Orientalist Infotainment and the US Lecture Tour of Gregory M. Wortabet (1828–93)


  • Anthony Edwards Washington and Lee University




This article studies the US lecture tour of Gregory M. Wortabet (1828–93), a forgotten Syrian intellectual of the Arab Nahda (“Awakening” or “Renaissance”), to examine the production of knowledge about the Middle East in America in the mid-nineteenth century. A biographical sketch focusing on his Syrian Protestant identity and his association with the American Protestant missionaries in Beirut set the stage. Next, his 1852–54 lecture circuit in America as “the Syrian Traveller” illustrates that he designed his lecturing business to provide both information and entertainment. A review of his lectures draws attention to the stereotypes he proliferated, while an examination of his analysis on social and political changes in his homeland reveals that Americans learned of the Nahda as it unfolded. Lastly, a section on his critics shows how his misrepresentations of “the Orient” were not blindly accepted but rather open to scrutiny. Wortabet’s noncanonical voice in the historical archives demonstrates that America in the mid-nineteenth century was a site of Orientalism and that a man from what we now called the Middle East was among its contributors.

Author Biography

Anthony Edwards, Washington and Lee University

Anthony Edwards is Associate Professor of Arabic at Washington and Lee University. He is a historian of the nineteenth-century Arab world, specializing in literary production, intercultural exchanges, and intellectual practices in Beirut during the Arab Nahḍa (Renaissance). His research has appeared in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Die Welt des Islams, and Philological Encounters.


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