September 18, 2012
By Nike Nivar
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series. The members featured in this column have been randomly selected and then contacted by AHA staff. If you would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight, please contact Nike Nivar.
Peter Sluglett is a visiting research professor in the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore. He has been an AHA member since 2000.
Current school or alma mater/s: BA, Cambridge 1966; DPhil, Oxford 1972
Fields of interest: history of the Middle East since c. 1800.
When did you first develop an interest in history?
Specifically in Middle Eastern history, my interest developed on my first visit to Syria in the summer of 1963, after my first year at Cambridge. Seated in the cafe beneath the citadel (taht al-qala’), I decided that I wanted to work on the modern history of the Middle East. In 2008 I published an edited collection on The Urban Social History of the Middle East—and I think the germ of the idea for that book dates back to that afternoon in 1963.
What projects are you working on currently?
A history of modern Syria, a huge edited book on modern Iraqi historiography (currently in press), an atlas of Islamic history—the latter has been in progress for more than 12 years and I THINK I can see the end in sight—just one more map and text to go—there are 42 altogether.
What is the last great book or article you have read?
The second edition (2012) of Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, AD 395–700 (London: Routledge, 2012). Not my field at all, but a wonderfully concise and beautifully written summary of the current state of scholarship on the world of late antiquity since the publication of Peter Brown’s book in 1971. I’m particularly interested in the eastern Mediterranean milieu in which Islam first emerged and took root outside the Arabian Peninsula.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I have very much enjoyed reading The Dark Side of Love, a novel by the Syrian writer Rafik Schami (translated from German into English in 2009), an evocative account of Damascus and its rural hinterland to the north (Qalamun) in the 1950s and 1960s.
A recent scholarly work that I like very much is Michelle Campos’s Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Early Twentieth Century Palestine (Stanford Univ. Press, 2011).
I generally read all the novels of Jane Austen (except Northanger Abbey, which I have never taken to) every two years. Persuasion and Mansfield Park are my favorites. Here in Singapore I have re-read some of Conrad’s “eastern” novels, including Almayer’s Folly, Lord Jim, and Victory, with great enjoyment.
What do you value most about the history profession?
I have been very fortunate to have been able to teach and write about more or less what I like with no interference from anyone since I entered the profession as a junior lecturer in Durham in 1974. Perhaps I have been particularly lucky, but I have always enjoyed complete academic freedom in the two universities where I have spent most of my academic life, Durham University and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, as well as at Cambridge and Oxford, where I was an undergraduate and then graduate student. At the moment I am based in a research institute in a vibrant Asian city, Singapore, and am thoroughly enjoying my time here.
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
Travelling and family life.
Any final thoughts?
I’m nearing the end of my career, and I am deeply grateful to universities as institutions for the part they have played in enabling me to lead a rich and full life and to develop interests and avenues of research which I would never have guessed at when I began my graduate studies in the late 1960s. I am also all too well aware of the difficulties which younger people now face in entering this most enjoyable and satisfying profession, and I wish I could be optimistic that they will find life as relatively straightforward as I have.
On a more personal note, as I have spent most of my life either in or on the periphery of Middle Eastern studies, I’m especially delighted to have been elected president of MESA, the Middle East Studies Association of North America for 2012–13.