1. What drew you to study the Near East?
I can trace my first interest in Near Eastern history to a paragraph I read in a high school Spanish class about Al-Andalus. That reading assignment piqued my interest in the Arab world—when I entered college, I was thrilled to be able to take Arabic as a foreign language. My interests developed from there, eventually leading to a fascination with medieval history.
2. Where do you hope to be in the future and how do you hope to use your degree?
I hope to work either in academia or in a research capacity at an international NGO.
3. What is your topic of research and what, for you, is most exciting or interesting about it?
I am interested in the social and cultural history of the medieval Islamic world (especially Spain). We have the tendency to draw borders around the different regions of the world, but in reality these borders are very porous. I am continually fascinated by how people, objects, and ideas move around and interact with one another, both within these borders and across them.
4. Reflect on your experiences as an NES grad student. How has NES changed the way you think about the world?
I think that one of the particular strengths of the NES program is its interdisciplinary focus. I have taken classes on history, literature, and even music. These opportunities within NES have allowed me to form a very cohesive view of the world. Everything is connected—even though my primary focus is history, I have realized that I can't fully understand it without also knowing something of other fields.
5. What class(es) are you most excited about taking and why?
Last semester, I had the opportunity to take a class on Ibn Hazm, a medieval Andalusian intellectual, with Dr. Ross Brann. This was a wonderful course, and I would gladly take it again if given the chance. We did a close reading of Ibn Hazm's texts in the original Arabic, which was very enlightening. With Dr. Brann's guidance in working through the complexities of the text, it felt as though I was looking through a window into the mind of the author.
I am currently taking a course with Dr. David Powers called the "Search for Historical Muhammad." I am thrilled to be taking this class as well, because of its extensive focus on the birth of Islam and the stories surrounding the early days of the religion. I have always been fascinated by this period of Islamic history, because we know so little about it. In addition, Islam is integral to my studies, and this course has greatly helped me understand it.
6. Have you traveled or do you hope to travel anywhere in the Middle East? If so, where? How would you describe your experience abroad?
I have spent some time in Oman studying Arabic. It was a great experience, and I really enjoyed getting to know the Omani people, who are some of the friendliest I have ever met. I also enjoyed visiting the ancient ruins and reconstructed forts in the country—it felt as though I was walking in history. In the future, I plan on traveling to other parts of the Middle East, especially Jordan, Morocco, and Israel.
7. Who/what has been most influential for you during your time here in the Department of Near Eastern Studies?
I have found the monthly departmental colloquiums to be instrumental in changing the way I think and the questions I ask in my research. Because our department faculty have such diverse research interests, I have encountered ways of thinking and methods that are sometimes very different than my own. I think that the exposure to these other areas of study will continue to be highly influential in my graduate career (and beyond).