In 1922, Julia Dimashqiya, founder and editor of the Beirut-based women’s magazine “The New Woman” (“Al- Mar’a Al-Jadida”), inaugurated her first issue by dedicating it to “the daughters of my country.” From our vantage point, this statement seems to be an innocent and even bland admission of belonging. But looking beneath the surface reveals a world of contending debates about who belongs to this national mother, who might not, and why. In 1922, neither Lebanon nor Syria were yet countries—having transitioned from being Ottoman provinces to European mandates, these territories were undefined by fixed national borders. As such, enfolded in this invocation are a number of overlapping claims: to a nation, to a nonsectarian familial bond, to a future that is being built by a gendered collective. “The New Woman” was far from the only periodical working to define a community in this pre-national social soup; between the 1910s and 1930s, women-oriented periodicals in Greater Syria exploded in popularity. Women who founded, edited, and contributed to these magazines were attempting to both construct the ideal “modern woman” and also understand how their overarching society—beginning to be envisioned as a nation—would function through the lens of a collectively-defined women’s role.

Nearly one hundred years later, down in the digital ossuary of Middle Eastern archives, I opened the magazine and felt a kinship to her. Like Julia Dimashqiya, I feel engaged in a deep tradition of scholarship, agitation, and creative belonging. Like her, I understand that any project building something new requires a collective, a plurality, in order to last. Where she worked to build a nation in the face of unbearable oppression by colonial overlords, I hope to be engaged in a sphere of humanities that radically reshapes what it means to empathize, learn from, and interact with the past beyond the boundaries of time and space. Living one hundred years apart, we are connected to different facets of the same project to educate and elevate the consciously-constructed collective. After all, many of the problems she and other women intellectuals faced then remain familiar to us now: bridging the gap of social difference, challenging inequalities, and bringing together the many.

The first time I opened “The New Woman” was my Humanities Moment. Far from being a discrete point in time, I see it as part of an ongoing process built by a series of inquiries and curiosities that led me to the magazine. I did not have a single epiphany that switched on my lightbulb—instead, a decade of accidental discoveries in the literary realm, patient mentors in the academy, and interpersonal encounters in the world in time apprehended me, forming the unconscious bedrock of my commitment to the humanities. Holding the magazine for the first time merely lit the spark of a fire that had long been building—I knew I had to work with Julia Dimashqiya and other intellectuals like her, in spite of the century that separated us, to tell the story of women building a new nation. To me, this is what the humanities offers us: within the academy and beyond, it gives us the tools to understand one another and critically engage to form bonds. We work to define, challenge, and redefine our collectives and the borders between us. In this way, we learn how to connect the past to the present in ways that encourage us to envision the possibilities of our futures.

– Kylie Broderick (PhD Student)