Appointed As

Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies Postdoctoral Fellow


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Emory University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, American Studies, The George Washington University

Dissertation Abstract

"Unusual Figures: Race, Empire and Unseeing the Global Middle East"

Unusual Figures Race, Empire and Unseeing the Global Middle East tracks the lives of several figures whose experiences shed light on the complex ways Middle Eastern identities have been lived, imagined, and negotiated across the long twentieth century. At first glance, the “unusual figures” I analyze come from very different backgrounds: Calouste Gulbenkian was an Ottoman Armenian oil financier who lived most of his life in Europe; Aliya Hassen was a mid-century Muslim activist from the Midwest; Palestinian American Edward Said was one of the most influential intellectuals of the twentieth century; and Lebanese Colombian Shakira Mebarak is a global pop music phenomenon. However, drawing on personal papers, multinational corporate archives, popular culture and government documents, I show how these four lives inhabit the global racial projects that construct “the Middle East” and its peoples in complex and deeply problematic ways. Utilizing a micro-historical methodology organized around multiple sites, these biographies outline dialectical relationships between the overdetermined ways these figures are seen and unseen, versus how they imagine themselves. Resisting declensionist and oversimplified narratives of assimilation, I demonstrate the endurance of MENA networks even under the crushing weight of imperial formations. In doing so, I frame these figures and their diasporas within shared processes of genocide, displacement, erasure and enfranchisement, which I dub “trans-imperial racecraft."
Emphasizing and interrogating points of contact and discrepancy between scholarly formations, I offer a critique of Ethnic Studies via Middle East Studies - and vice versa - to propose a necessary queering of categories that problematizes assumptions about nation, state, religion, class, color, and ideology that bound normative Middle Eastern subjects. By connecting regions, sites and periods often treated as discrete and disconnected, my project makes an important intervention in temporal and geographic scope, and contributes to three scholarly conversations: 1) nationalism in relation to empire, theorized from an Ottoman rather than European center; 2) debates about race and ethnicity and the role of color, religion, and foreign policy therein, and 3) global histories that articulate a global racial field exceeding a single state. I bring the Ottoman Empire back into histories of empire, nationalist Middle Eastern histories, and Ethnic Studies to show the collusion between imperial formations and salience of race as a mode of governance, including in the Ottoman Empire and Middle East where it has often been sidestepped as a meaningful unit of analysis.