Lebanese Immigration in North Carolina

Zaytoun Family, Wilmington, 1914

Zaytoun Family, Wilmington, 1914

At the beginning of the 20th century, more than 95% of North Carolina residents had been born in the southeastern United States.  The waves of emigration from southern and eastern Europe in the latter decades of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century that affected other regions of the US were not felt in the small towns and cities of North Carolina.  However, a small but disproportionally significant migration of families from what is now Lebanon (but was then part of the Ottoman Empire) to cities in North Carolina occurred between 1885 and 1915, establishing vibrant and influential immigrant communities across the state.

Khayrallah home pageFor more than two years, the Digital Innovation Lab has been working with the Moise Khayrallah Center for Lebanese-American Studies at North Carolina State University to map the settlement of Lebanese families across North Carolina to document and better understand this important aspect of the state’s history.

This semester’s offering of AMST 53 coincides with the launch of a major exhibit on Lebanese immigration in North Carolina at the NC Museum of History, the development of a pilot project on the incorporation of family history into K-12 curricula (funded by a grant to Learn NC by Ancestry.com), and the availability of millions of newspaper pages and billions of historical documents to UNC students through a partnership with Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com.

family time lineWe are taking advantage of this unique confluence by throwing students in this class into the deep end of the digital history pool.  Over the first two weeks of the semester, students will work in teams to research the history of four Lebanese immigrant households in New Bern and Wilmington, NC, which they will shape into historical narratives.  Their work will be shared with ten K-12 educators participating in a three-day workshop in late January.  The household “spotlight” narratives will be further edited and developed for incorporation into the digital mapping feature of the museum exhibit, which opens on February 21, 2014.

Update: Students did, indeed, present their preliminary research findings on the history of four Lebanese families in NC, and reflections on the experience of conducting primary research on family history to ten K-12 educators on January 22.   Revised and updated versions of the household narratives will be added to the class website and made available to the K-12 educators as they develop their own pilot projects on the use of family history and genealogical sources in their own teaching.  

IMG_0246-300x300The exhibit opened at the NC Museum of History on February 21, featuring the digital mapping project mounted on a 27″ tablet.  Project team members from the Digital Innovation Lab and Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) attended the gala opening, and helped exhibit visitors navigate through the digitized historical maps.   



class visit to nc museum of historyThanks to generous support from the First Year Seminar Office, including a grant from the Cobey First Year Seminar Course Development Fund, and an “Another Way of Learning” grant from UNC Student Government, the class was able to visit the exhibit on April 2, experience their work as a part of it, talk with NCSU Professor Akram Khater, and enjoy a Lebanese meal. 

listening to Akram






Here are the four household narratives our students contributed to the project (under the editorial guidance of Stephanie Barnwell):

The Salems of New Bern

The Reyes of Goldsboro and Wilmington

The Yeagers of Wilmington

The Zaytouns of New Bern

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