The labelling of all Islamic artifacts as “Arab antiquities” (even though many were originally described, in SPC records, as “Turkish” in origin) sidelines any connection to Ottoman history, while concurrently dislocating these objects from the Museum’s civilizational narrative, placing them in a dead zone on the fringes of Western constructs of time and history. This statement also recalls previously mentioned 19th century archaeological narratives, as described by Shaw, which strove to displace modern inhabitants in regions of Anglo-European historical interest via “the valorization of antiquity over the present” and where the museum becomes “the legitimate home of the objects” found at these sites.60 Indeed, the AUB Museum’s approach to Islamic objects mirrors those of late 19th to early 20th century archaeological reports that relegated all such objects to ethnic categories and as items typically deemed of less historical importance.61

  • 62 Woolley 1921, pp. 23‑25.

19The most evident sidelining of Islamic artifacts in the catalog’s narrative is the absence of the Mamluk and Fatimid examples of epigraphic slabs in the section devoted to “Inscriptions”.62 Whereas these objects made it into the first photographs of the collection, the artifacts are missing from Woolley’s detailed descriptions of other epigraphic examples. Although in its earlier role as a biblical collection, the AUB Museum overlooked the significance of Islamic artifacts, it was during the Mandate period that this institution, through its catalog and display, overtly attempted to separate a local Lebanese and Syrian identity from an Ottoman, or Islamic, past.

Dorothy Mackay’s Guide to the AUB Museum (1951)

  • 63 Mackay, an important archaeologist and scholar in her own right, has been overlooked in scholarship (...)
  • 64 Thornton 2018.
  • 65 During WWII, when the Museum’s galleries served as storage space, the collection was packed away by (...)
  • 66 The National Museum was one of the earliest in Lebanon in which “nationalist grand narratives” were (...)

20The first clear mention of Islamic objects in an AUB Museum catalog is in the 1951 guide by archaeologist Dorothy Mackay (1881‑1953).63 Mackay served as the Museum’s curator from 1948‑1951 and, having been an assistant curator at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum during WWII, came to the post with more curatorial experience than her predecessors.64 At the start of her term, shortly after the war during which the Museum collection was packed away, Mackay oversaw the reinstallation of the displays for a UNESCO meeting in November 1948.65 At this time, the Museum became exclusively devoted to archaeology by shedding its botanical collection. While it had remained the only archaeology museum in Beirut until the National Museum was established in 1937,66 by 1948 the AUB Museum, yet again, slightly shifted its institutional narrative as evidenced in its approach to Islamic history and connection to Lebanese nationalism.

  • 67 Mackay 1951, p. v.
  • 68 Mackay 1951, pp. 83‑87.
  • 69 Mackay 1951, p. 84.

21For the first time in the Museum’s history, Islamic artifacts were included as part of a stand-alone category in the Museum’s catalog. In her discussion of the reinstalled galleries, Mackay reserves the last section of the catalog to these objects. Listed as examples of “Islamic Glazed Pottery and Tiles”, Islamic materials are presented as a thematic category rather than a specific “period”. For example, the catalog’s preceding sections follow the typical developmental narratives of western civilization’s history via sections entitled: “Stone Age Cultures”, “Bronze Age”, and “Iron Age”. However, rather than employing a generic “Classical” category, Mackay’s exhibition divides this period into the “Period of Persian Domination” and the “Hellenistic Period”. The remaining five categories (in the order listed) are “Cesnola Collection of Pottery from Cyprus”, “History of Lamps”, “Glass”, “Palmyrene Collection”, and Islamic objects.67 The AUB Museum’s Islamic ceramics, for the first time, are given their due in a catalog description that occupies five pages.68 While Woolley’s 1921 catalog triumphantly recalled Roman and Greek influences on regional artisans during the “Classical” period, Mackay’s text credits early Islamic potters with influencing Chinese techniques and developing important ceramic methods such as lusterware and “underglaze painted ware”,69 examples of which include İznik pottery.

  • 70 This was what the Dome of the Rock was called in the 20th century before scholarship corrected this (...)
  • 71 Mackay 1951, p. 86.
  • 72 Mackay 1951, pp. 83‑87.
  • 73 Mackay 1951, p. 87.
  • 74 Graves 2012, [p. 1‑2]. See also Milwright 2010, pp. 19, 174.

22Mackay’s encyclopedic approach to the collection’s display, particularly its inclusion of “Islamic” as a category worthy of consideration while paying special attention to specific objects and production methods, was a significant departure from the practice outlined in Woolley’s 1921 guide. Nevertheless, Mackay’s vision for the collection did not entail the creation of an Islamic section in the Museum’s display. In fact, as seen in the Museum’s 1951 catalog, objects labelled as “Islamic” were relegated to one cabinet and a small table, Case 22 and Case 23, alongside examples of Byzantine pottery, at the “end” of the Museum’s display (fig. 7). Concurrently, while Mackay is the first to pay special attention to the differences in the Museum’s collection of ceramic tiles, she privileges medieval and pre-modern artifacts over those produced in later periods (after ca. 1500). For instance, in catalog descriptions of what might be the Dome of the Rock tiles currently displayed in the Museum’s Islamic section, Mackay notes that there is a set of “Enameled Turkish tile work. (?) XV century. May be from Mosque of Omar,70 Jerusalem, which was re‑tiled in part after World War I”.71 These tiles were displayed on the floor beneath Case 22.72 Another catalog entry on glazed tiles that might also be a description of those from the Dome of the Rock reads: “Late Turkish tiles showing deterioration in technique. Probably XVIII century”. These objects were also displayed on the floor, but this time beneath Case 23.73 Mackay’s description of these “Late Turkish tiles” problematically characterizes these 18th century Ottoman tiles within the framework of “death and decay”, which is a narrative paralleling traditional scholarship on Ottoman history that perceives the Empire’s adoption of European modernization practices as the point of decline. This is also similar to the “organicist” approach to Islamic history, promoted by scholars in the mid-20th century, which limited notions of “vigour and authenticity” to the material culture of earlier periods in Islamic history (before the 16th century).74

Fig. 7. Plan of the Archaeological Galleries, AUB Museum, 1951.

Fig. 7. Plan of the Archaeological Galleries, AUB Museum, 1951.

The green rectangle shows the location of Cases 22 and 23, where the glazed tiles might have been displayed on the floor beneath one of the cabinets. The blue square is the approximate location of the “Islamic Section” as of 2014 (where the Dome of the Rock tiles are now located).

Original image from Mackay 1951, p. vi. Reprinted by permission of the American University of Beirut Press.

  • 75 Milwright 2010, p. 19.
  • 76 Milwright 2010, p. 13.
  • 77 Milwright 2010, p. 19.

23Consequently, although the AUB Museum’s reorganization in the 1950s included eschewing its early missionary focus on biblical history and engaging with Islamic ceramic practices, thus becoming more of an encyclopedic or universal museum, it did so within a framework that continued to favor the remote past. The Museum highlighted the regional historical and artistic value of pre-modern Islamic art production —such as the examples of glazed pottery discussed above, which were noted in connection to Syrian, Iraqi, and Persian traditions— and marginalized Ottoman artifacts from the recent past. This reflects broader archaeological practices at this time. As Marcus Milwright explains, archeologists working in the Middle East were “relatively slow to recognize the importance of recording occupation phases dating to the Islamic period”.75 Similar to Mackay’s comments on the “Turkish tiles” the few remarks on artifacts from the Islamic, or “Arab”, period “represented a phase of decline by comparison with the glories of the more remote past”.76 When archaeologists did concern themselves with Islamic history, what they focused on was the “more ancient periods of human history”, while studies of recent Islamic periods (after the 16th century) were overlooked.77

  • 78 Watenpaugh 2004, pp. 185‑190. The French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon officially lasted from 1 (...)
  • 79 The Levantine “Phoenician identity” was espoused by French scholar Ernest Renan (1823-1892) in his (...)
  • 80 Abou‑El‑Haj 1982, pp. 185‑201. See also Watenpaugh 2004, pp. 191‑192.

24The privileging of earlier phases of occupation and marginalization of the region’s more recent Islamic periods was also evident in Lebanon’s newly established national heritage institutions, such as Beirut’s National Museum, which first opened in 1942 (but was planned and conceived in the 1930s during the French Mandate).78 The National Museum’s historical narrative categorized local artistic productions as Syrian or Arab, which was an identity that explicitly contested any Ottoman-Turkish connection. The distant past evoked for the construction of this Lebanese national identity was one of a Phoenician origin. Thus, it was disconnected from any Ottoman connection, while belonging to a Eurocentric religious history that underscored the Phoenicians’ Semitic heritage.79 Furthermore, I would argue that the sidelining of late Ottoman history in Mackay’s catalog descriptions is informed by the regional rise of Arab nationalism, which was not limited to archaeological practices. As historian Rifa‘at Abou‑El‑Haj demonstrates, the project of nation-building in former Ottoman territories depended on the erasure of Ottoman history from the Arab nationalist narrative in historical sources.80

Dimitri Baramki’s Guides to the AUB Museum (1959 and 1967)

  • 81 Archaeology in Lebanon, until the 1950s, remained a foreign affair imbued in religious and/or imper (...)
  • 82 Seeden 2009, pp. 274‑275.

25The AUB Museum’s most recent catalogs (from 1959 and 1967) were written by Dimitri C. Baramki, who served as the Museum’s curator from 1954‑1975. Baramki, a Palestinian educated in the UK, was the Museum’s first curator of Arab origin. He also directed the country’s earliest graduate program in archaeology, which was launched at AUB.81 Before accepting his director position at the AUB Museum, Baramki served in Jerusalem’s Department of Antiquities of the British Mandate and directed the city’s Rockefeller Museum in 1948.82 Under his directorship, the AUB Museum underwent its first major renovation since WWII; in 1963 its floor space was expanded and doubled, and it reopened to the public in 1964 (two years before AUB’s centennial).

  • 83 Such as those espoused in George Antonius’ History of the Arabs (1937).
  • 84 First published as a two‑part article in AUB’s magazine Al‑Kulliyya (1958).
  • 85 Baramki 1959, p. 15.
  • 86 Baramki 1959, p. 15. Here, the reference to “Arabs” is specifically to members of early Islamic gro (...)

26Baramki’s catalogs appear to be informed by contemporaneous views on Arab nationalism, which perceived a unified “Arab” world —across time and space— based on ethnic, cultural, and linguistic commonalities.83 Like earlier nationalist discourses during the Mandate period, Baramki’s, and other Arab nationalists’, approach to the past was hinged upon the removal of Ottoman history and an Arabization of early Islamic dynasties. The first catalog by Baramki was produced in 1959,84 when the Museum’s display strategies still followed those laid out by his predecessor Dorothy Mackay. In this publication, Baramki spares just a few words at the end of the book’s body text to describe the AUB Museum’s Islamic artifacts. The description reads simply: “Examples of Early Arab, Persian and Seljuk glazed pottery and tiles can be seen in Case 22, while examples of the later glazed ware of Damascus are exhibited in the adjoining case, Case 23”.85 Any reference to Ottoman, or even Turkish, history or techniques is notably missing from this description. Objects produced during the Seljuk period (in Anatolia) are the only ones distinguished from the more essentialist ethnic categories “Arab” and “Persian”.86 Artifacts from the Ottoman period, which are the “later glazed ware[s]” Baramki refers to, are vaguely labelled as being “of Damascus” with no other explications regarding period, context, or methods (which are details that he manages to include about many of the Museum’s other artifacts).

  • 87 This category in the 1967 catalog includes: “examples of early Arab, Iranian, Seljuk and Mameluke [ (...)
  • 88 Like the 1951 catalog, the catalog from 1967 does not clearly describe these tiles (Baramki 1967, p (...)
  • 89 Baramki 1967, p. 97.
  • 90 Baramki 1959, p. 15; Baramki 1967, p. 90.

27In his second catalog, from 1967, Baramki’s descriptions of Islamic objects and history are much more expansive and rather provocative. The catalog was produced after the AUB Museum’s display underwent a minor renovation and reinstallation under his supervision in 1964. Objects categorized as “Islamic Artifacts”87 where moved to three new cases in a room with two other cases dedicated to Greco-Roman lamps. Tiles, which likely included the Dome of the Rock revetments, were displayed on the bottom shelf of one of these cabinets: Case 50 (seen in fig. 8).88 In the catalog’s section on “Islamic Artifacts”, Baramki describes different objects in the display cases in some detail. For instance, he mentions “tiles […] of the last three centuries, mostly made in Damascus”.89 However, the catalog’s general tone remains one of a “triumphant” Arab-Islamic civilization that not only “lopped of” swathes of Byzantine territory and “annihilated” the Sassanid Empire, but also thrived independently of any Turkic or Ottoman connection, besides that of the Seljuks.90 This is seen in Baramki’s rather heavy-handed descriptions that border on being chauvinist (as noted in my emphases below):

  • 91 Baramki 1959, p. 15; Baramki 1967, pp. 90‑91.

The Arabs, not possessing a culture of their own, and at the outset looking with disdain on both the Byzantine and Sassanian cultures as effeminate, eventually created a new virile culture combining the virtues of both. […] The glazed technique of the Arabs was later copied and developed first by the Persians and later by the Seljuks, but the art has never died, and glazed tile factories still flourish in Damascus, Jerusalem and Baghdad.91

  • 92 Milwright 2010, p. 18.
  • 93 Milwright 2010, p. 18.

28While Baramki’s descriptions of the AUB Museum’s collection depart from western colonialist or missionary narratives, he adopts an overtly Arab nationalist reading of history that edits out any connection to an Ottoman past. His approach reflects those of regional archeological projects that saw a major increase after WWII with a special interest paid to nationalist narratives, which impacted the way information was recorded and framed in published reports. Of particular relevance was the exclusion of materials and data from different periods in the interest of charting “specific phases of national history”.92 In the case of Lebanon and Syria, both formerly of the Ottoman Syria provinces, the region’s history under Ottoman rule, which started around the 1500s, received the least amount of attention from archaeologists at the time.93

Fig. 8. Plan of the Archaeological Galleries, AUB Museum, 1967.

Fig. 8. Plan of the Archaeological Galleries, AUB Museum, 1967.

The red square shows the location of Cases 48, 49, and 50, in which objects categorized as “Islamic” were installed at this time. The Dome of the Rock tiles, although not clearly described as such in this catalog, might have been included on the floor of Case 50. The blue square is the approximate location of the “Islamic Section” as of 2014 (where the tiles are now located).

Original image from Baramki 1967, map insert. Reprinted by permission of the American University of Beirut Press.

Islamic Artifacts from Floor to Centerpiece

  • 94 The museum remained open during the Civil War (1975‑1990).
  • 95 Adra 2015, p. 50.

29The AUB Museum’s approaches to its collections, from its inception in 1868 to the 1970s (before the Lebanese Civil War),94 shifted from being firmly grounded in a missionary civilizational narrative focused on biblical and Classical Greco-Roman antiquity, to one informed by Lebanese and Arab nationalist ideals with the rise of the nation-state. However, in all these periods, the Museum’s narrative either underplayed or completely sidelined examples of their Islamic artifacts that were deemed too “recent” or connected to an Ottoman heritage. This included the Museum’s five tile fragments from the Dome of the Rock’s façade. As explained in previous sections, Museum curators in the past either completely overlooked these examples (by lumping them together with other tile fragments) or dismissed them as inconsequential due to their location in “recent” history, whereby these artifacts simply evidenced a “decline” in late Ottoman/Syrian artistic production. By 2015, these previously shelved Ottoman tiles, once relegated to the shadows on the floor, were transformed to centerpieces of “esteemed heritage”95 in their connection to Islamic history, lending credence to the “Islamic” in the AUB Museum’s re-installation.

  • 96 Scheid 2012, p. 93. See also Troelenberg 2012b, pp. 183‑188.

30The Dome of the Rock tiles’ movement from the floor to the wall can be read as the Museum’s desire to locate a “masterpiece” to anchor and distinguish its Islamic section. As anthropologist Kirsten Scheid explains, Islamic art objects in today’s museums continue to be caught between the realm of utilitarian artifacts and art works, whereby curators still strive to “prove” such objects’ “masterpiece status”.96 These Dome of the Rock tiles thus played an important role as the AUB Museum’s new central “masterpieces” for its updated institutional narrative. This is not only seen in the Museum’s display, but is also evident in its publicity material such as its brochure that features two examples of Islamic artifacts: a 17th-18th century glazed bowl and an example of the Dome of the Rock tiles (fig. 9).

Fig. 9. AUB Museum promotional brochure (verso) showing two examples of Islamic artifacts, one of which is a Dome of the Rock tile revetment (upper right).

Fig. 9. AUB Museum promotional brochure (verso) showing two examples of Islamic artifacts, one of which is a Dome of the Rock tile revetment (upper right).

From the author’s personal collection.

  • 97 The photograph printed on the screen is credited: “1992 Said Nuseibeh Photography. www.studioaid.co (...)
  • 98 Grabar 2006.
  • 99 A PDF of this diagram is available on the AUB Museum’s website: https://www.aub.edu.lb/museum_arche (...)
  • 100 The AUB Museum’s display text explains that these tiles were “bored horizontally [with] holes [on t (...)
  • 101 Carswell 2000, pp. 426‑427.

31Indeed, these tile revetments serve as the core around which other lesser-valued metal and ceramic fragments and artifacts in the newly designated Islamic section revolve. The section’s display highlights the tile revetments’ connection to the Dome of the Rock through a photograph of the structure’s south porch printed as a window screen.97 As seen in fig. 2, the window screen (center) is flanked by two groups of glazed tiles. To the right is a group of ceramics ranging across periods and regions, from İznik examples to ones produced for mosques in Damascus, below which sits a copy of art historian Oleg Grabar’s tome on the Dome of the Rock.98 To the left are the five tile revetments from the Dome of the Rock. Below them, seen in the lower left‑hand side of fig. 2, is a display panel detailing the Museum’s narrative regarding the origins of these tiles, as described earlier in this article. The display panel features a visual guide with arrows showing where each of the five hanging tile revetments would have been originally located on the Dome of the Rock’s façade.99 The panel also includes a text outlining the various stages of renovations of the Dome of the Rock’s exterior during the Ottoman period, from the 16th to 19th centuries, and explains how the tiles at the AUB Museum may have been ones produced by artisans during one of the structure’s renovations in the 18th century, when new tiles were designed to replace 16th century ones that had fallen off. The text claims that these 18th century Ottoman tiles were “ingenious” due to their use of a system were the tiles attach to the façade by hooked pins.100 The text goes on to explain that the 18th century revetments, presumably the same ones as those displayed at the AUB Museum, were nevertheless, faulty; they fell off and were eventually replaced by “Syrian copies” in the 19th century. Whether the Museum’s text is describing the tiles on display or others is not clear. Also confusing is the fact that the panel’s description of the tiles is lifted (verbatim) from an earlier article by John Carswell where he describes tiles seen on a visit to the Dome of the Rock, and not the AUB Museum.101 Still, the Museum’s display underscores the significance of these once hidden tile revetments and their prized connection to one of the most emblematic examples of Islamic architecture with a history almost as long as Islam itself.

  • 102 The renovations, for example, were funded exclusively by members of the Society of the Friends of t (...)
  • 103 This was part of Islamic historian and then‑AUB Provost Ahmad Dallal’s roadmap for global planning, (...)
  • 104 Milwright 2010, p. 18.

32The inauguration of an Islamic section that is physically, visually, and conceptually delineated from artifacts in other parts of the museum, in many ways, continued the encyclopedic civilizational narrative from the AUB Museum’s earlier periods. The Museum’s present layout was developed in the years following the end of the Lebanese Civil War, when the galleries underwent their second major renovation, which took part in two phases. The first was during 1999‑2006, when the institution began its fundraising amongst local and global networks of alumni looking to help reinvigorate Lebanon’s post‑war economy.102 However, these plans did not initially extend to developing an “Islamic Section”. The designation of an “Islamic” collection officially began during the second phase of the Museum’s renovations, during 2011‑2014.103 The redesigned and reinstalled galleries (see map in fig. 1), while maintaining a predominantly chronological arrangement, could in fact be read as two main parts: the first dedicated to pre‑ and early civilizational history (seen in the rectangular shape; Cesnola to Iron Age) and the Classical to later period (the square part of the plan). This second section is thematic more than it is chronological, making up sections devoted to Phoenician culture, Greco-Roman and Byzantine artifacts, writing traditions, Palmyra (which includes the previously mentioned funerary busts that remain prominently displayed), and, finally, Islamic artifacts. The civilizational sequence seen here is not a far cry from the ones used in the AUB Museum’s earlier installations. Concurrently, the emphasis on Phoenician objects, seen in the galleries as well as images in the Museum’s brochure (fig. 10), reproduces the now-solidified Lebanese national origin myth. However, the AUB Museum installation’s important break with its earlier narratives is two‑fold: the inclusion of Islamic culture in connection to a local heritage (through an emphasis on the Dome of the Rock as well as other regional productions) and the reinsertion of a previously excised Ottoman past as part of this heritage. Additionally, the resurrection of Ottoman history at the AUB Museum, via these tiles and other Islamic objects on display, certainly parallels the recent, and growing, academic interest in “Ottoman archaeology”.104

Fig. 10. AUB Museum promotional brochure (recto with cover panel) showing a Phoenician figurine (“Reshef”: weather god), a Phoenician goddess statue (“Dea Gravida type”), and a Palmyrene funerary bust.

Fig. 10. AUB Museum promotional brochure (recto with cover panel) showing a Phoenician figurine (“Reshef”: weather god), a Phoenician goddess statue (“Dea Gravida type”), and a Palmyrene funerary bust.

From the author’s personal collection.

  • 105 Roxburgh 2010, p. 359.

33Connecting the Museum’s tiles to the Dome of the Rock also lends the Museum’s otherwise modest collection both contemporary relevance and credibility. The expanding regional and international market for “global art” has resulted in the rampant sale and acquisition of art categorized as “Arab”, “Middle Eastern”, or “Islamic”, and the opening or re‑installment of global collections of these kind of works. Coupled with the didactic role brought to bear on artifacts and art from the “Islamic world” in the US and Europe since 2001,105 Islamic art collections are not only de rigueur but also imperative to any museum collection’s narrative of inclusivity. With the rise of global museums in the Middle East, like the Louvre in Abu Dhabi and Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, I suggest that the AUB Museum’s Islamic section, with an emphasis on the tale of its tiles, shows the Museum’s interest in engaging regional trends in museum practices. At the same time, given recent global political developments and Lebanon’s position vis‑a‑vis the state of Israel, one can also say that underscoring the importance of this structure is an active attempt at staking a claim on a (disappearing and threatened) Palestinian heritage.

  • 106 Brusius, Singh 2018, p. 2.
  • 107 Duncan, Wallach 1980, p. 450.

34This exploration of the AUB Museum’s shifting perceptions regarding its collection and past has demonstrated that privileging specific narratives in the space of the museum does not necessarily lead to the erasure of its alternates. Indeed, recent scholarship on museums has underscored the fact that their methods are a far cry from being “structured, purposeful, strategic process(es) of gathering of things according to a system, the features of which are clearly defined”.106 Museums, even while promoting a “totality of art” that “organizes the visitor’s experience as a script organizes a performance,”107 are not indelible nor able to efface glitches, inconsistencies, and discordant narratives. Rather, much can be revealed about the underlying socio-political and cultural implications of a museum’s constructed, visible narratives, by what objects, and historical narratives, it chooses to both relegate to and resurrect from the shadows of storage or dusty floors beneath cabinets.

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Eva-Maria Troelenberg, “Regarding the Exhibition: The Munich Exhibition Masterpieces of Muhammadan Art (1910) and Its Scholarly Position”, Journal of Art Historiography 6, June 2012, [pp. 1‑34].

Troelenberg 2012b
Eva-Maria Troelenberg, “Islamic Art and the Invention of the ‘Masterpiece’: Approaches in Early Twentieth-Century Scholarship”, in Benoît Junod, Georges Khalil, Stefan Weber, Gerhard Wolf (eds.), Islamic Art and the Museum: Approaches to Art and Archaeology of the Muslim World in the Twenty-First Century, London, Saqi Books, 2012, pp. 183‑188.

Watenpaugh 2004
Heghnar Watenpaugh, “Museums and the Construction of National History in Syria and Lebanon”, in Nadine Meouchy, Peter Sluglett (eds.), British and French Mandates in Comparative Perspective, Leiden, Brill, 2004, pp. 185‑202.

Woolley 1921
C. Leonard Woolley, Guide to the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut, Beirut, American University of Beirut, 1921.

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Notes

1 Duncan 1995, pp. 7‑8, 12. See also Preziosi, Lamoureux 2006, p. 104; Duncan, Wallach 1980, p. 449.

2 Preziosi 2002, p. 42.

3 Brusius, Singh 2018, p. 2.

4 Hereafter referred to as the AUB Museum or the Museum.

5 The inauguration took place under the patronage of Raymond Araiji, Lebanon’s former Minister of Culture, who was accompanied by other government officials, local dignitaries, and AUB’s then-president, Peter Dorman.

6 Carswell 2000, pp. 426‑427. See also St. Laurent, Riedlmayer 1993, p. 78.

7 Carswell 2015, pp. 11‑14.

8 Adra 2015, pp. 50‑53. This explanation is also included in the Museum’s display text. Restorations of this structure took place over the course of several centuries, from 1537 to 1966. The most substantial retiling of the façade, during the late Ottoman period, occurred in 1721‑1722, 1873‑1875, and 1897‑1898 (St. Laurent, Riedlmayer 1993, pp. 76‑84).

9 Adra 2015, p. 51.

10 Mackay 1951, p. viii.

11 Adra 2015, p. 53.

12 Preziosi 2002, p. 37. See also, Preziosi, Lamoureux 2006, pp. 108‑109.

13 Preziosi 2002, pp. 31‑37.

14 Brusius, Singh 2018.

15 Adra 2015, p. 50.

16 This narrative was repeated in the few media coverages of the inauguration.

17 While a few sources on the history of the AUB Museum’s archaeological collection exist, they are often limited to shorter articles written about the general institutional history (largely based on narratives of the collection found in the Museums’ few catalogs that were published in 1921, 1951, 1959, and 1967, which I discuss in this article).

18 Milwright 2010, pp. 11‑20. See also Kuklick 1996.

19 Duncan 1995, pp. 7‑8.

20 American University of Beirut 1920‑1921, p. 189.

21 Hereafter referred to as the SPC or College.

22 Although the College was an offshoot of the Syria Mission and was able to operate in Beirut largely due to this connection, the College’s Board of Trustees maintained a separation between the two entities.

23 “Meeting in New York, Jan 21st, 1868”, in Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Syrian Protestant College, AUB Library and Archives (hereafter BOT Minutes), Book 1, p. 79 [44].

24 “[Report from] Beirut, June 1869”, in Annual Reports of the Board of Managers of the Syrian Protestant College (1867‑1902), AUB Library and Archives (hereafter SPC Annual Reports), p. 7 [17].

25 Mackay 1951, p. vii.

26 “[Report from], Beirut, June 1869”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 7 [17].

27 “[Report from], Beirut, June 24th, 1870”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 13 [23].

28 Istanbul’s Imperial Museum did not open until 1880 (Shaw 2003, p. 93), while Jerusalem’s Imperial Museum officially opened in 1900 (St. Laurent, Taşkömür 2003). Museums in Cairo also started off as small collections or, in the case of the Museum of Arab Art, as depositories for local reconstruction programs (Bierman 2005, pp. 17‑21; Reid 2002).

29 Shaw 2007, p. 258.

30 Milwright 2010, p. 13.

31 Milwright 2010, p. 13.

32 Shaw 2018, p. 157.

33 While European excavations took place in a haphazard fashion in Ottoman domains from the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries, by 1869 the state issued its first bylaw “regulating the excavation and collection of antiquities”. Ottoman archaeology laws issued in 1874 and 1884 clearly prohibited the transport of any artifacts from the approved excavation site(s) (Bahrani, Çelik, Eldem 2011, p. 13. See also Kuklick 1996, pp. 35‑37).

34 Shaw 2018, p. 159.

35 “[Report from] 1882”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 63 [73]. The area referred to as the “museum” only contained the geological and mineral cabinets —not those of antiquities (“[Report from] 1884”, SPC Annual Reports, pp. 85‑86 [95‑96]).

36 Milwright 2010, p. 11.

37 The framing of works as “Islamic” or “Mohammedan” became prevalent in the 20th century, with the establishment of academic departments, key exhibitions in Munich and Paris (in 1910), and collections in European museums, like the Louvre, dealing with Islamic art. This development was also the result of a shift from racial categories to religious ones, whereby “Islamic” was perceived as a unifying construct across cultures and geographies leading to the sidelining of previous descriptors like Arab and Persian in twentieth-century museums and scholarship (Troelenberg 2012a, pp. 11‑12).

38 Although published discussions or categorizations of Islamic artifacts do not appear before the 1900s, some scholars did write about built environments like Spain’s Madinat al‑Zahra’ and the Qal‘a of Bani Hammad in Algeria, among other sites (Milwright 2010, pp. 11‑15).

39 Milwright 2010, p. 14.

40 Milwright 2010, p. 12.

41 Shaw 2018, p. 155; see also, Brusius, Singh 2018, p. 19.

42 “[Report from] 1889”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 114 [124]. Although the AUB Museum’s present narrative states that George E. Post was the Museum’s first curator, records indicate that he was only overseeing the collection of cabinets as a service to the College (his primary duties, as a surgeon, were towards the SPC medical program, which he chaired). Thus, the Museum’s first official “curator” was Dr. Harvey Porter (1844‑1923), a history professor at the College.

43 Plans for the school were first discussed in 1886 as one similar to Athens’ American School of Classical Studies (“Special Meeting, Oct. 20th, 1886”, BOT Minutes, Book 2, p. 130 [134]).

44 “Annual Meeting, New York, Jan. 24th, 1888”, BOT Minutes, Book 2, p. 155 [158]. According to records, the school was officially established in 1887 (“Thirty-fifth Annual Report […] Beirut, July 10th, 1901”, SPC Annual Reports, p. 200 [210]).

45 Robinson, Smith 1841.

46 Eli Smith’s missionary work with the ABCFM began in Malta in the 1820s before he was assigned to the Beirut station in 1833.

47 Kuklick 1996, pp. 5‑6, 120‑121. See also Greenhalgh 2016, pp. 45‑82.

48 In today’s AUB Museum, the “Palmyrene Alcove” (the size of the Islamic section) is dedicated to these busts, which date from the 3rd to the 1st century BCE.

49 Shaw 2018.

50 Preziosi, Lamoureux 2006, pp. 98‑99.

51 American University of Beirut 1920‑1921, pp. 3‑4.

52 He was an archaeologist who worked for the Palestine Exploration Fund in Egypt, the curator of the British Museum, and a British spy during WWI for which he was subsequently imprisoned by the Ottomans. He worked alongside the infamous Lawrence of Arabia (Mansour 2016, pp. 55‑64).

53 Mackay 1951, p. viii.

54 Woolley 1921, p. [i].

55 The Annual Report claims that the majority of Jewish and Muslim students chose to attend these Christian services (American University of Beirut 1920‑1921, pp. 18‑19).

56 Woolley 1921, p. [i].

57 Woolley 1921, p. [ii]. The main divisions are: The Stone Age, The Copper and Bronze Ages, The Iron Age, and The Classical Period, followed by smaller sections “best treated by their classes rather than their positions”: Sarcophagi, Inscriptions, and Sculpture (Woolley 1921, p. 23).

58 Woolley 1921, pp. 16‑17.

59 Woolley 1921, p. [iii].

60 Shaw 2018, p. 157.

61 Milwright 2010, p. 13.

62 Woolley 1921, pp. 23‑25.

63 Mackay, an important archaeologist and scholar in her own right, has been overlooked in scholarship in favor of her more well‑known spouse, Ernest Mackay (1880‑1943).

64 Thornton 2018.

65 During WWII, when the Museum’s galleries served as storage space, the collection was packed away by Mary Bliss‑Dodge, wife of then‑AUB president Bayard Dodge (from 1923‑1948) and granddaughter of the University’s first president, Daniel Bliss (Mackay 1951, p. x).

66 The National Museum was one of the earliest in Lebanon in which “nationalist grand narratives” were constructed and promoted, and, with the rise of the nation-state paradigm in the post‑WW1 period, served as “one of the trappings of the modern nation” (Watenpaugh 2004, pp. 187‑188). This state museum remains the main depository for artifacts excavated in Lebanon (Seeden 1990, p. 144).

67 Mackay 1951, p. v.

68 Mackay 1951, pp. 83‑87.

69 Mackay 1951, p. 84.

70 This was what the Dome of the Rock was called in the 20th century before scholarship corrected this misinformation.

71 Mackay 1951, p. 86.

72 Mackay 1951, pp. 83‑87.

73 Mackay 1951, p. 87.

74 Graves 2012, [p. 1‑2]. See also Milwright 2010, pp. 19, 174.

75 Milwright 2010, p. 19.

76 Milwright 2010, p. 13.

77 Milwright 2010, p. 19.

78 Watenpaugh 2004, pp. 185‑190. The French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon officially lasted from 1923‑1943.

79 The Levantine “Phoenician identity” was espoused by French scholar Ernest Renan (1823-1892) in his Mission de Phénicie (1865-1874) based on an 1860 expedition in Mount Lebanon and Ottoman Syria (Laurens 2011, pp. 213‑232). These views were later propagated during the Mandate period by French General Henri Gouraud (1867‑1946) and Lebanese Christian scholars, like Charles Corm (1894‑1963) (Kaufman 2004, pp. 1‑3).

80 Abou‑El‑Haj 1982, pp. 185‑201. See also Watenpaugh 2004, pp. 191‑192.

81 Archaeology in Lebanon, until the 1950s, remained a foreign affair imbued in religious and/or imperialist discourses. By the 1960s, archaeology was still only taught at three Lebanese institutions —AUB, USJ, and the Lebanese University— all of which relied on either French, British, and/or American sources (Seeden 1990, pp. 142‑143).

82 Seeden 2009, pp. 274‑275.

83 Such as those espoused in George Antonius’ History of the Arabs (1937).

84 First published as a two‑part article in AUB’s magazine Al‑Kulliyya (1958).

85 Baramki 1959, p. 15.

86 Baramki 1959, p. 15. Here, the reference to “Arabs” is specifically to members of early Islamic groups.

87 This category in the 1967 catalog includes: “examples of early Arab, Iranian, Seljuk and Mameluke [sic] glazed pottery and tiles” (Baramki 1967, p. 92).

88 Like the 1951 catalog, the catalog from 1967 does not clearly describe these tiles (Baramki 1967, pp. 96‑97).

89 Baramki 1967, p. 97.

90 Baramki 1959, p. 15; Baramki 1967, p. 90.

91 Baramki 1959, p. 15; Baramki 1967, pp. 90‑91.

92 Milwright 2010, p. 18.

93 Milwright 2010, p. 18.

94 The museum remained open during the Civil War (1975‑1990).

95 Adra 2015, p. 50.

96 Scheid 2012, p. 93. See also Troelenberg 2012b, pp. 183‑188.

97 The photograph printed on the screen is credited: “1992 Said Nuseibeh Photography. www.studioaid.com”. It first appeared in a book on the structure by Nuseibeh and Grabar (Nuseibeh, Grabar 1996, pp. 154‑155).

98 Grabar 2006.

99 A PDF of this diagram is available on the AUB Museum’s website: https://www.aub.edu.lb/museum_archeo/PublishingImages/Collections/DOR%20final.jpg, accessed on April 27th 2021.

100 The AUB Museum’s display text explains that these tiles were “bored horizontally [with] holes [on their] 4 sides for the insertion of copper pins”.

101 Carswell 2000, pp. 426‑427.

102 The renovations, for example, were funded exclusively by members of the Society of the Friends of the AUB Museum whose membership is comprised of donors and interested patrons in Beirut’s larger community. The second major source of funding, mentioned on a commemorative plaque in the AUB Museum’s entrance, was a two‑million-dollar donation made between 2004‑2006 by the Joukowsky Family Foundation, a private non‑profit organization based in New York City with connections to AUB.

103 This was part of Islamic historian and then‑AUB Provost Ahmad Dallal’s roadmap for global planning, which included launching a new graduate program in Islamic Studies (Office of the Provost 2011, p. 5).

104 Milwright 2010, p. 18.

105 Roxburgh 2010, p. 359.

106 Brusius, Singh 2018, p. 2.

107 Duncan, Wallach 1980, p. 450.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Map of the current AUB Museum, showing the “Islamic Section” outlined in dark green (upper righthand corner).
Crédits Detail from AUB Museum’s promotional brochure. From the author’s personal collection.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 510k
Titre Fig. 2. Display in the AUB Museum’s “Islamic Section” showing the five tile revetments (left of center) alongside other images and materials related to the Dome of the Rock.
Crédits Photograph by the author.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 576k
Titre Fig. 3. Close‑up view of the five polychromatic glazed tile revetments from the Dome of the Rock. They are mounted on the wall in the Museum’s “Islamic Section”.
Crédits Photograph by the author.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 568k
Titre Fig. 4. Example of the “Botany Cabinets” in a room at the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut, ca. 1880s.
Crédits Photograph by Franklin T. Moore. The Moore Collection. Courtesy of the AUB Library/Archives.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 569k
Titre Fig. 5. Harvey Porter (?) posing with objects from the “Cabinets of Antiquities” displayed in the Syrian Protestant College’s Archaeology Museum. September 1892.
Crédits Photograph by Franklin T. Moore. The Moore Collection. Courtesy of the AUB Library/Archives.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 539k
Titre Fig. 6. “Cabinets of Antiquities” displayed in the Syrian Protestant College’s Archaeology Museum. Spring 1894.
Crédits Photograph by Franklin T. Moore. The Moore Collection. Courtesy of the AUB Library/Archives.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 616k
Titre Fig. 7. Plan of the Archaeological Galleries, AUB Museum, 1951.
Légende The green rectangle shows the location of Cases 22 and 23, where the glazed tiles might have been displayed on the floor beneath one of the cabinets. The blue square is the approximate location of the “Islamic Section” as of 2014 (where the Dome of the Rock tiles are now located).
Crédits Original image from Mackay 1951, p. vi. Reprinted by permission of the American University of Beirut Press.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 559k
Titre Fig. 8. Plan of the Archaeological Galleries, AUB Museum, 1967.
Légende The red square shows the location of Cases 48, 49, and 50, in which objects categorized as “Islamic” were installed at this time. The Dome of the Rock tiles, although not clearly described as such in this catalog, might have been included on the floor of Case 50. The blue square is the approximate location of the “Islamic Section” as of 2014 (where the tiles are now located).
Crédits Original image from Baramki 1967, map insert. Reprinted by permission of the American University of Beirut Press.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 563k
Titre Fig. 9. AUB Museum promotional brochure (verso) showing two examples of Islamic artifacts, one of which is a Dome of the Rock tile revetment (upper right).
Crédits From the author’s personal collection.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 535k
Titre Fig. 10. AUB Museum promotional brochure (recto with cover panel) showing a Phoenician figurine (“Reshef”: weather god), a Phoenician goddess statue (“Dea Gravida type”), and a Palmyrene funerary bust.
Crédits From the author’s personal collection.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/docannexe/image/604/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 558k
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Référence électronique

Hala Auji, « Tales of Tiles: Shifting Narratives of a Museum’s Islamic Artifacts »Bulletin de correspondance hellénique moderne et contemporain [En ligne], 3 | 2020, mis en ligne le 18 décembre 2020, consulté le 18 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/bchmc/604 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/bchmc.604

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Auteur

Hala Auji

American University of Beirut, Department of Fine Arts and Art History

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Bulletin de correspondance hellénique moderne et contemporain

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