Faculty Research Profiles

LEILA FAWAZ – ISSAM M. FARES PROFESSOR OF LEBANESE AND EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN STUDIES, DIRECTOR OF THE FARES CENTER FOR EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN STUDIES, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, TUFTS UNIVERSITY AND PROFESSOR OF DIPLOMACY, THE FLETCHER SCHOOL

Leila Fawaz is a busy woman. With a joint appointment as a professor of diplomacy at The Fletcher School and a history professor at Tufts University, as well as a position as director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, Fawaz deals with a range of programs, courses, and research involving her region of expertise.

“I’m interested in the Levant – the Eastern Mediterranean,” she says. “Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine: these are the countries that are my strength. And, culturally, the region is amazing. There has been a recent revival of intellectual and cultural history in the area, and we need more of that.”

Fawaz’s research focus on social history is unique, as she explores historical perspectives that hold implications for the role of memory and collective action, and how “regular people” become a part of history.

“Social and political history – you can’t separate them, really,” she says. “I am interested in narrative history – to tell a story in a way that is readable. I would like to tell a story of how people cope with great stress during the war years. This would involve soldiers, but also ordinary people, and how ordinary people deal with extraordinary times.”

This research has only just begun to form for Fawaz. “I spent months and months in the archives, but I still have a lot of books to read in the summer,” she says. Research is more difficult for her to perform during the academic year, as Fawaz teaches the popular “Arabs and their Neighbors” course in the diplomacy field at Fletcher.

“The students here are so good,” she says. “Teaching is an immediate reward – you remember why you are here in the first place.”

Her courses, along with her work at the Fares Center, deal primarily with current affairs in the Middle East. In November, the Center was a co-sponsor of two Charles Francis Adams lectures at The Fletcher School: one by Ambassador Thomas Pickering on Iran's nuclear program (which was initiated with the newly-created Boston Forum on the Middle East), and one by well-known Georgetown University professor John Esposito on American foreign policy and the future of the Muslim world. In addition to overseeing these events, much of Fawaz’s time involves preparation for a conference the Center is hosting in January 2006, entitled “Democratizing the Middle East?”.

“It’s a very current topic, and the conference will be just after the Iraqi elections, and around the time of the Palestinian elections,” Fawaz says.

With her range of expertise, which includes work on urban history, urbanization, 19th century civil war, and cultural connections between the civilizations that have grown around the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, Fawaz’s intellectual curiosity is far from satisfied.

“We start at the present and look back for the answers,” she says, “to understand where we are now.”

By Stacy Reiter Neal, MALD '07