American Schools and the ‘Spatial Imagination’ of the Missionary Encounter

Authors: Ipek Tureli*, McGill University
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, United States
Keywords: campus, mobility, networks, knowledge institutions, architecture, Middle East, Ottoman Empire, protestant missionaries, American colleges
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Marshall South, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

When American Protestant missionaries arrived in the Ottoman Empire, they found out that they were neither allowed to proselytize nor able to with many different types of local Christian churches and earlier missions from Europe already in place. In this competitive environment, their religious teachings had limited transformative power or potential to convert adults. In response and as a solution, American missionaries started building a network of social infrastructure. The foci of this social infrastructure were schools. As an institution of learning, the school, especially the boarding school in an isolated campus setting, presented an opportunity for extensive contact with young people. Hence, the campus typology was exported to the region.

In order to augment the impact of schools, missionary-turned educators and their American benefactors relied on architecture. Through analysis of the photographic record produced by the missionaries for promotional purposes, the paper shows how the missionaries envisioned campuses as landmarks, and deliberately employed monumental proportions and out-of-place architectural idioms. It also complicates this reading by textual narrative sources about local conflicts generated by the architectural imposition, as well as of internal debates about the failure of the proselytization project. The initial designs of college buildings and campuses may have intended to affect the habits and inclinations of the students in particular, gender-specific and subject-forming ways, but this paper argues that this “spatial imagination” was ultimately not effective: The schools acted instead as spaces of cross-cultural learning and enabling for the American missionary-turned-teachers as much as for their local students.

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