May 16, 2017

How Minorities Make History: The Work of ADF Fellow Reem Bailony

The Druze—an ethnoreligious group originating in Western Asia—are located throughout the Middle East today, including in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Jordan. Although the community influences the political landscape of the Middle East, its minority status has led to its role in world affairs to go understudied.

How Minorities Make History: The Work of ADF Fellow Reem Bailony

At Georgetown, Reem Bailony is working to learn more about this community. Bailony is the 2016-2017 American Druze Foundation (ADF) postdoctoral fellow with the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). Through her fellowship, she conducts research and teaches a course for undergraduates. In both her research and teaching, Bailony explores a seldom studied migrant community, providing unique insights on its characteristics. In doing so, she hopes to dispel many common misconceptions about the Arab World and expand students’ understanding of its complex cultural, historical, and political phenomena.


In an effort to elucidate the political impacts of Syrian-Lebanese migrant communities in the post-World War I era, Bailony focused her dissertation and research on the Druze-led Syrian revolt, which sought to overturn the French mandatory government in the 1920s.

“By including the activities of Syrian migrants in Egypt, Europe, and the Americas, the study moves away from state-centric histories of the anti-French rebellion,” she explained.

Although often ignored, the Druze played a key role in many pivotal moments in history, including the Syrian revolt. According to Bailony, in order to truly garner a complete vision of key historical events we must look to the activities, political movements, and campaigns of migrant communities.

“Syrian and Lebanese migrants championed, contested, debated, and imagined the rebellion from all corners of the diaspora,” she remarked. “Skeptics and supporters organized petition campaigns, solicited financial aid for rebels and civilians alike, and partook in various conferences abroad. Moreover, key émigré figures negotiated with the French, and they were instrumental in defining the revolt and formulating its program.”


One essential role that studying migrant cultures plays is providing an in-depth look at Syrian communities and histories that has otherwise been made unfeasible by the present conflict in the region.

“With the current Syrian war entering its sixth year, scholarship that requires field research in Syria has become near impossible for most academics,” she emphasized. “As a historian who focuses on migrants, I hope to bring attention to the importance of thinking outside political boundaries to explore alternative methodological approaches that make use of a transnational analytical lens.”

Another benefit this type of research provides is fostering cross-cultural understanding by revealing the the true history of Syrian migration to the United States, which is often obfuscated by the current refugee crisis.

“Looking into the past provides us with much-needed perspective on the current controversy surrounding immigration,” Bailony elaborated “On the one hand, it shows us that immigrants have long formed the fabric of U.S. history. On the flip side, it also demonstrates that today’s anti-immigrant sentiment also has a long history that ought to be acknowledged and challenged.”


After earning a  Ph.D. in modern Middle East history at the University of California, Los Angeles, Bailony taught modern Middle East history at Smith College and Mount Holyoke College before coming to Georgetown. She was drawn to Washington, D.C. and to CCAS by the opportunity to partner her research with the ADF fellowship, describing the main impetus of her research to be teaching and understanding the Druzes’ role in political world history.

“Despite often being described as an isolated and mysterious minority...Druze migrants contributed to the civil and political life of their host societies,” Bailony noted. “I was also motivated by the fact that the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies is a dynamic work environment, with diverse faculty members of various interdisciplinary backgrounds,” Bailony expressed.

In addition to her role as an ADF Fellow, Bailony also serves as a board member of the Syrian Studies Association, a non-profit organization, which aims to promote research and scholarly understanding of Syria.


Currently, Bailony teaches a course entitled History of Minorities: The Arab World. In the class, she examines the contrasts between depictions of the Middle East as ethnically homogeneous and critiques of its history as conflict ridden. The course aims to expound for students the historical creation of minorities and dominant groups, as well as the role of identity politics in the formation of core ideologies.  

“I hope to encourage students to question the sectarian lens through which much of the modern Middle East is analyzed and understood, and instead think of minority communities in the Arab world as agents of social change,” Bailony explained. “I also hope to encourage students to think about the power dynamics involved in the construction of minority categories in the modern period.”