Teachers as State-Builders: Education and the Making of the Modern Middle East

The little-known history of public school teachers across the Arab world—and how they wielded an unlikely influence over the modern Middle East


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Sep 20, 2022
26 b/w illus.
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Today, it is hard to imagine a time and place when public school teachers were considered among the elite strata of society. But in the lands controlled by the Ottomans, and then by the British in the early and mid-twentieth century, teachers were key players in government and leading formulators of ideologies. Drawing on archival research and oral histories, Teachers as State-Builders brings to light educators’ outsized role in shaping the politics of the modern Middle East.

Hilary Falb Kalisman tells the story of the few young Arab men—and fewer young Arab women—who were lucky enough to teach public school in the territories that became Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine/Israel. Crossing Ottoman provincial and, later, Mandate and national borders for work and study, these educators were advantageously positioned to assume mid- and even high-level administrative positions in multiple government bureaucracies. All told, over one-third of the prime ministers who served in Iraq from the 1950s through the 1960s, and in Jordan from the 1940s through the early 1970s, were former public school teachers—a trend that changed only when independence, occupation, and mass education degraded the status of teaching.

The first history of education across Britain’s Middle Eastern Mandates, this transnational study reframes our understanding of the profession of teaching, the connections between public education and nationalism, and the fluid politics of the interwar Middle East.

Awards and Recognition

  • Winner of the Outstanding Book Award, History of Education Society