February 26, 2015
Sarah Tobin, Associate Director for Middle East Studies, has been featured on the Explore Watson series on the Watson Institute website. In “Reading Newsweek in Tashkent: Birth of an Anthropologist,” Sarah Tobin shares her experiences in Uzbekistan, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and how they have inspired her academic and professional work as an anthropologist.
Once every few months the volunteers would travel to the capital city, Tashkent, for mail. “I would bring home a stack of Newsweek magazines — every Peace Corps volunteer had a subscription,” says Tobin. “I read every word. There was one issue in which they were talking about the different ways Easter is celebrated around the world, and they cited anthropologist after anthropologist. And it was like this light bulb went off. I had never taken an anthropology course, I didn’t know what anthropology was. But as I read this article I realized I wanted to be somebody who knew those kinds of things.”
Back home, Tobin enrolled in a master’s program and got a job with an NGO in Egypt, where she was to do her fieldwork. Her plane ticket to Cairo was dated September 12, 2001. “I packed on the 10th. I unpacked on the 11th,” she says. “But the next issue of Newsweek had a cover that said, ‘Why do they hate us?’ with all these pictures of Central Asians, and I said, ‘I know the answer to that question!’ I knew who Osama bin Laden was years before a typical American. It was a real issue that people would talk about in the village. Suddenly these questions of economy and Central Asia and anthropology took on an importance they hadn’t had before.”