The sheikh of Princeton : Philip Hitti and the tides of history
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When Princeton University launched an Oriental Department in 1927, the school broke convention in two ways. Firstly, it sought to focus on Arabic and Islamic Studies, making the department the first center in the world devoted to these subjects. Secondly, the scholar chosen as the intellectual architect of the department was Philip Hitti (1886-1978), a native of the “Orient.” Less than a dozen Orient-born faculty had secured professorships in Western universities. None enjoyed institutional support as would Hitti. Born in Lebanon to Christian-Maronite parents, neither of whom enjoyed formal education, Hitti was the first native Arabic-speaker to earn a PhD in a university in the West (Columbia 1915). Before joining Princeton, Hitti headed New York's Cosmopolitan Club (1915-1920), the largest organization for foreign college and university students in the country. Princeton’s hiring of Hitti meant that a native Arabic-speaker would take the lead in developing Arabic and Islamic Studies in Western academia. Hitti subsequently became the most widely-circulating Orientalist of his time—as well as the most circulating Arabic writer until around 1960. Only Hitti’s compatriot and correspondent, Lebanon-born and immigrant-to-America Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883- 1931), supplanted Hitti in book-sales in the 1960s, thanks to Gibran's 1923 The Prophet. At Princeton, Hitti welcomed Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, US Senators, a Shah and an Emperor, as well as ministers of education from around the world. Capital and technology from the Americas regularly flowed through Hitti to the Middle East. Hitti headed the 1915-founded Near East Foundation, which raised hundreds of millions of dollars for relief efforts in the Levant beginning in WWI. Hitti also exported the Arabic linotype printing press from the US internationally (1929), energizing an already fermenting Arabic printing revolution. Yet what happened to the memory of Philip Hitti? This dissertation illuminates why Hitti has been forgotten-- and why he should be remembered.