Date of Award

May 2024

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Andrew Kincaid

Committee Members

Mark Netzloff, Anna Mansson-McGinty, Sukanya Banerjee


Arab American, autobiographies, history, identity, immigration, orientalism


Most research in Arab American studies has only focused on post-9/11 fiction, especially novels written by women. This dissertation aims to contribute to this underexplored field by focusing on an understudied genre within a broader historical framework spanning from 1914 to 2007. My dissertation features four chapters, each devoted to a text published in a specific historical period and organized in chronological order. Through this sequential approach, I seek to provide a comprehensive examination of the evolution of Arab American self-representation over the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The first chapter examines the first autobiography written by an American of Arab descent, Abraham Rihbany’s A Far Journey, published in 1914. The second chapter analyzes an autobiography published in the mid-twentieth century by an American from Greater Syria, Salom Rizk’s Syrian Yankee, published in 1943. The third chapter studies a late-twentieth-century memoir written by an Egyptian American, Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage, published in 1999. Lastly, the fourth chapter examines a graphic novel written in the twenty-first century by a Lebanese American, Toufic El Rassi’s Arab in America, published in 2007. This dissertation aims to situate Arab American authors’ sense of selfhood in a temporal and spatial context. My consideration of four life writings from 1914 to 2007 reveals that depicting the self relies on the prevailing discourses surrounding the authors. Hence, although all four authors write themselves vis-à-vis orientalist rhetoric, each book demonstrates a different engagement that reflects both the author’s positionality and their American circles’ views of their places of origin. This transnational aspect of self-perception is complicated by the history of Arab American racialization in the U.S. and by the development of U.S. imperial interests in the Arab world. Overall, this analysis underscores these authors’ intricate engagement with orientalist rhetoric as reflected in their portrayal of selfhood. The extensive historical framework of this project enables me to examine the historical, social, and political context that shaped these authors’ perceptions of themselves, their homelands, and their adopted land. Through this analysis, I underscore the transnational aspects of the experiences of writing self in the U.S.

Available for download on Thursday, May 21, 2026