An Acre of America in Cairo: The American University in Cairo and the Production of Americanized Egypt from 1919-1948



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In 1919, after years of planning and earning financial support, the American University at Cairo (AUC) opened its doors to students from the Middle East in a building formally built as a palace turned cigarette factory turned university campus, straddling the line between “modern” and “medieval” Cairo. But the campus that people now know as the American University in Cairo at Tahrir Square – which moved in 2008 to New Cairo – has a long history of what it hoped to be: a campus at the outskirts of Cairo, right next to the Pyramids. By comparing the two campuses—the real and the imaginary—I argue that the AUC missionaries desired to create a hybrid campus of Egyptian and Muslim identity on the exterior but a recognizable “American” sense of space and culture within students. This internal American space became the place for teaching the “evangelical ethos” of discipline, morality, and order for students who would be “converted” within their hearts if not by name. Using missionary materials from the AUC Archives—letters, committee meeting minutes, class syllabi, pamphlets, building designs, and photographs—my project explores how prominent American Presbyterian missionaries constructed AUC as an ideal space and location for conversion of the Muslim world. By analyzing these documents, one can begin to understand the delicate balance that AUC affiliates maintained between their missionary goals and conceptions of American space, Orientalist opinions on Islam, and Egyptian identity.



Egypt, Cairo, American missionaries, Middle East, Egyptian Architecture, American University in Cairo