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From Empire to Republic

The Role of American Missionaries in US-Ottoman Empire Relations and their Educational Legacy

Hacer Bahar

This book focuses on American missionary activities in the Ottoman Empire. After the construction of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission in 1810, American missionaries started to spread the Gospel around the world. The Ottoman Empire was perceived as a strategic place since it occupied Jerusalem. By the time they arrived, American missionaries found a weak central authority. Some of the Ottoman officials considered that Westernization of the public institutions in the Empire could strengthen central authority. In order to protect its integrity, the Ottoman Empire started to grant freedoms to the minorities. After gaining liberties, American Missionaries further strengthened their position in the Empire. This book analyzes the strong image of American missionary schools through Robert College which was established in 1863. Robert College which reflects American ideals, preserves its distinguished place to this day.

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5 Robert College


After the Crimean War in 1856, the Ottoman Empire realized that as its power declined, education was crucial as a vehicle that could transform its government. The Empire also saw the necessity for reform in education and approved of the educational standards offered by the Americans. George Washburn states that their missionary stations, schools and colleges not only improved their students but also showed the importance of education and also introduced them to the progress of Christian civilization. Following the issue of the Imperial Edicts, missionaries were able to increase their activities as the decrees provided more liberty for Ottoman subjects. The Young Turk Revolution also led to the Ottoman Empire adopting western ideals such as liberty, justice, equality and fraternity for all races and religions of the Empire. Robert College is considered as a significant American institution which symbolizes the impressive achievement of American educational enterprise. It became one of the leading places of learning in the region and a model for later missionary schools. Some people suggest that Robert College became perhaps the best institution after the “Bible House at Constantinople” that American missionaries ever established (Hamlin 1893). One of the reasons for the success of the College would seem to be its aim of promoting the physical, intellectual and moral aspects of its students. This is consistently evidenced via the College’s curriculum. From the start, students had to produce intensive coursework that led to significant progress. The College campus had a library and a museum,...

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