October 28, 2015
Faiz Ahmed named inaugural Faculty Fellow of Middle East Studies, a two-year appointment.
How did you first get interested in your field of study?
That is a long story! The University did an interview with me in Fall 2013 shortly after my hire at Brown, which partially addresses this question. The short version: I went to law school because, like many young law students, I sought to make the world a better place through law. After a pivotal experience working for a non-profit legal defense agency in Kabul, I ended up asking more questions, and not only about other places. Where do terms like the rule of law, constitutionalism, legal history, and even law itself come from? How are they deployed by various actors? And what might they mean–are there locally-driven “equivalents”?–to different societies and juridical traditions at different periods in time? You could say I am still idealistic, but I have since tried to be so in a more historically-informed, self-aware, and thoughtful kind of way.
What keeps you excited about this field?
My students; the sparkle in their eyes on learning something new or discovering a new perspective about the Middle East; the knowledge and awareness that history matters; knowing that how we view history is intimately connected to our own present; the historical (not just contemporary!) centrality of the “Middle East” and Mediterranean regions; and, finally, remembering just how fortunate I am/we are in terms of educational opportunities at top US universities, having lived in societies and known people where I could not begin here to describe the disparities from our own—and for no fault of their own. That being said, on an everyday level I am driven by the aspiration not just to be an excellent historian and scholar, but a conscientious citizen who will do my part to making a better community, country, and world. One way I hope to do so is by imparting new ways of thinking about difference and diversity in our world, as well as fostering global, interconnected perspectives towards historical injustices and their continuing legacies today. Perhaps, then, our young people today and future generations who seek to change the world—or let us say, care to leave a better world for their grandchildren—will do so thoughtfully and constructively, and by seeking knowledge and understanding as the first step.
Where do you see your work going in the next few years?
A mix of my traditional strengths as a historian with some new archival adventures: Continuing to be based principally in Ottoman Turkish archives and multilingual sources, but expanding my research on Ottoman foreign relations and migration networks to new and non-conventional areas of study, in particular North America, with possible forays into Latin America and the Caribbean.
What are your favorite topics to teach? Why?
The Making of the Modern Middle East, Ottoman History, Afghanistan, Social History of Islamic Law, America and the Middle East. Why? Because they are all amazingly rich, relevant, and complicated histories with global ramifications, and they deal with people and places that I have spent considerable time getting to know—via historical manuscripts and archives, or living there.
What books or publication projects are you working on now (and hoping to publish in the near future)?
I recently completed my book manuscript on Afghanistan’s modern legal history, which is currently under editorial review. The book presents a transnational approach to an otherwise lost history: the making of Afghanistan’s first constitution by a multinational commission of Ottoman, Afghan, and Indian jurists between the late nineteenth century and the official promulgation of the charter in 1923. I am also beginning research for my second book, which will be on the relations between the Ottoman Empire and the United States.
Interviewed by Qussay Al-Attabi