This essay explores the emergence of a middle class in a small town in the Palestinian highlands at the turn of the twentieth century, a class that was of a different order and character than that developing in the cities. The article traces the emergence of an embryonic middle class in the town of Ramallah at the turn of the twentieth century in several factors that came together at particular moments, one reinforcing the other. A confluence of forces, namely engagement with missionary institutions through education; involvement in the pilgrim trade; and emigration to the United States produced a social world that was largely parochial. Paradoxically but not surprisingly, the diasporic experience, instead of leaving cosmopolitan effects, nurtured a certain parochialism. The research for this essay is based in large part on family and individual life histories pieced together from diverse sources including interviews and local histories and genealogies, both published and unpublished; papers in the Ramallah Municipality archive; diaries and memoirs (published and unpublished) by Palestinians, British colonial administrators, and European and American travelers and missionaries passing through Ramallah at different periods; photographs of people and places; architectural records; and newspaper advertisements and articles, among other sources. By focusing on a peripheral and marginal town at a critical historical juncture, the essay hopes to contribute to the writing of a fuller and more inclusive social history of urban transformations in Palestine. The essay is part of a larger project by the author on the social history of Ramallah.
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