2017 Fall

Middle East Center Newsletter | Fall 2017


We at the Middle East Center are excited to welcome new faculty, students, and FLAS recipients to the University of Washington. This year, we continue to bring awareness and understanding of the intertwined histories, politics, and cultures of the Middle East to our communities—engaged scholars, students, and members of the public. As with previous years, the MEC has programs and events that help unpack some of the more complex issues of our time. We look forward to seeing and hearing from you.

Arzoo Osanloo
Director, Middle East Center
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies


Professor Liora Halperin Joins the Middle East Center Faculty

The Middle East Center welcomes Professor Liora Halperin as a new faculty member at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. Professor Halperin is the first holder of the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Chair in Israel Studies. Her research focuses on Jewish cultural history, Jewish-Arab relations in Ottoman and Mandate Palestine, and the shaping of Zionist national memory in the Jewish agricultural colonies. Her first book, Babel in Zion: Jews, Nationalism, and Language Diversity in Palestine, 1920-1948 (Yale University Press, 2015), received the Association for Israel Studies’ Shapiro Prize for Best Book in Israel Studies in 2015. In the interview below, Professor Halperin discusses her career, teaching, and research.

How did you first become interested in the field of Israel Studies and particularly the historical interaction between Arabs and Jews?

My interests in the historical study of Israel/Palestine initially began when I discovered that one of my great-grandfathers had been born in Ottoman Palestine to a religious Eastern-European Jewish family that had immigrated to Jerusalem more than three quarters of a century before the beginnings of the modern Zionist movement. I’m a third/fourth generation American, mostly with ancestors who came to the United States directly from the Russian Empire, so the Palestine/Israel piece of my own past came as a fascinating surprise to me. I became interested in understanding the ways his family got connected to and wrapped up in larger political and cultural developments in Palestine and then Israel over the following centuries. Many of these dynamics were related to the growing tensions and struggles between waves of new Jewish immigrants and different segments of the local Palestinian Arab population. So I began to delve into both Jewish and Middle Eastern history and also the study of nationalism, national cultures, and collective memory. Through this study I developed interests that went well beyond my family connections as I learned about the many ways that Israel/Palestine sits at the intersection of so many regional and global developments in modern times.

Was there anyone (a teacher, scholar, friend, or relative) who particularly influenced or inspired you in your academic career?

When I was a freshman in college, I had the pleasure of working with Prof. Laila Parsons, a specialist in the Middle Eastern history who was then at Harvard and is now at McGill University. She saw my interest in researching a topic I had just begun to uncover and encouraged me to systematically read in the field and learn the techniques of doing historical research and writing, all while being a really supportive role model, including a model for being a woman in academia. I also wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today without the support and encouragement of many other mentors since who challenged me, asked me hard questions, and offered me personal role models of how to balance the various demands of teaching and research and to make career decisions.

You received your Ph.D. in History from UCLA in 2011. Now that you have been teaching for the past six years, how have you seen your teaching style or perspective on the craft of teaching evolve?

Undergraduate teaching is always a work in progress, and I’ve learned a lot through watching and learning from more experienced colleagues and trying out new techniques over the years. I’ve enjoyed combining more traditional methods like lecture with techniques like debates, role playing, voting, or journaling. When I do try something new, I enjoy seeking feedback from students about what worked for them best.

What do you most enjoy about teaching?

Meeting a different set of students every quarter, every one of whom has their own story, experiences, interests, and perspectives. Being a professor means that one meets hundreds of students over the years, which is hundreds of opportunities to learn new things. I particularly enjoy having the opportunity to help a student who is interested in a topic pursue a deeper understanding of the subject and direct them to resources, or to help graduating students figure out how to transfer what they care about into work or further study that will prepare them for the future.

What research projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a book now about the Eastern European Jewish immigrants who set up agricultural colonies in Ottoman Palestine in the late 19th century and the ways in which those settlers, and their descendants, commemorated their past over the century that followed. I’m also beginning work on the history of Jews who chose to leave Israel/Palestine for a wide variety of international destinations and for a range of reasons, as well as the politics wrapped up in this choice in a country that so wanted to encourage Jews from around the world to come settle in Israel.

What courses will you be teaching and developing in the future?

In the fall quarter I’m teaching “History of Modern Israel/Palestine,” in the Winter I’m teaching a Modern Jewish History course, and in the Spring I will be teaching a Jackson School Advanced Topics course. Beyond this year, I’m planning to teach a course on the history of Muslim-Jewish Relations and an urban history course about the cities of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, develop graduate classes in Israel/Palestine Studies and global Jewish History, and think about new Israel/Palestine or Jewish Studies courses that will serve students in the Jackson School, the History department, and beyond.

Simpson Center for the Humanities Awards Next Generation Humanities Ph.D. Grant to the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies

In late spring 2017, the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington awarded the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies (NMES) a Next Generation Humanities Ph.D. grant for the project New Scholarly Practices, Broader Career Paths: Transforming the Curriculum to Prepare Next Generation Scholars in Near and Middle Eastern Studies. The project seeks to change the conversation in the NMES Ph.D. Program to include a discussion about the role of public scholarship, digital humanities, and new media publications in building a career as a humanities scholar. It also aims to update the program’s professionalization seminar to institutionalize exploration of broader career paths early in students’ Ph.D. training.

Simpson Center Logo

Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities

Nearly twenty years ago, faculty from a number of departments founded the NMES Ph.D. Program to solve a major problem in graduate education: that many important projects required training that was truly interdisciplinary and transregional. The program strongly believes now is the moment to push forward and, once again, be the vanguard in reimagining the Ph.D. in the Humanities. With this project, the NMES Program is creating an institutional space that provides students with the necessary flexibility (1) to recognize digital humanities, public scholarship, and publications in new media as career scholarship into the curriculum, (2) to encourage all students to imagine career paths that are broader in scope, audience and practice, and (3) to create an institutional environment that recognizes students’ work with digital humanities and public scholarship is a part of the program’s overall intellectual breath, creativity, and scholarly engagement.

New Scholarly Practices, Broader Career Paths will facilitate a series of conversations among graduate students and faculty members to benefit from the expertise and experience of young successful scholars from the University of Washington and other universities in the United States. Thanks to the support of the Simpson Center, together with the Department of History, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, and the Middle East Center, the NMES Program has organized three roundtable discussions on the following major themes:

  • Making Your Public Scholarship Career Scholarship
    November 3, 2017 | 3:30 – 5:30 p.m., CMU 226, UW-Seattle
  •  Digital Humanities and New Media Publication as Public Scholarship
    January 12, 2018 |3:30 – 5:30 p.m., Simpson Center Seminar Room (CMU 202), UW-Seattle
  •  Mapping Off-Ramps and On-Ramps to Academic Careers
    March 2, 2018 |3:30 – 5:30 p.m., Simpson Center Seminar Room (CMU 202), UW-Seattle

All of the invited speakers are young scholars who are successfully pushing the boundaries of traditional forms of scholarship to reach broader readerships and audiences and who have created new career opportunities for themselves in the process. The speakers include: Ziad Abu Rish, Assistant Professor, History, Ohio University; Zeyno Üstün, Ph.D. Candidate, Sociology, The New School University; Chris Gratien, Assistant Professor, History, University of Virginia; Sarah Ketchley, lecturer, Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, University of Washington; Dominic Longo, Assistant Professor, Theology, University of St. Thomas; and Kathryn Zyskowski, Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology, University of Washington. In addition to the roundtables, the NMES Program will host a capstone workshop to highlight ongoing projects in public scholarship and digital humanities by Near and Middle East studies scholars and students at the University of Washington.

For details on each event, watch the Simpson Center for the Humanities’ website. The NMES Program welcomes broad participation and discussion in all of the planned panels and speaker events. The project is collaboratively organized by three advanced Ph.D. candidates in the NMES program—Oscar Aguirre-Mandujano, Esra Bakkalbaşıoğlu, and Michael Degerald—and the NMES Program Director, Cabeiri Robinson.

Middle East Studies M.A. Program

Incoming Student Profile | Pablo Tutillo

Pablo Tutillo What inspired my professional and academic goals is my own multicultural upbringing. My family is originally from Ecuador and Puerto Rico, so growing up as an American Latino helped me understand that building bridges between people of different cultures is important.

My interest in Arabic began when I was 13 and I attended a United Nations Conference in my hometown in New London, Connecticut. There I met a delegation of Moroccan youth who were also around my age. They wrote the entire Arabic alphabet and numbers for me. I was in awe and became really interested in it. I still have the notebook!  In high school, only French was offered, so I started to learn French and to study French colonization and its history in the Arab countries of North Africa. When I entered Connecticut College as an undergraduate, I jumped at the opportunity to take Arabic.

I earned a minor in Arabic Studies and since then I have enjoyed studying the region from various angles like political science, literature, history of Arab sciences, economics, and diasporas. Now, as an American Latino with the ability to speak English and Spanish, I’ve grown up seeing the world in two lenses, which has motivated me to explore the connections between Latin America and the Middle East.

As a new graduate student in the Middle East Studies Program at the Jackson School, I am motivated to study human rights in an interdisciplinary perspective, particularly the politics of being a refugee, because history has been unkind in bringing reparations and justice to the memory of people who have lived dispersed or in exile. I am interested in dissecting the refugee experience and the implications of exile in various political regimes and the recognition by these regimes thereafter of the hardships borne by the citizens of these countries.

After living in Istanbul for a year while I was teaching English and learning Turkish on a scholarship from the government of Turkey, I saw first-hand some of the millions of Syrian citizens who are now refugees in Turkey. I didn’t have to go to a refugee camp to see the dozens of people spread out on the streets with their families. In these groups of refugees, women refugees are the most vulnerable to physical assault and exploitation, as noted by Amnesty International. Along with that is the experience of gay, lesbian and transgender people who remain vulnerable to harassment and death threats. The gay, lesbian, and queer Syrians who are trying to recreate their lives abroad have found a safe space in Istanbul. For this reason, I find it important in the movement for human rights to include vulnerable groups, refugees, women, and LGBT people, in order to learn their stories and improve their well-being.

For me, it is important to understand the history of diasporas from the Middle East. It is important to understand the plight of Palestinian refugees, of Jewish refugees, of Syrian refugees, of people in the Armenian diaspora, and now, as well, the plight of LGBT people fleeing their home countries.  The term refugee hasn’t always existed, but nevertheless the hardships of people have been carefully kept in the collective memory of diaspora communities. In this manner, their hardship has not received justice from society or governments, so we must continue to write this history.


Undergraduate Awardees

Oliver LangOliver Lang (Arabic) is majoring in International Studies and is interested in Islam in the Middle East and Europe. He would like to research the changing dynamics of Muslim fiqh authorities within the political and legal structure of their societies, post-Arab Spring, especially within context of the large diaspora of Muslim refugees in Europe. Oliver’s ultimate goal is to research the implications of developments in legal discourse for US foreign policy and to use this expertise working for the State Department and/or through graduate study. His FLAS fellowship will help him pursue an immersive study of Arabic to understand the ideas in the traditional Arabic canon as well as modern media.

Olga LaskinOlga Laskin (Hebrew) is an International Studies and Economics major with minors in Political Science and Human Rights who is interested in pursuing diplomatic work in the Middle East, specifically in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. She was born in Jerusalem after her family immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1991. Her experiences in Israel growing up motivated her to pursue these fields of study, because she believes they are critical in developing a beneficial two-state solution. Olga hopes to work in the Middle East either with a peace-promoting NGO or in a US embassy to understand more of the issues on the ground and work on tangible solutions.

Matthew Manner (Arabic) is majoring in Mathematics and is interested in a career in military intelligence and national security. He is an Air Force ROTC cadet and chose to study Arabic because of its challenging nature and relevance. After graduating from college, Matthew will take advantage of the resources offered in the military to continue to hone his Arabic skills, such as the Department of Defense’s Defense Language Institute. Matthew also wants to study abroad in the Middle East while at the University of Washington. Eventually, he would like to use his Arabic skills in real-world applications.


Graduate Awardees

Vincent CalvettiVincent G. Calvetti (Arabic) is an Interdisciplinary Near and Middle Eastern Studies Ph.D. student whose research focuses on the interaction between the Israeli state and Mizrahi Jewish communities. His current project examines the renewed controversy in Israel over what has become known as the Yemenite Babies Affair, in which he is examining declassified files to think about models of accountability, reparations, and reconciliation in multicultural immigrant societies. His goal is to pursue an academic career working with think-tanks involved with civil society efforts. Vincent hopes that his research will benefit those working for justice and reconciliation on the ground in Israel and Palestine as well as around the world.

 Melinda CohoonMelinda Cohoon (Arabic) is a recent graduate of the Middle East Studies program at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and is entering the Near and Middle Eastern Studies Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program this fall. Her dissertation research will use colloquial Arabic as a tool to study minority video gamers in the Persian Gulf and the political sphere of video games. She is also deeply interested in studying digital media and how it concerns metadata and contemporary issues in the Middle East. After she receives her Ph.D., Melinda would like to pursue a career as a professor in Interdisciplinary Studies.

Russell Guajardo (Turkish) is pursuing a Masters in Middle East Studies with a focus on Turkey at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, where he hopes to advance his understanding of Turkish politics and foreign policy. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Stanford University, Russell moved to Washington, D.C. to research US-Turkey relations with a large business-focused NGO. He later taught English in Turkey on a Fulbright Scholarship. After completing his Masters, Russell plans to pursue a career in the US Foreign Service and someday attain a university teaching and research position to inspire a new generation to work in public service and Turkish Studies.

Leah O’Bryant (Arabic) is pursuing a Masters of Social Work at the University of Washington, with a focus on using cross-cultural practices to work with immigrants and refugees from the Middle East, especially youth who have experienced trauma. Over the last four years, Leah has helped develop, expand, and run an organization called Awareness and Prevention Through Art (aptART). Her FLAS fellowship will give her the Arabic language skills necessary to develop closer relationships with the Arabic-speaking youth she works with. Ultimately, her goal is to create a therapeutic space for youth to use their voices to fight for a more just and secure world.

Heather Rodriguez (Arabic) is an M.A. student in Middle East Studies at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. She is interested in studying the historiography, cultures, and languages of the Middle East to discover a richer explanation for modern day issues. Her long-term goal is to become a professor in Near Eastern, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the university level. Rodriguez’ ultimate goal is to encourage future students to “unpack” the conflicts in the Middle East by analyzing and questioning their sources.

Maral Sahebjame (Arabic) is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies. Maral is interested in examining gender and law discourses in Muslim-majority socities. She hopes to improve her Arabic skills to access sources that will aid her ethnographic research in revealing narratives of gender and desire in the modern Middle East. Her career goal is to attain a position in a non-profit organization or an international agency in the U.S., where she can contribute to strengthening Americans’ understanding of the region.


10/31/2017:  The Islamic Republic of Iran through the Lens of the Welfare State
Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, UCLA

11/2/2017: Popular Politics and the Making of Post-Colonial Lebanon, 1943-1955
Ziad Abu-Rish, Assistant Professor of History, Ohio University

11/13/2017: Syrian “Sisters of Men” and the Gendering of Arab Internationalism, 1938-1949
Nova Robinson, Assistant Professor of History and International Studies, Seattle University

2/26/2018: Politics of Infrastructure: Minorities’ Access to Water and Electricity in Turkey and Israel
Esra Bakkalbasioglu, Ph.D. Candidate, Interdisciplinary Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Washington, Seattle