The Red-Faced Demon of Khurasan: Conquest and Rebellion on an Early Islamic Frontier
Robert Haug, Department of History
The Red-Faced Demon of Khurasan: Conquest and Rebellion on an Early Islamic Frontier is a micro-historical study of the Arab Conquests of the seventh century focused on the lives of warrior, governor, and rebel ʿAbdallah b. Khazim (d. 691-2) and his son Musa (d. 704-5). The purpose is to use Ibn Khazim’s exploits in eastern Iran and Central Asia as a lens to explore key issues in the study of early Islamic history—the Arab Conquests and the First and Second Fitnas or Civil Wars, particularly—including the construction of a shared cultural memory and the shaping of an ideal frontier warrior in medieval Islamic society. Current research into the Arab Conquests has largely struggled with reconstructing events from our limited sources. A more focused approach offers a new path for studying the conquests and their meaning in a medieval context that de-centers questions of grand narrative; why and how the Arabs succeeded in rapidly forming a vast empire; while simultaneously opening new avenues to explore them as well as questions of memory and masculinity in reports of the early Islamic caliphate. Ibn Khazim was a striking frontier warrior and medieval chroniclers recorded detailed accounts of his exploits. Unusually detailed accounts of the actions of Ibn Khazim and his son Musa read like adventure stories replete with a mix of swashbuckling heroism and villainous deceit.
Why were these reports were preserved rather than others? How did these reports function within medieval chronicles, local histories, and biographical dictionaries to shape contrasting images of an idealized Muslim frontier warrior extending the limits of the Abode of Islam and a seditious villain bringing violence and strife to the community?
Remembering Non-Humans in American Space Exploration: Memory at the Intersection of Patriotism, Science, and the Environment
John Lynch, Department of Communication
In 1971, Stuart Roosa took 500 seeds into orbit on Apollo 14. After they germinated, NASA distributed them across the United States. These “moon trees” were planted as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. Animals, specifically non-human primates, have also been celebrated and remembered for their role in space exploration: Miss Able (a rhesus monkey), Miss Baker (a squirrel monkey), and Ham (chimpanzee) were the first American “astronauts” to survive rocket launch. Notably, Miss Able was stuffed and put on display at one time in a Smithsonian exhibit on the early stages of American space exploration. The moon trees and the exhibit of Miss Able are notable examples of public memory of science and space exploration that weave together patriotism, space exploration, and technological creativity, alongside early environmentalism’s optimism that Americans could save the environment while maintaining their prosperity and standard of living.
This project examines the memorials devoted to the nonhuman participants in American space exploration—the bicentennial moon trees and the space monkeys. Such a combination of patriotic, scientific and environmentally-friendly sentiments is notable partly because of its absence from contemporary society, raising questions about why those combined sentiments disappeared and how they could be revived, assuming they should. Studying the public memory of non-humans in space exploration continues my research trajectory of studying museums and memorials devoted to science and medicine. This work began with the 2013 essay on the Creation Museum and
the The Origins of Bioethics: Remembering When Medicine Went Wrong(2019).
Resistance and Rollback: The Politics of Women’s Rights Contestation at the United Nations
Rebecca Sanders, Department of Political Science
The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is one of the most widely ratified international human rights treaties. Yet international women’s rights have been a constant source of controversy. From the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development to the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women to the contemporary Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and General Assembly, conservative states and NGOs have sought to block, limit, and roll back the articulation and dissemination of international women’s rights principles at the United Nations and other international fora. Their core targets include sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the concept of socially constructed rather than biologically determined gender roles and identities. Growing coordination between longstanding religious fundamentalists and ascendant far-right patriarchal populists has provided new impetus for these attacks, accelerating and deepening effort to spoil the international women’s rights agenda. In this project, I trace these developments by identifying key actors, documenting their strategies and tactics, and analyzing implications for the sustainability and progressive development of international women’s rights principles.
On the Spectrum: Jewish Refugees from Nazi Austria and the Politics of Disability in Britain and America
Katherine Sorrels, Department of History
This book project traces Jewish pediatricians and disabled children who fled Nazi Vienna for northern Scotland, where they founded an intentional community called Camphill Special School. Camphill soon grew into an international movement for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Today, there are over 130 Camphill Villages around the world. Camphill’s success is due in part to the way its founders subverted medical norms in disability care: people with disabilities live with their caretakers in family-style households that stress communal learning, work, and social life. Sorrels' argues that Camphill conceived of a new idea of home, one that met a pressing need that neither individual households nor state institutions could fill. The model they developed is championed by some high-profile disability self-advocates and sharply criticized by others; it has far-reaching implications for our understanding of disability as a category. Based on oral history interviews and extensive archival research, the book reconstructs and contextualizes the moment’s history and culture.
Undoing Paul: Imagining Apostolic Insecurity in the Neoliberal Age
Jay Twomey, Department of English & Comparative Literature
This project seeks to understand the Apostle Paul’s relevance to American cultural politics and U.S. neoliberal hegemony over most of the last century. Although there are many books about Jesus’ significance in the U.S., there are none that treat Paul in similar terms – this despite the (only apparently paradoxical) cliché that Paul was the founder of Christianity. The idea emerged from a study of a Nixon-era historical novel, Taylor Caldwell’s bestselling Great Lion of God (1970), which imagines a Paul whose values, perspectives, and policy positions reflect those of both the emerging New Right and the nascent neoliberal economic order. Her novel gives voice to what historian Rick Perlstein calls the “paranoia and dread,” the “subterranean viciousness” of Nixon’s Silent Majority – its sexism and racism and its misrecognition of capitalism as national identity. But to a surprising extent it also allegorizes the social and economic insecurity that neoliberal policies would soon generate. This dynamic tension between an imaginative construct and its undoing makes Paul an apt figure for the paradoxes at the heart of American culture during the neoliberal era and will be central to the present study. What’s true of Caldwell’s Paul is true also of Pauline appropriations on the left or in the center, and accordingly works of James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, Gore Vidal, Toni Morrison, and a handful of others (including a graphic novelist, a Black evangelical hip hop artist, student filmmakers, and some international writers commenting on the American scene, most notably Pier Paolo Pasolini) are discussed. Ultimately, in addition to tracing Paul’s shifting cultural politics, this book seeks to make the case for more tentative and complicated readings of the New Testament works by and about Paul than one tends to find in religious contexts.
Previous Center Fellows