Group Project Interpretation: Mapping the Mahjar

Mapping the Mahjar, a project established by NC State’s Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, is an interesting take on intertwining personal stories, time, and movement across spaces through a fabric we call as a “map.” Through the waves of the Lebanese immigration in the U.S., we see that the newly arrived people populate the cities and towns and defined new spaces and presence for the Lebanese “diaspora.”

Now, one must be wondering: “where and how did these researchers source the data from over a century ago?” A certainly intriguing question to ask, since the data shown included names of owners, types of businesses, locations, the owners’ original villages. The researchers in Caroline Muglia’s article mentioned the usage of information ” mined from census records, naturalization documents, passport applications and city directories,” along with the business directories preserved till modern day.

Geolocating the Origins: Pinpoint through Data-mining

A story can be formed by connecting the dots. Every piece of information, no matter how small or big, serves as pinpoints that locate around each of the “3,000” business owners’ stories. The information we gained from the aforementioned documents allowed us to link a person’s origins to their settled businesses, utilizing the time-series data to give us a glimpse of how Lebanese immigrants are, in a sense, pioneers in America for their own people: moving from east to west but populating the region as they expanded.

This project is successful in visualizing the stories and the data of Lebanese immigration to their American Dream after Levant famine and war. It must be noted that they can further be considered successful since they have achieved their straightforward goal: mapping the lives of the Lebanese-American business owners. In fact, the Mahjar maps serve to create knowledge by connecting normally-disassociated information such as naturalization, origins, and businesses.

Nonetheless, there exist a few shortcomings: the need to know the nuances of their historical context and the lack of “procession” in the peoples’ movements. The historic context can be, at best, given to the readers upon a shallow basis: war and famine. One must dig deeper through history literature to find out the details of the factors that “pushed” them out of the Levantine region and “pulled” them into the United States. Another point of shortcoming lies in how the map only shows the start and the end, without regard to the process. Of course, we can only blame the lack of data points akin to the Google Map Timeline we have on our phones nowadays; there was no way to track the business owners’ movements 24/7 and 365 days a year, after all. In addition, not all of the business owners leave behind an entire life story for the researchers to follow from the start to the end, which limits the scope of the project.

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