Fall/Winter 2022 CCAS Newsmagazine

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ccas.georgetown.edu Fall/Winter 2022 WHY WE STUDY HISTORY
Newsmagazine Center for Contemporary Arab Studies Georgetown University

It has been an exciting semester at CCAS. First, we were joined by a stellar cohort of 23 new students who began the MAAS program this fall. We also welcomed two new fellows this semester, American Druze Foundation Fellow Dr. Benan Grams and Qatar Post-Doctoral Fellow Dr. Mark Drury, both of whom will teach graduate seminars in the spring. Coco Tait joined CCAS as our events and program manager in late August and hit the ground running with a busy public events schedule. In other exciting news, CCAS and Georgetown were recently awarded a Department of Education Title VI grant for over $2 million to support our programming as a National Resource Center on the Middle East.

We have chosen to dedicate this issue of the magazine to the theme of history: the teaching and study of it, the value of it, and approaches to researching it. We felt that it was an important subject to highlight because studying history has, is, and will continue to be essential to students—and in fact, to everyone—seeking not only to understand the past, but also to reflect on its lessons. Through the study of history, we are better able to comprehend how the past shapes not only contemporary events but also the complex challenges we face today as communities, nations, and as a global society. History is not about remembering dates and names, but rather about identifying what about these events went right and what went wrong.

By studying the history of others, we can begin to understand their struggles and aspirations. As the historian Gerda Lerner put it, “All human beings are practicing historians. We live our lives; we tell our stories. It is as natural as breathing.” Read on to learn about the practicing historians of CCAS: faculty, students, alumni, and staff whose work—within academia and beyond—offers new ways of interpreting and understanding the past, and what we can learn from it.

CCAS Newsmagazine

The CCAS Newsmagazine is published twice a year by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, a component of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Core Faculty

Joseph Sassoon, Professor and Sheikh Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah Chair; Director, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies

Fida J. Adely, Associate Professor and Clovis and Hala Salaam Maksoud Chair in Arab Studies

Killian Clarke, Assistant Professor

Marwa Daoudy, Associate Professor and Seif Ghobash Chair in Arab Studies

Rochelle A. Davis, Associate Professor and Sultanate of Oman Chair; Director, Graduate Studies

Affiliated Faculty


Mohammad AlAhmad, Assistant Teaching Professor

Belkacem Baccouche, Assistant Teaching Professor

Noureddine Jebnoun, Adjunct Associate Professor


Osama W. Abi-Mershed, Associate Professor, Department of History

Mustafa Aksakal, Associate Professor, Department of History

Jonathan Brown, Professor, ACMCU and Department of Arabic & Islamic Studies

Elliott Colla, Associate Professor; Chair, Department of Arabic & Islamic Studies

Felicitas M. M. Opwis, Associate Professor, Arabic & Islamic Studies

Suzanne Stetkevych, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies


Ibrahim Oweiss, Professor Emeritus, SFS

Judith Tucker, Professor Emerita, CCAS and the Department of History


Dana Al Dairani

Senior Director of Programs

Susan Douglass

K-14 Education Outreach Director

Kelli Harris

Assistant Director of Academic Programs

Coco Tait

Events and Program Manager

Vicki Valosik Editorial Director

CCAS Newsmagazine

Editor-in-Chief Vicki Valosik Design Adriana Cordero

An online version of this newsletter is available at http://ccas.georgetown.edu

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The works of art featured on the cover and throughout this issue were all created by artists from the Arab world and generously provided by Barjeel Art Foundation. Barjeel Art Foundation is an independent, UAE-based initiative established to manage, preserve and exhibit an extensive collection of modern and contemporary art from North Africa and West Asia. The foundation’s guiding principle is to foster critical dialogue around modern and contemporary art practices, with a focus on artists with Arab heritage internationally. The foundation strives to create an open-ended inquiry that responds to and conveys the nuances inherent to Arab histories beyond the borders of culture and geography. We would like to extend a special thanks to the artists and to Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, the founder of Barjeel Art Foundation, for allowing us to share their work.

Cover Art

Jafar Islah, The Caravan, 1976, Silkscreen print on paper (4/5), 83 x 66 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

The History Issue

In this issue, we explore the topic of “history,” not only as an academic discipline but also as an ever-evolving branch of knowledge. Professors of History Mustafa Aksakal and Judith Tucker kick off the discussion, addressing why thoughtful examination of the past is critical to those studying the Arab world of today, while CCAS Education Outreach Director Susan Douglass takes us through recent developments in how history is taught. The revolutionary power of oral history is explored by instructor Joan Mandell, who highlights projects across the MENA that are challenging dominant historical narratives, and by MAAS student Laila Jadallah and alum Samar Saeed, who describe how the stories of earlier generations of women inform their connections to the past. A conversation with CCAS Director Joseph Sassoon about his new book sheds light on his historical research process and some highlights of his findings. ADF Fellow and MAAS alum Benan Grams discusses the historiography of disease and what epidemics can reveal about the past. To learn how other MAAS alums “do” history, be sure to check out the back page. As usual, you’ll find updates on our faculty and the many activities at CCAS. We hope you enjoy the issue.

In This Issue FEATURE ARTICLES Faculty Feature 6 Why We Teach History 8 New Approaches to Oral History in the Arab World Student Feature 10 Our Living Archives, Our Elders Visiting Scholar Feature 12 The Historical Significance of Epidemics in the Middle East SPECIAL STORIES New Faculty Research 15 Q &A with Joseph Sassoon 16 The Rise and Fall of a Global Empire Faculty Spotlight 21 Tribute to a Giant in Middle East History REGULAR FEATURES 4 Faculty News 5 Center News 18 Education Outreach The Evolving World of History Education 20 Public Events Documenting a Feminist Revolution 24 Alumni News How Our Alums Do History Connect with us ONLINE! For the latest news from CCAS, find us on social media as @ccasGU Visit youtube.com/@CCASgu to watch videos of our past public events.

A few highlights on the recent activities of CCAS faculty

Faculty Books & Book Chapters

The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire (Published by Pantheon, October 2022) - Prof. Joseph Sassoon

Power Plus: Tony Allan’s contributions to understanding transboundary water arrangements (Water International, October 17, 2022) - Prof. Marwa Daoudy

Egypt and COP27: Leading Abroad, Repressing at Home (Carnegie Middle East Center, November 4, 2022) - Prof. Marwa Daoudy

10 New Insights in Climate Science (Future Earth, The Earth League, World Climate Research Program, November 10, 2022) –Prof. Marwa Daoudy

Ten New Insights in Climate Science 2022 (Global Sustainability, November 2022)Co-authored by Prof. Marwa Daoudy

In the Media

De la Méditerranée au Golfe, le climat est au chaud fixe (November 9, 2022) Interview by L 'Orient Le Jour with Prof. Marwa Daoudy

9 New Books We Recommend This Week (November 10, 2022) Feature by The New York Times on Prof. Joseph Sassoon’s new book

Judy Asks: Is Climate Cooperation

Trumping Human Rights? (November 10, 2022) - Carnegie Strategic Europe Forum interview with Prof. Marwa Daoudy

Middle East Startups Rise To Challenges Of Climate Change (November 16, 2022)Interview by Al Monitor with Prof. Marwa Daoudy


“Climate and Conflict: Lessons from the Syria Case” chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Comparable Environmental Politics (Oxford Academic, June 2022) - Prof. Marwa Daoudy

“Between Two Uprisings: The Study of Protest in the Middle East, 2010–2020” chapter in The Political Science of the Middle East: Theory and Research Since the Arab Uprisings (Oxford University Press, July 2022)

Faculty Articles & Reports

Power on the Margins: Lumpenproletarian Resistance in China and Egypt (Comparative Politics, June 2022) - Prof. Killian Clarke


Saied’s Sovereign Dictatorship in Tunisia (DAWN, July 27, 2022) - Prof. Noureddine Jebnoun

Migration as a path to a more sustainable world (One Earth, August 2022) - Prof. Marwa Daoudy

Burnings, Beatings, and Bombings: Disaggregating Anti-Christian Violence in Egypt, 2013–2018 (Perspectives on Politics, October 2022) - Prof. Killian Clarke

Securitisation of Food And Climate in the Syrian Conflict (August 2022) - Interview by the podcast Syria; Alternative Dialogues with Prof. Marwa Daoudy

Rising Temperatures Turn Middle East Region Into Climate Hot Spot (September 14, 2022) - Interview by the Wall Street Journal with Prof. Marwa Daoudy

The Rise and Fall of a Dynasty (October 20, 2022) - Book review in The New York Times of Prof. Joseph Sassoon's new book

‘The Sassoons’ Review: Hazards of Fortune (October 21, 2022) - Book review in the Wall Street Journal of Prof. Joseph Sassoon’s new book

Prof. Rochelle Davis is the PI on a grant from IREX to work with Tikrit University in Iraq on developing their Research Support Center, working with the GU Director of the Office of Sponsored Research Jesse Szeto and MAAS alum Minatullah al-Obaidi.

Other Faculty News

Prof. Fida Adely was elected to the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Board of Directors in December 2022.

Prof. Marwa Daoudy joined the Malcom H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut as a non-resident scholar and joined the editorial board of the journal Environment and Security.

Prof. Judith Tucker, who retired in May after four decades at Georgetown, received the prestigious Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association and was honored at a panel dedicated to her academic legacy at the MESA 2022 Annual Conference (see page 21 for details).

Prof. Rochelle Davis was named the new Director of Graduate Studies, a position she began in July.

10 Books to Read (October 31, 2022)Feature by the Wall Street Journal on Prof. Joseph Sassoon’s new book

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Fa culty Ne ws ﺲﯾرﺪﺘﻟا ﺔﺌﯿھ رﺎﺒﺧأ Sta ff Upda te s ﻦﯿﻔظﻮﻤﻟا رﺎﺒﺧأﺮﺧآ B o a rd Me mb e r Pro ile يرﺎﺸﺘﺳﻷا D ispa tche s تﺎﯿﻗﺮﺑ Pub lic Eve nts ﺔﻣﺎﻌﻟا تﺎﺒﺳﺎﻨﻤﻟا Educa tio n Outre a ch يﻮﺑﺮﺘﻟا ﻒﯿﻘﺜﺘﻟا In the He a dline s ﻦﯾوﺎﻨﻌﻟا ﻲﻓ Ma b ro uk! كوﺮﺒﻣ

Welcome to new members of the CCAS community!

The MAAS Class of 2024

This fall, we welcomed 23 new students to the Master of Arts in Arab Studies program. This diverse cohort includes students from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, and Japan, as well as active duty military personnel, a diplomat, and a dual JD/MAAS student.

New Department of Education Grant

Through the efforts of CCAS staff, Georgetown has been awarded a Department of Education Title VI grant valued at over $2 million. The grant designates the university as a National Resource Center on the Middle East and will support Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships, as well as programming across the university related to the study of the region for the next four years.

New Partnership for Intensive Language & Internships in Jordan

Coco Tait

In August, we welcomed our newest staff member, Events & Program Manager Coco Tait, who is responsible for event management and general program administration for the center. Prior to joining CCAS, Coco was the office manager, fellowship coordinator, and arts & culture assistant at the Middle East Institute. She earned her B.A. in Ethics, History, & Public Policy and Music Performance, and her M.S. in International Security and Politics from Carnegie Mellon University.

Visiting Fellows

CCAS is pleased to host two visiting fellows for the 2022-2023 academic year.

American Druze Foundation Fellow Dr. Benan Grams is a graduate of the MAAS program with a PhD from Georgetown’s History Department. She specializes in medical and public health history, and conducted her dissertation on cholera in Ottoman Syria. In the spring, Dr. Grams will teach “History of Migration in the MENA.”

Qatar Post-Doctoral Fellow Dr. Mark Drury earned his PhD in anthropology from the City University of New York in 2018 with a focus on decolonization in the Western Sahara. In the spring semester, Dr. Drury will teach “Sahara: Authority, Mobility, Ecology.”

Last spring, CCAS signed a three-year educational collaboration agreement with Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture in Jordan. The institute offers intensive language programs for students of Arabic, as well as internship and volunteer opportunities with local organizations. Located in the Jabal Amman neighborhood of Amman, Sijal also acts as a hub of intellectual and cultural events, bringing together scholars, artists, and specialists across a broad range of expertise and disciplines, for seminars, workshops, and informal conversation. Last summer, six students from the MAAS program studied at Sijal, including Jillian Robins and Caitlin Cottrell, who both received FLAS funding. “What made studying at Sijal a particularly unique experience for me was their commitment to integrating Arabic dialect and content-based material into their curriculum,” says Robins. “Getting exposure to dialect while reading literature pieces by some of the Arab world's most prominent writers in Sijal's literature content class was one of the highlights of my

summer, and I've found learning in this style improved my command of the language immensely.” This exposure to spoken dialect was also important to Cottrell, who says, “I was able to connect with Jordanians by listening to their thoughts and feelings in their native language, rather than the meaning behind their words getting lost in the translation to English.”

Center News زكرملا رابخأ MAAS News (Student News) Visiting Scholar ثحاب رئاز Faculty News سيردتلا ةئيه رابخأ Staff Updates نيفظوملا رابخأرخآ Board Member Profile يراشتسلأا Dispatches تايقرب Left to Right: MAAS students Bassel Jamali, Caitlin Cottrell, Julia Novak, Cimrun Srivastava (SFS '24), Jillian Robins,
during their
The incoming class at orientation this fall
Adam Karadsheh
summer program at

Why We Teach History

In Me mo r ia m (in me mo r y o f so me o n

Two renowned professors of history at CCAS discuss why studying the contemporary Arab world requires thoughtful examination of the past.

Almost a decade ago, MAAS faculty from across disciplines began to notice, in their teaching about politics, economics, society, and culture, that many of our students came to the study of the contemporary Arab world with a limited sense of the genealogies of the challenges facing the region today. They felt that, while the Arab people, like all people, are not hapless victims of the past, those studying the region cannot afford to ignore the ways in which the world today has been shaped by complex forces of history. Especially since these forces, for better and for worse, can both expand and circumscribe present possibilities, as well as the ability to imagine different futures. In seeking ways to help our students develop thinking about current issues that brings the richness of historical

context to bear, MAAS faculty designed the historical survey course ARST 500 and launched it in 2014. We created the course not only to challenge simplistic “presentism,” whereby the past is viewed solely through the distorting lens of contemporary concerns and projects, but also to study history as a path to analyzing the deep roots of the issues we confront in the world today—many of which originated in former times when different political arrangements and world views held sway.

The vitality of women’s movements, and the striking presence of women in the protests and uprisings of recent years, provide a timely example of how knowledge of history can help us explore the present. The power women exercise in public spaces, and the backlash that can result, are both part of a longer history of ambivalence about women’s political roles. In the Arab world, women’s movements developed in the twinned context of colonialism and anti-colonial nationalism. Women pursuing greater freedoms had to avoid any appearance of being divisive and often struggled for their own liberation through nationalist channels, which were considered “honorable” and also aligned with their own support for the nationalist cause. They also had to distinguish their goals from those of colonialist overlords who legitimized their control by claiming the mantle of protector of native women’s liberation, even as they allied with

Faisal Laibi Sahi, The Cafe 2, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 124 x 315 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

Iraqi artist Sahi uses his distinct form of stylized realism to complexly depict everyday Iraqi life in history, including coffee shop scenes.

the more conservative elites in local society.

Many women’s movements in Syria and elsewhere began in a lowkey fashion as charitable endeavors that served the needs of society. Even though the women involved were expanding their traditional activities, they were doing so within their accepted role as family nurturers and in ways that served the nation. Thus, the argument for women’s rights—for education, public roles, fair treatment—were usually couched in terms of the collective good, that is, in the interests of the family, the community, and the nation. To better understand this fraught relationship between feminism and nationalism, one of the texts we read in ARST 500 is Elizabeth Thompson’s book, Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon. Thompson leads us through the colonial period in Syria, showing how women thought and acted as they maneuvered between colonial powers and the conservative forces in their society, and how they were deserted by their nationalist

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FACULTY FEATURE Fa culty Fe a tur e صﺎﺧ ﺲﯾرﺪﺘﻟا ﺔﺌﯿھ ﻦﻣ

male allies in the process. Through her work and others, we see how women in the Arab world, long accustomed to dealing with complex political landscapes, developed their own approaches and strategies for expanding beyond their traditional roles that were adapted to the context of their times yet left traces we can still see today.

The importance of attending to the past is brought home even more forcefully, perhaps, by studying historical narratives themselves, and how they change over time. The stories people tell—or are told—about their histories are deeply shaped not only by the past but also by the exigencies and agendas of their own times. In ARST 500, we read Yoav Di-Capua’s Gatekeepers of the Arab Past: Historians and History Writing in TwentiethCentury Egypt and Eric Davis’ Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq to help us trace the development of national historical narratives under the Arab socialist regimes of Egypt, and the Qasim and Ba`thi regimes in Iraq, respectively. In our discussions of these texts, we ask: What did it take to rewrite history and to alter historical memory, on both intellectual and practical levels, in Egypt and Iraq? What kinds of institutions, education, and performances were central to this task? We find that the standard narratives, which had long held sway in these countries, were refashioned to celebrate revolutionary times and the regimes in power. This refashioning was done through a number of modalities. New forms of public display—ceremonies, holidays, festivals, and commemorations— enacted history as revolutionary triumph. There were erasures and replacements: statues of past leaders were removed, and history texts were rewritten. In 1960s Egypt, the idea of committed history triumphed as the revolutionary moment called for historians to direct their attention to social and economic narratives that privileged the agency of peasants and workers. In Iraq, the Ba`thist regime sponsored archeological projects, conferences, and festivals that

promoted an inclusive Iraqi nationalism while also forwarding the state’s ambitions to lead the Arab world. Tracing the twists and turns of these narratives allows us to

spanning the late Ottoman period to the Anglo-French colonial mandates in Syria and Palestine—a compelling illustration of how seemingly-ironclad ideologies and fixed viewpoints can evolve and even change drastically over a relatively short period of time. Parsons’s account asks readers to approach critically the use of personal memoirs and archival material and draws attention to unspoken assumptions that so often undergird historiographical consensus. Marie Grace Brown’s Khartoum at Night: Fashion and Body Politics in Imperial Sudan, moreover, shows how historical voices, actions, and emotions can be reconstructed, even in the absence of extensive written records. Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East and North Africa, edited by Edmund Burke III and David Yaghoubian, also endeavors to tell the story of the lived experience—although here the method of recovering this history is to follow the individual rather than the collective actions of a group.

Chant Avedissian, Kobra Qasr Al-Nil, c. 1990's, Monotype stencil, 49.5 x 69.5 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

The Kobra Qasr al-Nil, built in Cairo in 1872, depicts the famous Egyptian politician Saad Zaghloul. Avedissian's portrayal “speaks to how statues and monuments are built for purposes of creating national narratives,” says Prof. Tucker.

Ghassan Kanafani, The Displaced, 1957, Mixed media on carton, 36 x 50 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

Kanafani's iconic work depicts the Palestinian nakbah, a watershed event of the 20th century.

reflect on the centrality of historical memory to state legitimacy and national identity, both in the past and in the present, and to bring our critical faculties to bear on historical narratives wherever we find them.

Another ARST 500 reading, The Commander: Fawzi al-Qawuqji and the Fight for Arab Independence 1914-1948 by Laila Parsons, provides—through the example of Fawzi al-Qawuqji’s life and career

Brown’s book, much like the volume Is there a Middle East? The Evolution of a Geopolitical Concept (edited by Michael E. Bonine, Abbas Amanat, and Michael Ezekiel Gasper), serves as a crucial reminder of the need to conceptualize the MENA as a region, to reflect on its various parts and the historical forces linking them—from the Maghreb to the Gulf—and to uncover the various paths of convergence and divergence that have molded the region into what it is today. We hope that ARST 500 has challenged students to question both dominant nationalist and Eurocentric accounts, to historicize familiar categories such as ethnic and religious labels, and to recognize the fluidity and changing character of identities, gender roles, and cultural practices. ◆

Dr. Judith Tucker is Professor Emerita at CCAS and the Department of History.

Dr. Mustafa Aksakal is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and a CCAS Affiliated Faculty.


New Approaches to Oral History in the Arab World

In a region known for oral traditions, epic ballads and folktales passed down for decades before being written, historians, anthropologists and activists in the MENA are discovering new challenges and opportunities in the multidisciplinary field of oral history. Some are looking to decolonialize and democratize the archive, some are

Oral history projects are contributing to complex and nuanced narratives from Sudan to Yemen to Iraq, while strengthening connections with diasporic communities.

Digital technologies have expanded possibilities for recording, archiving and transcribing interviews with Palestinian nakbah survivors, Nubians constructing new identities, and Syrians fleeing a war zone. The days of dusty audiotapes stored in private archives, or left in closets after dissertations are done, are shifting. Histories of Egyptian Copts and Lebanese Jews are being shared on the internet, and first-person accounts of slavery and servitude in the Arab Gulf are making their way into museum exhibits. As oral history practices become more popular across the Arab world, from the archives to NGOs to student research projects, what are the challenges and risks from the digital space and how will they be considered?

What began in the 1970s with the intrepid work of anthropologists and folklorists like Rosemary Sayigh and Sharif Kanaanah, who believed in the power of people’s voices and their abilities to make meaning of their own experiences, has led to a plethora of Palestinian archival collections and participatory research projects. Thousands of hours of first-person testimonies have been recorded for The Palestinian Oral History Archive, The Palestinian Museum, the Oral History Department at Islamic University in Gaza, and the “Palestine Remembered” website. The list goes on. These archival projects give Palestinian refugees “permission to narrate,” and a chance to preserve their memories for future generations.

documenting experiences of war and social transformation, others are gathering stories as intangible historical artifacts in the absence of written records.

In Libya and Algeria, two very different oral history projects have recently documented longhidden forced migrations and genocide by colonial armies. In the words of Ali Ahmidah, who spent over a decade recording the poetry and memories

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FACULTY FEATURE Fa culty Fe a tur e صﺎﺧ ﺲﯾرﺪﺘﻟا ﺔﺌﯿھ ﻦﻣ In Me mo r ia m (in me mo r y o f so me o n ىﺮﻛﺬﻠ
Jafar Islah, The Caravan, 1976, Silkscreen print on paper (5/5), 83 x 66 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.
Revolutionary projects across the region demonstrate the power of oral history to give voice to once-silenced communities and to capture history as remembered by those who lived it.

of Libyan survivors of Italian fascism, “why should we assume the archive has facts? It reflects certain secrets of a state, a certain narrative, a certain language… the fact that we can’t find something doesn’t mean that we cannot do history or analyze institutions or tragedies like genocide.”

The film In Mansourah, You Separated Us, emerged from MAAS alum Dorothée Myriam Kellou’s struggle to find primary sources for a thesis exploring her heritage. Interviews with her father and other Mansourah natives led to a creative documentary project exposing the forced relocation of two million peasants and massacres during the Algerian War of Independence. The film screened in Algeria and France, where it won festival awards and broke a 50-year silence of a history not written in books. Audience response was fully engaged, and the project will continue with an archive witnessing Maghribi uprootedness through videos, photos, and oral testimonies.

Oral histories have also influenced feature films, theater productions and music. Composer Jad Orphee Chami found inspiration in oral testimonies from families of missing and disappeared victims of Lebanon’s civil war. Building on interviews conducted by his father a generation earlier, Jad produced a truly moving theater piece through the medium of music.

Artists and documentarians at a new Beirut-based NGO with pan-Arab ambitions, Al-Sharq, have conducted oral history interviews with Syrians on issues of culture, migration, identity and human rights. Their mission is “to strengthen the ability of citizens, residents and descendants of Arab world countries to hear and be heard…and to promote and strengthen pluralism and independent thought in the Arab world.” They publish a bilingual Arabic-English web-zine,Tarikhi, and have created theater and short films based on the oral histories.

Collaborative partnerships are another feature of recent oral history work. The January 25 Revolution in Egypt sparked a much-expanded role for the American University of Cairo (AUC) library archives. Librarians and archivists, who were previously focused on oral histories of university personnel, launched the “University on the Square Project” to record history-in-the-making outside the campus gates. The biggest impact, according to Stephen Urgola, AUC archivist, “was expanding oral history initiatives, from the life of the university to the contemporary history of Egypt as a society and culture.” This work continues to flourish, as the archives pursue internal and external collaborations with the goal of producing primary resources for researchers, faculty, and students on a range of topics.

Cairo is also home to one of the few archives of the history of women in the Arab world. The Women and Memory Forum was founded in 1995 to record women’s

Joan Mandell is a Detroit-based journalist, oral historian and documentary filmmaker. Her films include, Gaza Ghetto: Portrait of a Palestinian Family and Tales from Arab Detroit. She was principal researcher and community curator for the Arab American National Museum oral history project, Patriots and Peacemakers. She teaches the course “Oral History and Documentary Filmmaking,” which will be offered at CCAS (as ARST 452) in spring 2023. Students will design and work on their own interview-based projects. The course will address issues of positionality and the ethics of representing the people whose stories we wish to record and share. Theoretical readings and presentations by practitioners from the MENA will inform discussions and assignments, and provide students a comparative approach from which to reflect on their own fieldwork and documentary practices.

life stories, empower women's rights groups, and support feminist movements. One of their projects was a series of interviews with young women about ways in which their political participation influenced gender expectations in Egyptian society. After the Arab Spring, the Forum noticed a major flourishing of oral history projects in Arab countries. In 2015, they organized a conference about the challenges of creating gendersensitive archives in times of transition and change, and in situations of conflict.

How do we create an equitable historiography, inclusive of women, workers, peasants, the illiterate, the colonized, and the oppressed? Making oral histories publicly accessible involves delicate balances of power between interviewer, interviewee and archive, issues of ethics, representation and agency. There are serious risks to vulnerable narrators from state authorities, retribution from family members, and many other unimagined circumstances. When the political situation changed abruptly in Egypt in 2013, the AUC archives decided to make all their recordings anonymous.

Historians in the MENA are finding many approaches to oral history. More than a mere adjunct to written documents, oral histories underscore the ways that people who experienced history remember it, and how they choose to narrate what is significant from their own perspectives. At its best, oral history work can be a revolutionary and transformational process for both the interviewer and interviewee, as well as for those who will arrive later to make their own meanings of the narrative. ◆


Our Living Archives,

Our Elders

When Samar and Laila met in 2006 during their undergraduate studies at George Mason University, they quickly discovered their shared Palestinian heritage. Samar, a Jordanian-Palestinian born in Kuwait, moved from Jordan to the United States in 2004 to pursue her studies. Laila, a Palestinian-American, was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and grew up in Virginia. Since Laila’s family lived close by and Samar was far from home, Laila invited her new friend—as per Arab hospitality—for a home-cooked meal to meet her family. Over dinner, Laila’s grandmother, teta Najwa Abdel-Hadi, the matriarch of the family, occupied the central seat facing Samar and started questioning her guest about her family and grandparents, a custom that every Palestinian grandma follows when meeting friends of grandchildren. “My grandma is from the Ramini family in Jenin and my grandfather is from the Askary family in Jerusalem,” Samar said. Najwa opened her eyes widely and shouted, “inti sittik Fatimah Ramini?” Is your grandmother Fatimah Al-Ramini? Samar, surprised, answered: “yes, you know her?” To which Najwa responded: “Of course, I do. And I know her sisters. We were teachers!”

This discovery of their shared past turned the conversation to storytelling by teta Najwa, who began sharing with the two friends her story of growing up in Nablus, the family home where she spent her days, the streets she walked, the places she picnicked with friends, her journey as a teacher, and her travels. Some of the stories were familiar to her granddaughter Laila, while others were

Above: Laila's and Samar's grandmothers, Najwa Abdel-Hadi and Fatimah Al-Ramini, who knew one another in Palestine; Right: Najwa (front row, far right) with classmates in Nablus

new. Najwa shared with them her golden rules about friendships and marriage—the latter of which she referred to as the “golden cage.” Najwa reminisced about Palestine, a place from which she still recalls her favorite memories despite not having lived there since the 1960s.

As Samar and Laila devoured Najwa’s delicious maqloubeh, they learned about their own histories, cultures, family connections, and love. During that moment, Najwa served as an animated, living archive and as a transmitter to a past Palestine that Samar had never visited (at the time) and that Laila had yearned to visit as an adult, having heard teta Najwa’s stories since childhood. In that moment, she was their shared connection to a past and a place they knew little about.

For Samar and Laila, the elderly women in their families like Najwa were instrumental in shaping their understanding of Palestine and its history, and in fostering their sense of belonging and commitment to Palestine. It was through their

grandmothers that they learned about the social histories of Jenin and Nablus, where their grandmothers grew up, and how their generation lived their daily lives. They learned how their ancestors managed to flourish, despite the hardships and struggles they had encountered living under British and Israeli colonialism.

Samar and Nihad’s story

For Samar, it was through her grandma’s sister, teta Nihad Al-Ramini, that she learned about the different roles women played in resisting and fighting Israel’s colonialism, and the importance of remembering, narrating, and documenting the history of Palestine in the face of Israel’s appropriation of its culture, food and dress, and the systematic erasure of its history. Nihad was born in Arrabeh, southwest of Jenin to Safiyah al-Qaysi and Mohammed Ramini in 1931. Nihad’s father passed away when she was young, and her mother became

10 Center for Contemporary Arab Studies - Georgetown University STUDENT FEATURE
بﻼﻄﻟا ﻦﻣ صﺎﺧ
Image credits: Samar Saeed and Laila Abdul-Hadi Jadallah
Student feature (Wissam)
MAAS student Laila Jadallah and alum Samar Saeed on the generation of Palestinian women whose stories informed their understanding of history and helped shape their own cultural identities

the authoritative figure in their household. Safiyah was strong and wise and a hard worker who passed these traits on to her daughters. Nihad, who never married, had a long career of fifty-five years as a principal of the Arraba Secondary Girls School. She educated and mentored generations of Palestinian women, referring to them as ‘banati’—my girls. In the 1970s, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) sprayed the playgrounds of the school with an unknown poisonous chemical that rendered some of her students unconscious. Nihad spoke to the media about what happened and, as a result, was called in for interrogation by the IOF.

Nihad was an educator and a fighter. She was imprisoned, beaten, and eventually exiled from her homeland because of her influence and resistance. Jordan became her home in 1980, but she continued to visit Jenin whenever she could. Every time Samar would visit her great-aunt Nihad in her tiny, cozy apartment in Amman, Nihad would greet her with stories about Palestine, details about her home in Jenin, the students she taught, the women she mobilized with, and the fighters she hid in her home when the Israeli Defense Forces would invade Jenin. She would share the poetry she had written commemorating the lives of Palestinian martyrs. For Nihad, it was important to remember the mundane and the ordinary people who sacrificed their lives for Palestine yet are rarely remembered.

Samar’s knowledge of Palestine and her sense of belonging and attachment to a land she was deprived of first began with Nihad’s stories, long before Samar read books on Palestine or visited her homeland. Nihad passed away before Samar understood the importance of documenting the life histories of the elderly. And yet, Nihad’s story continues to live on through her great-niece, just as history has traditionally been passed down—orally.

Laila and Najwa’s story

For Laila, it was through her grandmother Najwa that she developed her identity as a Palestinian and Nabulsia in the diaspora and learned about the history of the Ottoman Empire and British and Israeli colonialism. Since the age of seven, Laila grew up living in the same house as Najwa and was exposed on a daily basis to Palestinian

culture through teta’s stories, the delicious food she prepared for the family each day, and Najwa’s precious photo albums documenting her earlier life in Palestine—photos with the power to transport Laila into the final years of the Ottoman Empire, life in Palestine under British rule and the early years of the Nakba. It was over the dinner table and at bedtime that Laila learned that Najwa, born in Jordan in 1934, was the eldest child of a former finance manager who worked in Al-Salt under the Ottoman Empire and an Arabized Turkish woman whose family stayed in Jordan following the Empire’s fall. After being orphaned at age seven, Najwa was brought, along with her brothers Hassan and Thabet, to live with relatives on the family estate in Nablus’ old city. It was here that she spent the remainder of her childhood and adolescent days going to the local bookstore, picnicking with friends at a farm in the valley, and taking field trips to Lake Tabariyyah. Najwa

settling in Cairo, where—during Jamal Abdel Nasser’s era—she once again lived through watershed historical moments. Najwa earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the American University in Cairo and co-founded with other Palestinian diaspora women, Dar al Falastinia, an organization that supported newly settled Palestinian families in Egypt. Najwa was, and still is, an example of why our elders’ stories are so important to record.

attended one of only four high schools for women in Mandate Palestine at the time. Under the instruction of strong Palestinian female teachers, she learned not only world history and Shakespeare, but also how to dress and be self-reliant. It was in Nablus, a city with no electricity, that Najwa learned about the Nakba through the Palestinian refugees who made themselves a new home in the diwan of her family estate. Upon graduating in 1952, Najwa became a teacher at UNRWA schools, working in Nablus and Jerusalem. She later lived in both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait briefly, before ultimately

Living Archives

Documenting stories like Nihad’s and Najwa’s, and those of other Palestinian elders, is an important corrective to widespread cultural erasure. With the destruction, theft, and loss of Palestine’s traditional archives due to Israel's colonization and wars, these elders serve as living archives. They are eyewitnesses to history who can provide insight into socio-political events and economic changes that we can only read about in books—if we can read about them at all. They can tell us another side of history—one of resilience, agency,

continued on p. 14
Clockwise from left: Najwa (center) at her 1952 graduation from Al-Ayesheya Public High School; Samar's great-aunt Teta Nihad Al-Ramini (left) with a friend and her daughter; Najwa enjoying a picnic with friends at a farm near Nablus

The Historical Significance of Epidemics in the Middle East

From cholera, to plague, to COVID-19, contagious diseases have shaped human history in profound ways and offered MENA historians unique lenses into the past.

Just as the world was starting to recover from its battle with the still new and relatively unknown COVID-19 SARS virus, an old and horrific disease returned to the Arab world earlier this year, threatening to unleash another human disaster. In late August, cholera broke out in Syria’s northeastern region around the Euphrates. It quickly spread to other parts of the country, and by early October had become a regional epidemic, with cholera outbreaks reported in neighboring Lebanon. Cholera now threatens to reach other areas in the Middle East and beyond, accelerating it from an epidemic impacting a limited geographic area to a global pandemic hitting multiple regions around the world.

While cholera was the nineteenth century’s most dreaded disease, it was neither the first nor the only pandemic to impact societies around the world. Deadly

diseases like plague and smallpox had terrorized the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world for centuries. Plague epidemics ( ) which recurred in the Levant, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Egypt until the first half of the nineteenth century, were addressed by the Prophet Mohammad and became a subject of debate in Islamic tradition. While plague targeted various segments of society, smallpox was a disease that killed primarily children. Those who survived it were left with scars but also immunity for life. Other documented infectious diseases like measles, tuberculosis, malaria, syphilis, typhoid, and typhus also killed hundreds of thousands of people, weakened armies, caused displacement, and spurred economic devastation as ripe agricultural crops were left unharvested.

Epidemics—defined as high-impact infectious diseases—differ from chronic, noninfectious diseases (such as heart disease and

cancer) primarily by their sudden appearance and the relative brevity of their duration. Epidemics are also distinctive for the magnitude of their damage, and the scale of their impact. Causing rampant collective illnesses, epidemics result in sweeping calamities and anxieties comparable to those caused by wars, revolutions, and economic crises. Just as we have seen recently with COVID-19, epidemics affecting past societies influenced economic and political decisions and left their traces on cultural norms and habits, as well as on religious beliefs and practices.

In the past century, scholars acknowledging the multifaceted impacts of epidemics have examined the effects of plague on the MENA region’s historical trajectory. Their interest in the history of plague in the Middle Ayad Alkadhi, Structure I, II, III, 2009, Mixed media, 152 x 123 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

12 Center for Contemporary Arab Studies - Georgetown University VISITING SCHOLAR FEATURE

East specifically reflected western fascination with plague within European history and orientalists’ preoccupation with medieval Islamic medicine. The first to systematically examine plague history was Michael Dols in his book The Black Death (published in 1977). He was followed by Lawrence Conrad, whose work focused on the Justinianic Plague, and Joseph van Ess, who studied seventh-century plague in Syria, among several others. Their work focused on plague in the pre-modern Islamic era and was primarily concerned with concepts of contagion, disease, and health in medieval Islamic medicine. Growing from the field of Islamic Studies, their scholarship on plague was also characterized by its strict reliance on textual analysis of early Islamic medical treatises, poems, and other Islamic texts. Scholars of this early literature on plague were forerunners in curating interest in Middle Eastern medicinal and disease history. Their work is considered foundational in the historiography of Islamic medicine, and their methodology of rigorous textual analysis continues to inspire younger scholars interested in the history of Arab and Greek medicine.

In many respects, however, this early scholarship perpetuates “epidemiological orientalism,”— a term coined by Nükhet Varlık to describe the ways Europeans viewed, experienced, imagined, reproduced, and represented the Ottoman healthscape. Epidemiological orientalism can be discerned in the writings of 18th-century European doctors studying plague in Ottoman societies, European travelers, and diplomats to the region in the 19th century. Indeed, Western travelers to the Ottoman Empire, and those who took residence in its commercial centers, repeatedly contrasted Europeans’ behaviors with those of the locals during epidemics. According to their accounts, when plague broke out in a city, European consuls and merchants shut themselves up in their quarters, voluntarily restricted their movements, halted any interactions with others, and avoided touching any objects that had not been fumigated. Local Christians emulated European residents, also isolating themselves—thus, usually preserving their lives. In contrast, the accounts continue, Muslims went about their days as usual and without concern for the looming danger threatening their lives. They were “more intrepid,” ac-

cording to these outside observers, as a result of their faith and doctrine of predestination. In a nutshell, the reaction by “Orientals” to infectious diseases was a matter of doctrinal guidance—one faith promoted life and the other death—thus producing the trope of Muslim fatalism.

Although epidemiological orientalism is a product of the geopolitical dynamics between the Ottoman Empire and western powers, Michael Dols and his generation of scholars did not question this portrayal

medical knowledge, and gender. By redefining the space and periodization of their units of analysis, this new school of disease history illuminates the impact of epidemics on demographic volatility, political decisions, imperial and colonial expansions, modernization and economic development, popular reactions, and socio-cultural changes.

While plague continues to feature prominently in historical investigations, more and more historians are examining other infectious diseases like influenza, smallpox,

of Ottoman and Islamic societies as fatalist or indifferent to epidemics. Nor did they challenge the framing of their responses to disease calamities in sectarian terms. Such questioning would come later from historians outside the field of Islamic studies.

Since the early 2000s, a new generation of scholars has been examining past epidemics and their impacts—doing so through the lenses of the larger political, economic and environmental contexts in which they occurred. For example, Sam White and Alan Mikhail have looked at the impact of climate change on disease, environment, and health in Ottoman societies, while the work of Miri Shefer-Mossensohn explores the ways diseases in the Ottoman Empire were understood socially and culturally. Others, such as Hannah-Louise Clark, Seçil Yılmaz, and Hibba Abugideiri, have looked at the intersections of colonialism, imperialism

leprosy, cattle plague, cholera, syphilis and tuberculosis. Recently, cholera has attracted the attention of historians studying the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire due to the disease’s multifaced impact on the Empire and Post-Ottoman states. Their work shows how the disease influenced not only the development of public health sectors in the Ottoman Empire and newly established nation states following the First World War, but also relations between the Ottoman imperial center and its periphery, and the Empire’s geopolitical position, especially vis-a-vis Western powers. My work on the impact of cholera on the transformation of Ottoman Damascus from 1848 to 1918 joins this growing body of literature on disease history.

Samir Rafi, Life’s Tragedy, 1949, Oil on panel, 48.5 x 68 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

The new scholarship on epidemics and diseases relies on an interdisciplinary approach and utilizes methods and tools from a wide range of disciplines, including genetics, science and technology, sociology, anthropology, biology, geography, archaeology, Islamic studies, and numerous sub-disciplines within the field of history, including social, cultural, economic, global, environmental, and political history. For example, through the use of DNA, molecular biologists have completed a sequencing of the bubonic plague bacterium from 14thcentury remains found in London, thus settling the question about the real cause of the Black Death in the city and making a significant contribution to plague history. Samuel Dolbee, Isacar Bolaños, and others have used tools and theories from the discipline of geography to examine disease movement within contested spaces and frontier regions. A growing number of Middle East scholars are engaging with questions about environmental influences on the history of the region, including the role of geography and the effects of diseases, natural disasters, and climate change. They are paying attention not only to conventional historical actors—primarily men, elites, intellectuals, and political figures—but also to non-human agents that have catalyzed past events: topographical elements like mountains, swamps, rivers and seas; insects, such as mosquitoes; and pathogenic organisms like viruses, bacteria, and other parasites. The power of non-human agents was demonstrated recently by the drought and floods that devastated Africa and Pakistan respectively

OUR ELDERS continued from p. 11

and compelled officials in the World Health Organization to add climate change effects to the list of factors contributing to cholera’s spread—a list that also includes war, displacement, and, in the case of Syria, poor sanitary infrastructure.

The recent methodological expansion within disease scholarship has been spurred, in part, by the availability of a wider range of primary sources. The Ottoman archives in Istanbul, which were digitized in the 1980s, offer researchers a massive body of previously untapped documents, including official correspondence, technical reports, maps, and photos. These archives provide different perspectives and offer new possible explanations to historical events. Likewise, the digitization of 19th-century Ottoman newspapers and professional magazines has also been essential in reducing reliance on European consular reports and bringing forth local voices and

experiences. While these new sources help take the history of disease beyond the confinement of Middle Eastern studies and the strict reliance on textual analysis of medieval Islamic writings, the new school of scholarship situates the Middle East’s experience of disease within larger spatial parameters. Rather than looking at the Arab world in isolation, it considers neighboring regions, border lands, and areas that, despite being geographically remote, were strongly connected to the region commercially, religiously, and militarily. This trans-regional approach also contributes to recent efforts to reorient world history away from a west-centric viewpoint and to include other regions that have long been considered peripheral.

Epidemics have had profound impacts on societies over the centuries, challenging and shaping their cultural norms, practices, and beliefs. Moving along commercial routes through human points of contact and shaped by a host of environmental factors, diseases offer a crucial lens for understanding the history of global interconnectedness. Diseases—after all—know no borders or nationalities. ◆

Dr. Benan Grams is a MAAS alum ('14) and the current ADF Fellow at CCAS. She earned her PhD from the Georgetown Department of History, conducting her dissertation research on the social impact of cholera in Ottoman Damascus.

and hope—through the songs they loved and danced to, the political parties they joined, the schools and universities they attended, the journeys they made, the labor they provided, and the dishes they cooked and loved. Their memories, and their heritage, then become part of the stories of the next generation.

Najwa’s and Nihad’s relationships with their granddaughter and great-niece demonstrate the importance of intergenerational bonds and storytelling. They also demonstrate why Palestinians in the diaspora, like Samar and Laila, identify so strongly with being Palestinian, even if they’ve never had the chance to live in their ancestral homeland. And yet Samar and Laila’s stories are not unique. Palestinians across the diaspora share similar trajectories of exile, isolation, and fragmentation. In such a context of settler colonialism and its multi-generational impacts, oral history can provide a way for

those who have been deprived of their homeland to garner a sense of belonging. Thus, in the Palestinian context, it is our imperative duty to document the repositories of memories, stories, and lessons our elders carry—not just for the sake of history but as a step toward recovering and preserving for future generations a shared heritage and belonging that might otherwise be lost. ◆

Laila Jadallah is a student in the MAAS program ('23), an independent curator, and the Director of Programs at the Qatar America Institute for Culture.

Samar Saeed is a graduate of the MAAS program ('19) and a PhD candidate at Georgetown’s Department of History.

14 Center for Contemporary Arab Studies - Georgetown University
Ahmed Mater, Talisman – X-Ray Blue, Mixed media with X-Ray, 104 x 74 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

Researching the History of a Family Dynasty

Q&A with Joseph Sassoon

CCAS Director Joseph Sassoon’s book, The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire (Pantheon, 2022), traces the rise and fall of the Jewish Baghdadi Sassoon family— “the Rothschilds of the East”—who built a vast empire through global finance and trade and became one of the world’s richest families of the 19th and 20th centuries. Professor Sassoon discusses his research process below.

perspective because when you're writing, for example, about someone hosting a party for 1100 people, it's hard to imagine that many people in a house. But then when you go and see it with your own eyes and stand at the veranda where they stood, suddenly it becomes clear.

In researching a story that spans multiple continents, characters, and industries, how did you decide what to focus on?

What was your research process for your book?

I spent a lot of time in archives— the British Archives, Ottoman Archives, Indian National Archives, Shanghai Municipal Archives, National Library of Israel, and private collections such as the Rothschild Archive. Then, as I was beginning to write I read a book by the great historian, Robert Carro. He said that there are 42 million documents in the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Archive, but when writing his book on Johnson he made a point of going to the places that the archives talk about. It suddenly hit me that I should go and see what I was researching. I visited the Sassoons’ houses in India, in China, in Britain. It gave me a much better

That was really tough. Originally, I wrote the first three chapters thematically. I sent them to my editor, and he basically said, “This is not going to work.” He wanted me to write chronologically. I was upset, but he won the argument and, in the end, was one hundred percent correct. It would have been impossible to write the book thematically without driving the reader crazy jumping back and forth across 150 years to talk about cotton, opium, famine, or other themes. We decided to focus on six main characters, and they helped move the story along in 15 to 20 year increments. With this structure, each chapter had almost a beginning, a middle, and an end of its own.

Are there any historical characters who particularly intrigued you?

David’s great-granddaughter, Flora (or Farha). After her husband died in 1894, she took over his business, becoming the first woman global CEO. There were many matriarchs in Europe and the United States, but not CEOs who were running a global business, day in day out, with that kind

of complexity. There was not much written about Farha before—a little bit in a journalistic book on the Sassoons, though mostly about her as a hostess or her gift with languages. But when I spent time in the archives, I realized Farha was a huge part of the story. She created organizational systems for business dealings and introduced innovations like risk analysis of exposure to currencies and loans. The story becomes very upsetting when you start seeing all the men in the family conspiring and trying to push her out because she was so capable—almost too capable for them. They couldn't fathom how she could be that successful.

What was one of the biggest challenges of writing your book?

Deciphering their handwriting took a long time and was very arduous. Most of the family’s business correspondence was written in a Baghdadi Jewish dialect—it was Arabic, but a very specific vernacular, using Hebrew letters. It was like deciphering three languages, plus some Persian and Ottoman words mixed in. Even more problematic was the lack of paragraphs or bullet points. You're reading two lines about cotton and suddenly it changes to silk and throws you off. You think, “Wait a second, I thought we were discussing cotton in India…why are we talking now about silk in France?” It makes it difficult to follow their thinking. Only when we get to Farha does this change. She insists that she wants bullet points in business correspondence, and next to each one an action item—that was just one of the innovations she introduced. ◆

Professor Sassoon signs copies of his book following a reading at the bookstore Politics & Prose in Washington D.C.
Faculty Research: ثاحبأ سيردتلا ةئيه
Vicki Valosik is the CCAS Editorial Director.

The Rise & Fall of a Global Empire

CCAS Director Joseph Sassoon discusses how a Jewish Baghdadi family built a global trade empire and why it declined—the subject of his latest book.

It all started with David Sassoon, who fled Baghdad with his wife and four children in 1829 because of a conflict with the province’s corrupt Ottoman governor. The rest of his family remained in Baghdad, their home for the previous 2500 years (and I am one of their descendants). From his new home in Bombay, David gradually developed a trading business. Relying on his children, the number of which eventually grew to fourteen, he built an extensive trade network in cotton, textiles, opium, tea, and other commodities. By the time David died in 1864, the family mercantile business had grown into a global enterprise, leaving his children with a significant fortune of £4 million, about 500 million in today’s U.S. dollars.

As tradition dictated, David’s will made Abdallah, the oldest son, the new head of the family. But Elias, the second eldest, who had spent years successfully developing the business in China, believed that he and Abdallah should co-run the business together. After

three years of squabbling, the family split into two competing companies, both carrying the Sassoon name. Abdallah continued to grow his business despite increased competition from his brother’s firm and decided to move from Bombay to London, believing that establishing himself in the capital of the financial world would enhance the company and consolidate his trading power.

In 1872, Abdallah, now using the anglicized “Albert,” was rewarded for his public contributions with a knighthood. It was a tremendous honour and marked the zenith of a remarkable ascent—from Baghdadi exile to accredited member of the nobility—in just four decades. The following year, “Sir Albert” was awarded the Freedom of the City of London, an honour normally bestowed on British-born subjects. At the Guildhall ceremony, this extraordinary break with tradition was noted in the commemorative brochure: “This is the first time an East Indian merchant has been admitted to the honour highly prized by its possessor, and much coveted by the aspirants to City fame … It is the first time that the freedom of the City of London has been presented to a Jew.” Thus began a bond between the Sassoons and the British elite, including royalty.

Albert’s brothers Arthur, Fredrick and Reuben, also using anglicized names, had become well integrated into London society. Their entrée into Britain’s elite circles came through three different means: their philanthropy, which was part of all their business dealings; their marriages, which connected them to European and English aristocratic families; and their property—mansions and estates in London, Brighton, and Scotland from which they entertained. The founder of the dynasty, David, had established the rule that in every trade, a “tax” should be collected to be given to charitable causes. This rule, which was followed by his children and applied wherever

16 Center for Contemporary Arab Studies - Georgetown University FACULTY RESEARCH
David Sassoon with his sons Elias, Abdallah and S.D. around 1857
Faculty Research: ثاحبأ سيردتلا ةئيه
Illustration from The Sassoons by Stanley Jackson (Heinemann, 1968)

the Sassoons lived or conducted business, opened doors for the family and provided them with prestige and influence in every corner of the world.

The first important marriage of the Sassoon family took place in London in January of 1873, when Arthur wed Eugenie Louise Perugia, of an old Jewish family from Trieste. Prior to the wedding, Arthur hosted a sumptuous ball that was attended by their friend, the Prince of Wales, and many members of the Rothschild family. Among the well-wishers at the wedding, which was held at the synagogue on Great Portland Street, were Benjamin Disraeli, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (and in short order Prime Minister), and the Prince of Wales on his first visit to a Jewish place of worship. Edward, Albert’s son, married Aline Caroline, daughter of Baron Gustave de Rothschild of Paris, in the late 1880s and soon after was elected MP for Hythe (a seat previously held by Meyer de Rothschild), where the family had amassed property and influence. As for their houses, Arthur lived in Albert Gate near Hyde Park. He was believed to have one of the best music rooms in any home in London, and one of the city’s finest staircases. In Edward’s case, Aline’s charm, taste, wealth, and connections opened new doors for her husband and his family in French and English society, and their home in London became a center of literary and artistic life. Frederick, the youngest son, lived in Knightsbridge. Reuben, meanwhile, had settled at 1 Belgrave Square, amusingly described in a compendium of England’s twelve most “beautiful houses” as modern, with “very little Oriental about it.”

Although there are still many buildings in Mumbai and Shanghai carrying the name Sassoon, within three generations of David’s emigration from Baghdad, the family was in decline and by the fourth, their business successes were nearly forgotten. In mid-twentieth century England, the Sassoon name was more connected to Siegfried Sassoon, the World War I poet (who was not a man of means or business) than to a dynasty. What happened to this tremendous affluence and these magnificent houses?

From top: David’s great-granddaughter Farha, the first female CEO of a global enterprise (See page 15 for more on Farha)

Business correspondence written in a Baghdadi Jewish dialect of Arabic using Hebrew letters (See page 15 for details)

Sassoon General Hospital, a gift of Sir David Sassoon to the City of Pune, India.

Edward Sassoon and his father Albert Sassoon. Caricatures by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, 1900 and 1879

Credits: Wikimedia, Peter Jackson/Bridgeman Images, Chronicle/Alamy

How did such family wealth dissipate?

Rather than a single event, what really stifled entrepreneurialism amongst the Sassoon dynasty was more protracted and subtle: Anglicization. As more and more of the family moved to England, they fell under the spell of the English aristocratic lifestyle and strove to become part of it. In this, they were mirroring a late nineteenth-century ethos that affirmed the primacy of landed gentlemen over industrial entrepreneurs. Making money was eschewed as common. The Sassoons accordingly abandoned the disciplined work ethic laid down by their empire’s founder, David, and diligently followed by his son Albert. Both of these men had seen money not only as a means of gaining power and security, but also of contributing to their communities. Their sumptuous houses and generous hospitality were used for the benefit of their business rather than its detriment. The same cannot be said of their successors.

The Sassoons did not plan for the long term or diversify their assets, as they were more interested harvesting the fruits of their existing business ventures in lucrative commodities like opium and cotton. The Elias Sassoon business based in the Far East lost a fortune with the rise of communism in China and the nationalization of all foreign assets in the country. The adage that dynasties lose their wealth by the third generation held true in the Sassoons’ case. Cecil Roth, who wrote about the Sassoons, likened the shape of the family’s dynasty to a diamond, “starting at a point, widening out rapidly, and tapering disastrously towards the bottom. In [the fourth] generation, moreover, there is little left of the specific quality of the Sassoons of a previous age.” The final curtain on the global merchants, or “the Rothschilds of the East” had come down. ◆

Joseph Sassoon is the CCAS Director and the Sheikh Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah Chair. His book The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and The Making of an Empire was published in October by Pantheon, an imprint at Knopf Doubleday.


The Evolving World of HISTORY EDUCATION

How CCAS helps educators navigate evolving trends in the teaching of history

Trends in Teaching History

Over the past few decades, there have been paradigmatic shifts in the ways educators teach world history. Rather than the traditional survey courses that interpret history through a linear series of civilizations existing in isolation, the field has moved toward a global approach that uses world eras—Prehistory, Middle Ages, etc.—as its historical units of organization. This dynamic, global framework allows for greater interdisciplinarity and the

incorporation of topics that don’t fit easily within the civilizations model, such as world religions and how they spread across times and places, as well as regions that were not sites of major civilizations. It also makes room for discussing zones of interaction, such as the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, where diverse peoples interacted, exchanged goods, and gained exposure to new languages, ideas, and cultures.

Parallel to the trend toward global education in recent decades, there have been growing efforts to overhaul standards for how various subjects are taught. Following the publication of national standards in school subjects in the mid-1990s, states began to overhaul their own academic standards and curriculum. The subject of history, and how it should be taught, proved to be highly controversial, spurring debates over the amount of time that should be devoted to “the West” versus “non-Western” societies. More recently, political concerns have expanded around the way content on race and slavery, among other hot-button issues, is handled. In such a political climate, a change of majority party in a governorship or state legislature can impact the decisions of state-level departments of education or the alterations made during the curricular revision process, which occurs in regular cycles every five years or so.

Elementary and secondary teachers of history and social science find themselves contending with political efforts to impede change while also struggling with limited access to good scholarship that supports these changes. Moreover, they are often thrust into roles that require breadth of knowledge beyond that of university faculty

Jeffar Khaldi, Special Report, 2009, Acrylic on canvas, 240 x 220 cm. Image courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah.

18 Center for Contemporary Arab Studies - Georgetown University

who teach within their fields of specialization. The nature of world history and geography courses, as well as U.S. history classes, require those who teach them to be extreme generalists able to craft enriching lessons on myriad historical topics. While educators often acquire a love for their subjects, new teachers need a lot of support and experienced ones seek continued enrichment and training. Education outreach programs based within institutes of higher education are often where these needs are met. The Department of Education designates certain universities and departments, like CCAS at Georgetown, as National Resource Centers (NRCs) on global regions. Title VI grant support enables these NRCs to offer specialized programming and professional development for teachers that would be challenging for even the best-funded school districts to provide.

CCAS as a National Resource Center

For nearly four decades, CCAS’ Education Outreach program has served as a bridge between the expertise of Georgetown faculty and the needs of teachers in public and private schools in the Washington region and beyond. The program was founded in 1983 with a mission to provide educators with accurate and wellrounded information to support teaching about the Arab world. The following decade, CCAS and Georgetown were designated as a National Resource Center on the Middle East and North Africa (NRCMENA), receiving funding from the Department of Education to support teacher outreach and a host of other activities across the university. More recently, CCAS entered a partnership in 2020 with Georgetown’s Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding to combine the longstanding outreach efforts of both centers.

An essential part of our outreach work is tracking national and local trends in standards and curriculum. It is hardly glamorous work, but it’s where the rubber meets the road. The CCAS outreach director has served on state history standards committees, published on national and state standards trends in academic journals, and worked with district curriculum supervisors to implement standards at the granular levels of lesson planning and professional development for teachers. Our efforts also entail providing resources on topics within the standards that relate to the Middle East and working with state and district officials to support the inclusion of current scholarship and interpret the often-vague

language of the standards in ways that open windows to good teaching and interesting topics. Beyond our efforts related to teaching standards, we work with college of education faculty at universities to address the needs of pre-service teachers by offering workshops and providing teaching resources such as books and curricula. Curriculum development is a time-consuming endeavor but one that bears fruit long into the future. Several historical and cultural background units and lesson plan collections created by CCAS over the past decades are still in use. More recently, CCAS has contributed to the development of documentary films and their companion websites and lesson plans on historic subjects such as Islamic art, the Crusades, and Muslim Spain.

The connected histories framework makes room for discussing zones of interaction, such as the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, where diverse peoples interacted, exchanged goods, and gained exposure to new languages, ideas, and cultures.

While the work of CCAS is focused on helping teachers access scholarship and teaching pedagogy related to the Middle East, as a National Resource Center, our outreach work must overcome the constraints of a regional focus to meet teachers’ broader needs. Shaping our programs around the wider lenses of “the region in the world,” and “the world in the region,” enables us to meaningfully connect with educational trends toward a global history approach and to engage a multitude of fascinating topics. For example, in recent years we have offered week-long summer institutes for teachers on “The Mediterranean in World History,” “Beyond Ibn Battuta: The Indian Ocean in World History,” “Connected Histories of the Renaissance,” “The Enlightenment as Global Phenomenon,” and “The Arab Legacy in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.” On a smaller scale, CCAS Education Outreach holds topical workshops throughout the year that support history pedagogy. Our programs have brought together scholars from African, Asian, Latin American and Middle East studies within the Georgetown School of Foreign Service to collaborate on transregional, intersectional issues such as migration, water management, and economic development. As multi-faceted as these initiatives are, their influence on the way history is taught comes down to the willingness of educators to seek out these opportunities and resources. The curiosity and commitment of teachers to professional growth is what turns sparks into flames within their schools and classrooms, and brings benefit to their students beyond the study of any one part of the world. It is an honor to serve their needs and move the field of history education steadily forward. ◆

Dr. Susan Douglass is the Education Outreach Director at CCAS.


Documenting a Feminist Revolution

Yasmin El-Rifae is a London-based writer and editor (previously with independent newspaper Mada Masr in Cairo), and also co-producer of the Palestine Festival of Literature. In October, El-Rifae discussed her new book, Radius: A Story of Feminist Revolution (Verso Books, 2022), at an event hosted by CCAS in partnership with Georgetown’s Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Radius offers a narrative history of Opantish (Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment) a militant feminist group that formed during the Egyptian Revolution. In 2012, the joyful hopes of the democratic revolution were tempered by revelations of mass sexual assault in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Revolution’s symbolic birthplace. El-Rifae’s book recounts the story of the women and men who formed Opantish during these final, chaotic months of Egypt’s revolution. Opantish deployed hundreds of volunteers, scouts, rescue teams, and getaway drivers to intervene in the spiraling cases of sexual violence against women protesters. These volunteers often fought their way into circles of men to pull the woman at the center to safety, risking assault themselves.

What inspired you to write Radius? What was your research and writing process?

I wrote it to capture and make sense of the experience of Opantish, which had been extreme, and potentially transformative on the individual level. I wanted to understand and learn more about how others had lived it, and its aftermath, and so I began interviewing other organizers and volunteers. I had moved to New York after the 2013 coup in Cairo, and that’s where I began writing. I would record interviews with people on visits back to Cairo (mostly, some interviews took place in other cities). The writing took several years; it took time to find a form that allowed multivocality but felt held together by the story, as well as integrating my own experience and reflections without holding the central narrative voice of the events.

Thinking broadly, in what ways does the compilation of stories impact historical narratives?

If “history” is written/told by those who’ve ended up with power, then we have to look to the margins, to the subterranean and to the quieter areas for different and more varied accounts of different times/events. It’s not that simply telling or finding those other stories will impact or reshape the mainstream narratives, but they are crucial for those of us who are already unsatisfied by the mainstream.

As an activist and writer, what lessons do you hope future generations in Egypt and globally take away from the experiences presented in your book?

That people aren’t intrinsically good or bad—it’s only a question of how we behave towards one another in different circumstances. Do we come together, care for one another? Or do we join in harming one another, whether overtly, or by participating without pause or question in systems that are ultimately harmful for others? I guess the bigger takeaway from Opantish for me is about how profoundly we impact, steer, and shape one another all the time, whether we are conscious of it or not. ◆

Coco Tait is the CCAS Events and Program Manager.


Iraq 2022: Twenty Years On

On March 31, 2022, CCAS, in partnership with George Mason University’s Middle East and Islamic Studies Program, will hold a conference marking the 20-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Panels will explore the invasion’s economic and geopolitical impact, as well as how it has been addressed within Iraqi arts and culture. The conference will also feature a showing of the 2004 documentary About Baghdad, the first film made about Iraq after the fall of the Ba’ath regime in July 2003. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the film’s directors.

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A Giant in the Field of Middle East History

At this year’s Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual meeting, held in early December, CCAS Professors Fida Adely and Rochelle Davis organized a roundtable entitled “Gender, Capitalism, Law and Empire” in honor of Professor Dr. Judith Tucker who recently retired after nearly four decades at CCAS and Georgetown. Dr. Beth Baron, Professor of History at CUNY, and several of Judith’s former students were invited to present prepared comments, excerpts of which are included below. The room was packed with Judith admirers—former students, colleagues, and scholars familiar with her work. After the prepared remarks were shared, the floor was opened and the testimonials from the audience poured in. While we cannot capture all of their sentiments here, we’d like to mention a few. MAAS alum Dr. Benan Grams spoke about Judith’s encouragement in the early years of her graduate career. Dr. Jeff Reger, a former student and executive director of MESA also spoke about her mentorship and support. Dr. Bassam Haddad, a MAAS alum and a founding editor of the Arab Studies Journal, which he co-founded with a group of MAAS students in the early 1990s, described how instrumental Judith was to their project of starting a journal, actively supporting them in this endeavor. Dr. Suad Jospeh contributed that Judith’s work and career were significant not only for her students but also to those more senior than her. A former student who had been trained at Al Azhar, remarked that Judith taught him what feminism was and helped him to move beyond a view of it being about a “clash” or conflict. Another scholar from Lebanon rose and said that although she had never met Judith, Judith’s work changed her scholarly trajectory, as

well as her own personal understanding of her faith, and her position as a woman in her society and within her own family. One scholar elicited laughs when she said “Judith was not my advisor, but after hearing all of

I entered the Masters in Arab Studies program fresh from having spent two years living and teaching in Ramallah. My motivation was to gain credentials for work in human rights or at an NGO to help further the Palestinian cause. But taking Judith’s course in early Arab historiography captivated me, who had hardly taken any history courses and had no idea what the word “historiography” even meant. She made Arab history thrilling, and it speaks to her strong teaching skills that I entered the history PhD program the following fall.

you, I wish she had been!” Many shared their sentiments, and the gratitude and celebratory mood were palpable. The session ended with a warm response and comments from Judith, who extended her thanks to everyone for being there and for taking time to share such special tributes.

The panel was a fitting celebration not only of Professor Tucker’s tremendous contributions and lasting legacy as a scholar in the field of Middle East history, but also—as demonstrated by the many heartfelt tributes shared that day—of the incalculable impact she has made on the lives of others around the world as a teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. The following tributes are shortened excerpts of the remarks shared by the panelists and others at the MESA session.

It was Judith Tucker who inspired me to become a scholar and intellectual. In 1988,

My intellectual and academic coming of age coincided with noteworthy changes in the field of Middle East Studies, in which Judith played a major role. Scholars of the new left mounted challenges to dominant paradigms like modernization theory and had begun to produce social history on marginalized groups. At the time, women were almost completely missing from history writing about the Middle East. Finding sources on women was deeply challenging, concrete data was practically nonexistent, and exploration of concepts of gender was in its infancy. Judith—now considered a founding mother of Middle East women’s studies—was a shining light whose work influenced generations of scholars and opened doors that led to the development of one of the most innovative and exciting fields within the discipline. Her deeply researched, rich and engaging first book on Egyptian women in the nineteenth century became a classic, and her innovative use of court records was part of a wave of new scholarship that led to empirically grounded and theoretically sophisticated interpretations of the lives of those left out of history.

I entered graduate school in the midst of what seemed to be an exciting, hopeful and promising change in Palestinians’ image and

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status on the world stage brought about by the imaginative civil disobedience of the intifada. Thus, Judith’s suggestion that I write my dissertation on the Palestinian women’s movement during the British mandate constituted a truly inspired and perfect topic for me. Palestinian women, like most Middle Eastern women, had been almost completely absent from the historical narrative, but Judith knew there was a whole history to be mined. She introduced me to the novel—at the time—concept of gender as a social relationship. Our discussions of the complex, ambiguous and tense relationship between feminism and nationalism guided me toward the literature that deconstructed universal concepts of “woman.” This informed not only my work on Palestinian women but also my subsequent research on the power relations and mutual cultural influence between and among Middle Eastern women and American missionary women.

Judith’s mentoring also came in the form of promoting me and my work, and sending opportunities my way: inviting me, a lowly, unknown graduate student, to write a chapter in a book she was editing, promoting my book proposal to the editor of the University of California Press at an early point in my career, quietly facilitating invitations to serve on a prestigious committee or contribute to a publication. Judith put me on the map. One of my colleagues on this roundtable once exclaimed, “Judith is a goddess!” when we were discussing how she had helped us. Truer words were never spoken! When I thanked her at some point for her help, she said, “Ellen, graduate students are like children. They are with you for life.” Judith, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being such an inspiration and exemplary role model for your integrity, scholarly reputation, hard work, modesty, foresight, and the enormous influence on and service you have provided for us.

Dr. Zeinab Abul-Magd Professor of History and Director of the International Affairs Program, Oberlin College

I first discovered Judith Tucker’s book In the House of the Law as a young Muslim woman looking for answers and looking for any hints of empowerment in the religion I was following. Reading her book gave me this. It

showed me how to understand and analyze even the most arcane legal texts that very few women of my generation could read. It was liberating! And then in 1999 I heard that Judith Tucker was coming to Egypt to teach a course at AUC, and it was as if somebody told me a goddess was coming down from heaven! I took it, and that was it. My life simply started with this course.

I came to Georgetown in 2001, and my serious training with Dr. Tucker began. As the daughter of a lawyer, I knew a thing or two about legal stuff, but I vaguely knew what a fatwa was. With her, I was able to understand what they meant and how they were practiced in the oldest of books and had confidence to read and analyze them. From there, I even had enough confidence to venture into the field of the theory of Islamic law for my master’s thesis, which Dr. Tucker ushered me through. At Georgetown, I discovered Dr. Tucker’s first book, Women in 19th Century Egypt, which triggered a passion for the 19th century that I haven’t recovered from yet and also introduced to me something historians are familiar with: the “archives.”

She single-handedly pioneered research in the Egyptian archives and made them maneuverable for generations of scholars.

You can easily hear those female peasants in the Delta, to whom Dr. Tucker gave voices in this book, going through the realities of colonial capitalism—much like the Upper Egyptian rebellious women of the 19th century, whom I wrote about in both my PhD dissertation, finished under Dr. Tucker’s kind and patient mentorship, and also in my first book, Imagined Empires

After finishing my dissertation, I got a job in rural Ohio. I had a culture shock! Dr. Tucker, with her eternal positive attitude about academic life, told me: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” and suggested I treat it as an anthropological experience. I took her advice and treated my life in rural Ohio—surrounded by corn fields, churches, and future Trump voters—as an ethnographic experiment. I took notes and published a memoir in Egypt about my life

in Ohio. The first pages of the book mention the story of Dr. Tucker’s lemonade and how I, a brown woman from Upper Egypt, set about conducting field observations of “white subjects” in rural America.

Dr. Tucker has spent her life writing about Muslim women and subaltern women in the Middle East, and—as a “feminist activist”—trying to give them voice. She delivered on her scholarly mission through me. I AM those women. I am here today— along with every book or article I’ve written, in English or Arabic—because of her.

Dr. Steve Tamari

Professor of History, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville

Prof. Judith Tucker has been a mentor to me for a long time—over 30 years and the entirety of my career—and in different ways. I was part of a cohort that began at Georgetown in the fall 1988. She inoculated us against Orientalism, modernization theory, and other academic maladies of the time. She fortified me with a brand of feminism which teaches that history with women is not simply more inclusive but is fundamentally revisionist. A history of the early modern Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire that doesn’t consider women and their waqf misses the entirety of the social, legal, and economic landscape of the time. Completing the dissertation was an emotional and mental ordeal that I may not have made it through without Judith’s support (and that of my pottery teacher Jill Hinkley). Judith, you have been my mentor of mentors as teacher, as colleague, and as family. I can’t thank you enough and I wish you the best in retirement.

Dr. Hoda Yousef

Associate Professor, Department of History, Denison University

Like others, I was profoundly impacted by Tucker’s work on Islamic law and women and how it has influenced the field, not so much in the specifics, but in the lenses she uses as a historian. In her work, the past is subject to rigorous analysis, yes. But it also encompasses the most intimate of human experiences: marriage and divorce, economic despair and triumphs, and violence and redemptions. There are two approaches she uses in her work that I continue to find

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indispensable—even as I have pursued subjects that may seem far afield, such as education, language, and, more recently, historical memory.

The first approach is regarding the questions that Tucker asks in her work: questions about the omnipresent role of gender in shaping our past and about the role of class and power in the construction of our societal systems. This relentless quest that appears in nearly all her work, is one that, I am happy to say, is now mostly taken for granted. It has allowed researchers like me to look at topics that were conventionally approached with a default masculine frame—like Arabic language reform and literacy—and see the connections to gender that are nearly everywhere.

The second approach is her groundbreaking reading of sources that shows us that even the most staid and “official” sources can illuminate histories well beyond the lives of the privileged few. I always recall the readings she gives of fataawa in her book In the House of Law and marvel at the care she took in exploring how the legalese of these texts would functionally impact a woman who found herself a widow or a divorcee or in need of financial support.

These two lenses: what we may call “gender everywhere” and a panache for innovative sources have had a direct bearing on my work. In my dissertation and eventual book, Composing Egypt: Reading, Writing, and the Emergency of a Modern Nation, I came to see the entire project of literacy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as one undergirded by gendered notions of what it meant to be a reader and/or writer of Arabic. In the process, inspired by Tucker, I also sought out sources that could be read beyond its “elite” discourse. In my book these would include: petitions written (or commissioned) by women and men of all classes, the use of scribal letter writing by those without access to traditional literacy, the increases in postal usage, textbooks, and the like.

But Judith’s influence is more than what she writes as a scholar. It lives on in her

dedication and care as a teacher and mentor. Like all great mentors, she did not simply create a slew of mini-Judith Tuckers. She let me pursue my own interests, in some ways so different from her own. But she was always there to ask the probing question, push arguments further, and give advice. In that, her contribution is not just academic or institutional. It is in the generous spirit, sharp intellect, and unfailing kindness that she brings to her interactions with those around her.

Dr. Sherene Seikaly Associate Professor of History, and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara

I met Judith Tucker in my 20s. She taught me how to read: closely, critically, capaciously. She taught me what feminism is, in thought and practice. She taught me how to craft excellence by embracing humility. Twenty years later, she taught me how to lead, how to stand my ground in the face of intimidation. We love you Judith, you are a model, a light, and a pillar.

Nadya Sbaiti Visiting Faculty, Department of History, Georgetown University in Qatar

Judith Tucker can cut up a rug. I begin with this fact because, having known Judith since my first day of the MA in Arab Studies at Georgetown, her boogying abilities were legendary among MAAS students. And of course, many of us have seen her on the MESA dancefloor…

But I also mention this because there is a lesson here for all of us: that in a career spanning four decades in which she published prolifically, shaped generations of students, directed centers, programs and edited journals—Judith Tucker has always remembered to have fun.

Not only is this a lesson we need in this moment more than ever, but having this modeled to a student has an indelible impact on the decisions we make about our work/ life balance.

In so many ways, Judith spoiled her graduate students, of whom I was incredibly lucky to be one. As a teacher, she is patient and kind. As a mentor, she is wise and

candid. As a dissertation advisor, she was both hands off—trusting us to do what we needed to—and hands on, in that she unfailingly had our back…often, behind our back. And what I mean by that is that so many of the ways she champions her students are completely invisible to us—about which we only learned much later, usually through other people. And she has offered that intellectual care, not just to her students, but to other junior scholars, her peers and colleagues of decades, so many of whom are here today and so many who wished to make it in person to honor Judith. . . .

I’ll end with two brief stories that I hope illustrate what makes Judith such a good advisor and friend: It was from her sharing her own experience and challenges as a doctoral student in the Egyptian archives that I first understood in practice that research is what it means to listen to the sources. That when things in the archive aren’t coming up the way you expect, that maybe it’s your questions that need rethinking. All of these are invaluable lessons I have passed on to my own students countless times and which have helped them as much they did me. I sometimes accompany those lessons with the “origin story”—of my own advisor’s encounter with non-compliant sources in the archive!

And in the spirit of her being candid about her own experiences: I remember encountering her in the department hallway one day and having her say that she had spent the weekend reading fiction and felt so guilty that she hadn’t read what she was supposed to for her research. I looked at her bleakly and said: So this feeling of guilt and being behind doesn’t go away even after finishing a PhD? She just laughed and didn’t answer. And I’m so glad she didn’t because if I’d known the truth…

Judith, I confess I cannot believe that the day of your retirement is actually here. It feels like the impossible end of an era. Our lives, both intellectual and personal, are all the richer for counting you as teacher, mentor, organizer, role model, friend, and ally. May you always have fruitful and fertile soil for your future research and writing plans. And, may you always have a dancefloor. ◆



Dr. Anny Gaul (‘12)

Food historian and Assistant Professor of Arabic Studies at University of Maryland writing a book on the cultural history of the tomato as a lens into modern Egypt

“For me, history isn’t just what we learn from the books and papers collected by the state or other institutions. It’s also in a generation’s worth of cookbooks or magazines scattered across used book markets, waiting to be dusted off and read again––and in the customary gasp! that Egyptians perform when they add sizzling garlic and coriander to their mulukhiya, the kinds of gestures learned at home that persist even though they aren’t written down. There’s history in the sound of a spoon clanging on a huge metal dammasa of ful belonging to a street vendor in an alley. There’s nothing so insignificant or mundane that it lacks a history of its own that we can learn from.”

Dorothée Myriam Kellou (‘12)

Filmmaker, journalist, and co-founder of Rawiyat, an association of women filmmakers from the MENA region and its diaspora

“Listening to the stories of suppressed people can help us challenge dominant historical narratives. In making my film In Mansourah, You Separated Us, I used ethnographic immersion to understand the struggles of indigenous communities that were resettled by the French army during the Algerian war of independence and give voice to a part of history that was previously silenced. My father, an Algerian exiled filmmaker in France, accompanied me in this endeavor to give voice to witnesses and share his own story about this historical trauma.”

Dr. Michael R. Fischbach (’86)

Professor of History at Randolph-Macon College and author of The Movement and the Middle East: How the ArabIsraeli Conflict Divided the American Left and Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color (Stanford, 2018 & 2019)

“The study of transnational history sheds important light on the ways that social movements have influenced one another symbiotically across space and time in their respective struggles for justice. Especially in the present neo-liberal world order, replete as it is with various types of oppression, hierarchy, and violence, the value of such history lies in illuminating the ways that people all over the world, as the longtime activist Laura Whitehorn has noted, ‘never stop struggling and never stop waiting for the moment when they can change the things that make their lives unlivable.’”

Dahlia El Zein (‘08)

PhD Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Department of History with a focus on the relationship between SubSaharan Africa and the Middle East

“I believe in teaching/learning (and unlearning) the histories of the Middle East from a Global South perspective, connecting it to other parts of the historic Third World, particularly Africa. I emphasize in my teaching praxis the need for deeper understandings across South-South histories. Through the study of history we learn to develop empathy for other human beings, requiring us to interrogate our assumptions about the past, people, and places. Learning empathy and critical thinking are lifelong skills for students to make sense of their place in the world and how it relates to others.”

Dr. Samuel Dolbee (‘10)

Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, editor-in-chief of the Ottoman History Podcast, and author of Locusts of Power: Borders, Empire, and Environment in the Modern Middle East (Cambridge, forthcoming 2023)

“The importance of history to me is understanding how things got to be the way they are, and using the past to imagine how the present can be changed. My experiences at CCAS profoundly shaped this approach. As I teach today, I often think of the masterful way Judith Tucker led seminars, which I try to emulate and also inevitably come up short on.”

Dr. Wilson Chacko Jacob (‘95)

Professor of History at Concordia University and author of For God or Empire: Sayyid Fadl and the Indian Ocean World (Stanford, 2019) and Working Out Egypt: Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial Modernity, 1870-1940 (Duke, 2011)

“In my first book I used gender—masculinity in particular—to open up the history of Egyptian nationalism to a broader political, social, and cultural analysis. I thought this was generative to an extent but was bothered that it was still limited by the framework of the nation-state. So in my second book, somewhat counterintuitively I went smaller, to the level of an individual caught up in the great transformations of the nineteenth century. Through life history I believe we are able to get a “feel” for some of the massive changes in the legal and political reordering of

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