Thanassis Cambanis at The Boston Globe:
AMHERST COLLEGE GRADUATE Daniel Bliss founded the Syrian Protestant College in 1866, with high hopes to spread Christianity in the Levant. Instruction was in Arabic, and Bliss planned to quickly turn it over to local leadership. Within decades, however, Bliss had clashed with a faculty member who wanted to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution and shut down a student protest movement. English replaced Arabic, and “native instructors” were relegated to secondary status. Eventually, the institution gave up on its failed missionary aims and in 1920 adopted it modern name, the American University of Beirut.
It became a cornerstone of an era of ferment in Arab political life. Liberals, nationalists, revolutionaries, communists, and others were agitating throughout the Levant and the Arab region. In the half century that followed — through World War II and decolonization, the establishment of Israel and the displacement of Palestinians, and a long cycle of regional wars — it was an epicenter of political activism and research in and about the Arab world.
Until the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, AUB hosted some of the most influential and prolific figures of Arab political and intellectual life.