How I Left For Princeton To Study The Medieval Middle East

A life 2022

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How I Left For Princeton To Study The Medieval Middle East
How I Left For Princeton To Study The Medieval Middle East

Video: How I Left For Princeton To Study The Medieval Middle East

Video: Dr. Marina Rustow: Documents and Archives in the Medieval Middle East and Beyond 2022, November
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In 2014, I graduated from the ISAA master's program at Moscow State University and immediately after that she entered the graduate program there. Before that, I went to study abroad several times. First, I went to the American University of Beirut for two months: then for the first time I realized that I could compete with graduates of foreign institutions. Then there were two months in Paris at the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations, where I was doing my master's thesis, and, finally, a short trip to Tel Aviv, where I studied Hebrew.

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I'm not interested in being the only one

to the whole of Russia as a specialist in something, I want to be a part of the world scientific community

Already somewhere in the middle of my first year in graduate school at Moscow State University, I realized that she did not suit me: I did not feel professional growth. Therefore, at first I went on a research trip to Israel and began to collect documents for admission to various American universities. I chose the USA. Europe did not suit me, because the approach to graduate school there is similar to the Russian one: three years, and from the very beginning you sit down to write a dissertation. No study, only scientific work - and I had a desire to learn something else. Britain pushed away with a high price, because getting to Oxford or Cambridge is not so difficult - it is much more difficult to get money for it. Before that, I already had the experience of entering a master's program at SOAS - the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London - where they were ready to take me, but I did not have enough money - one training would have cost 16 thousand pounds.

American programs are good because, firstly, they involve a very serious study in the first two years of graduate school, and secondly, there are very generous scholarships. Middle Eastern studies are popular in the United States, so there are many programs. I applied to McGill University of Canada and four American universities - Chicago, New York, Columbia and Princeton. Moreover, I was fully confident that I would go either to Chicago or New York, and sent the documents to Princeton just by chance. Everything turned out the other way around: the first four universities refused me. The affirmative letter from Princeton was the last to arrive. I still remember that day - it was just a miracle. I was in Tel Aviv, sitting at a lecture - when this letter arrived, I ran out of the audience and began to call home.

Selection for Princeton is carried out in two stages - first on the basis of submitted documents, and then subsequent interviews. I could not come in person, so they spoke to me on Skype. I must say that the interviews are very intensive: they check both scientific knowledge and linguistic knowledge. I had two linguistic and one scientific. At the last one, the professors talked to me for 40 minutes, and it was as if I was hired: for example, they asked why I wanted to go to Princeton. Although this is even ridiculous - Princeton! When I was asked this question - and they knew that I was already a graduate student at Moscow State University - I replied that I felt isolated. That I am not interested in being the only specialist in something in the whole of Russia, I want to be a part of the world scientific community.

I am currently in my second year of my postgraduate program at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. The path to the topic of the dissertation was long and thorny, but I was lucky with the teachers who were very open and always supported me. Over the past year, I have transformed from a specialist in modern history into a medievalist. It is not surprising that I have changed direction: here it can be done within the first two years. This becomes impossible after passing the candidate minimums. This will happen for me in the fall of the third year, and before that I want to recruit more narrow courses in my specialty.

Now I would very much like to say that all my life I have wanted to study precisely the medieval Arab East. Even my first coursework at ISAA was dedicated to him - I wrote it from medieval geographical literature. I really liked it then, but it still seemed to me that I didn't know enough Arabic to work with medieval sources. Arriving at Princeton, I immediately took a course from Professor Michael Cook, who teaches us to work with materials from the Middle Ages, with the living language of those times. And then I realized for the first time that I could work with these texts.

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Then I signed up, already for purely romantic reasons, for a course in Arabic paleography - it is impossible to study Arabic and not know that there are Arabic manuscripts and calligraphy. For me it became love at first sight. I realized that if there were no Arabic manuscripts in my dissertation, it would be a waste of my time and intellectual potential. From this began my movement towards the Middle Ages - with the final work on the same course and the professor's proposal to write a scientific article. Then I realized that I'd rather do a good thesis than a bad article. My path has been quite ornate, but I think I have found what I want to do - a Zeidi community living in medieval Yemen.

During the first year, I formulated in general terms my theme: the Zeidi imamate of the 15th – 17th centuries in Yemen, or rather, his historiographic school. I am interested to know how they described their history, interacted with other historians. The Zaydite community itself is now a developing trend in Arabic studies, and very little is known about it. Let me explain what zeidism is: it is a separate branch of Shiism, the study of which began relatively recently. A whole galaxy of eminent scholars, many of whom are based in Princeton, are now studying the history of Zaidism. This is, for example, Princeton graduate Najam Haider (now a professor at Columbia University).

Many very interesting stories are connected with this community - for example, how two Zaydite communities, in Yemen and Iran, interacted. By itself, the Yemen of the 15th century is a very curious and at the same time little-studied place. The 15th – 16th century is the time when the Portuguese first sailed to Yemen and found there a flourishing state with connections throughout the Indian Ocean. I want to talk about the intellectual life of this place. Now, when we say Yemen, we imagine a poor, Saudi-bombed country. This is not entirely true even now - modern Yemen is not limited to what is shown on TV, and even more so it is not true in relation to Yemen of the 15th century. It had its own bustling life, people wrote books, poems and traveled. At the same time, medieval Yemen is one of the few white spots in modern Arabic studies, and each manuscript carries a small discovery. Therefore, it is very pleasant to study it: you feel like an Arabist of the 19th century, when it all just began.

Here in Princeton, a small town, there is almost nothing but a university. But living here, you feel that you have your finger on the pulse of the intellectual life of the whole world, because invited teachers are constantly coming. They allocate generous grants at the conference - as a graduate student, I can go to any, and not necessarily to speak, but just to listen. Here you really feel like you are a part of something important. Over the past year, I met more specialists in different areas of my field than in all previous years of study. At the same time, I almost never left Princeton - they came here, and all of us - not only the teachers, but also the students - had the opportunity to get to know them. Also, projects for the digitization of texts and maps are very actively developing here. In addition, more than half of the students at our faculty came from other countries, and there are also many foreigners among the teachers.

Under American law, universities should be open to everyone. But the same Princeton began to accept women for graduate school not so long ago, only in the 60s. There is also a problem with racial diversity in reception. Nevertheless, the official policy of the university (and this is written in all fundamental documents) is openness to people of any nationality, orientation, gender, origin. But it's hard for me to judge how it works, because I'm still a white girl myself. I can only say that I have not encountered gender problems. I haven't heard any complaints from my Asian or African friends either. On the other hand, last year there were massive protests here demanding to rename one of the faculties, named after Woodrow Wilson, because Wilson was a racist. It was never renamed, but the university issued several lengthy statements that it would change its attitude towards the president's legacy. What this will result in is hard to say.

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I would like to convey to others the sincere amazement of the Arab and Islamic culture that I myself feel

In principle, the American teaching system is more student-friendly than the Russian one. The teacher is not the ultimate truth. The student is expected to work actively, and the teacher is more likely to sit in the classroom not to put material into the student, but to discuss information. And as a result, he is more sympathetic to what the student is doing.

As for openness, I have a feeling that women are treated differently in Russia. No, I have not heard any insults addressed to me, but, for example, no one understood why the girl was learning Arabic. I had conversations with teachers that I want to do science - they rolled their eyes at me and asked: "What, what?" Throughout the six years that I spent at ISAA, I heard many times that before girls were admitted there, only “so that they didn't smell like boots,” and sometimes it seemed to me myself that I was more likely to be there as a decoration. I have no doubt that no one specifically wished me harm, but the atmosphere was different. This is not felt here - for example, no one will tell me why I, a dear beautiful girl, spend the best years of my life on dry science.

When I lived in Russia, I thought little about the problems of feminism - probably not least because of the mass perceptions of feminists. Here I think about it, despite the fact that no one specifically pushed me to this topic. Although conversations about women's rights in the United States are very active and with a purely American detail. In general, Americans are very fond of chewing everything down to the smallest details - for example, recently at a training for novice teachers, we were told that a year ago, at the same seminar, half an hour was spent discussing with students that a teacher cannot meet with his students otherwise than in professionally. It would seem that there is nothing to discuss here: if they said no, then no.

Two years ago, psychologist Claude Steele's book “Whistling Vivaldi. How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do”about how to keep track of what you say, how you behave and how it will be perceived, primarily in the classroom. There is such a psychological phenomenon as the threat of stereotype confirmation. If a person feels that others are judging him according to clichéd ideas (he does not even have to specifically point out this, it is enough to create an environment in which he will think about it), then he begins to study and work worse. American universities consider this information to be important for their students and teachers, and I am afraid that the Russian education system is very far from that.

Sometimes I ask myself why I am doing Arabic studies.I would say that my main goal is to show that we can still understand another culture, or try to do it by wading through the flow of distorted information. I do not think that this is a meaningless work, that few people will read a scientific monograph outside the academic world - nevertheless, a huge amount of popular science literature is written in America, and scientists themselves write it. And if such books, small and accessible, are read by people who are not specialists, this will already be a point in our favor.

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I do not know how well one can understand another culture, its deep peculiarities and logical connections - but I believe that we can learn to appreciate it. To understand that it is not at all necessary to be the same in order to respect each other, that the value of human history lies in diversity - in cultures, languages, choices that different societies make trying to arrange their lives. I probably won't write this in the introduction to my first book - they'll just laugh at me - but I try to keep this humanitarian message in mind. I would very much like to convey to others the interest and sincere amazement of the Arab and, more broadly, the Islamic culture and civilization that I myself feel.

Understanding is important: for example, in order not to be angry with the Muslims who blocked the Avenue of Peace in Eid al-Adha, knowing what this holiday means to them. At the same time, no one calls on us, Arabists, to convert to Islam or to be imbued with some special love for it. For example, someone may be annoyed by the call to prayer - but I'm sure it will be less annoying if you imagine what it is. These are very beautiful words: that all of us, people, are mortal, that God exists, and we must sometimes show respect for his power.

What scares me most about my compatriots is this terrible misunderstanding of other cultures - when a taxi driver, passing by the new cathedral mosque in Moscow, says that this is a shame for the Russians. And why, in fact, a shame? Muslims did not appear in Russia yesterday, this community is already several hundred years old, and they are the same Russians as we are. I respect the Western countries very much for the fact that they are conducting this discussion, albeit with numerous excesses. Here I will not resist and recommend the recently published book "What is Islam?" - it is written very simply and clearly, and it is worth reading for everyone who wants to understand at least something about Islam.

The problem with the science I am doing is that everyone is always asking you to explain modernity. The well-known English Arabist Robert Irwin, a specialist in Arabic literature, author of the commentary on "1001 Nights", once very successfully quipped on this topic, when he was once again asked something about ISIS. He said: "Asking an Arabist about ISIS is like asking a Chaucer specialist if Britain will leave the European Union." But this duality is inherent in the history of Arabic studies as a science, and we cannot avoid it. In the meantime, I talk about my research in the blog. I started it off with travel notes when I went to Beirut, but after moving to Princeton, I focused on science and college life.

Photos: Flickr (1, 2, 3) Personal Archive

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