Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

MES Faculty Elias Muhanna Wins Dissertation Prize

April 23, 2013

Elias Muhanna, assistant professor of comparative literature and faculty in Middle East Studies, has been named the recipient of the 2012 Bruce D. Craig Prize for Mamluk Studies for his dissertation "Encyclopaedism in the Mamluk Period: The Composition of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Nuwayrī's (d. 1333) Nihāyat al-Arab fī Funūn al-Adab."

The Bruce D. Craig Prize is given annually by Mamlūk Studies Review for the best dissertation on a topic related to the Mamluk Sultanate submitted to an American or Canadian university during the preceding calendar year.

In bestowing the award, the committee noted:

Elias Muhanna's dissertation offers a detailed examination of one of the most important Mamluk encyclopaedias and addresses a crucial theme of the Mamluk period, the rise of encyclopaedism. The dissertation connects cultures of literacy to larger political processes, namely state formation. The author argues that al-Nuwayrī's work must be understood within the trend of 14th-century administrative and institutional centralization and that it is the expression of a wider trend in blending adab and religious learning. Methodologically, this is a bold move and one that historians rarely attempt, the tendency rather being to examine literary production as related to narrower fields of influence. Furthermore, Muhanna's codicological work is admirable and his grasp of languages strong.

This is a well written, superbly competent, and original study, which makes a major contribution to the study of Mamluk cultural production and the field of Mamluk history at large. The author is to be commended for his close reading of the text. This allows him to offer a much nuanced discussion of the text's genesis, structure, and function. "Encyclopaedism of the Mamluk Period" is the work of an engaged and energetic scholar.