The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) hosted its Second Annual Historical Studies Conference on February 20-22 in Beirut, Lebanon. Entitled “The First World War, 100 Years On: Perspectives from the Arab World,” this year’s conference saw the participation of some 50 Arab scholars, whose papers revisited and reflected upon the First World War and its impact on Arab destinies, especially in those regions that formed the battlegrounds of the war, and whose populations bore the brunt of the war as soldiers or casualties. Over the course of three days, the conference looked into the historiography of the Great War and the transformational times that were unleashed by it in the Arab region, where fates of populations were sealed; new geo-political maps were drawn; new treaties were formed and new political parties and social classes took shape.
The conference’s three sessions were devoted to the war’s strategies, arenas, and power contenders; the existing communities in Arab territories and how their status changed in light of the war; and the historiography of World War I, examined through context, memory and historical perspectives. Over 40 research papers were presented on the socio-economic background to the First World War and its impact on Arab populations. Attention was given to the coping mechanisms of those stricken by the calamities of war, and the famine and dismal living conditions that followed in some Arab countries; populations that were forced to bear its costs despite not having a direct stake in it, as citizens of countries whose economies, colonized by the West, fueled the war machine. Other papers focused on specific case studies such as the local response to the German Propaganda in Morocco, Tunisia’s public opinion as seen from the perspectives of its soldiers, as well as the impact of the Great War on the health situation in Morocco.
The political and intellectual changes brought about in the Arab world by the First World War were also taken up by some scholars attending the conference, examining topics such as border policies in the Arab Levant in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the impact of the war on British orientations in the Gulf region.