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Best Dissertation Prize: Dr. Marc Boeckler

The winner of the SSA 2004 dissertation prize is Marc Boeckler for his dissertation, “Cultural Geography and Syrian Entrepreneurs,” written under the direction of Professor Hans Hopfinger at the Catholic University of Eichstaett.

Dissertation Prize Committee members: Professor Mary C. Wilson, chair, Professor Shirine Hamadeh, Professor Birgit Schaebler, and Professor Emerita Barbara Aswad.

Marc Boeckler tackles culture, entrepreneurship, and globalization in his theoretically-informed research based on many years’ experience in Syria and eighty in-depth interviews with Syrian entrepreneurs. His interweaving of cultural theory and empirical reality is the outstanding feature of this work. The author asks how concepts like time, space, society, culture, modernity, and postmodernity may be used after the “cultural turn” and in the midst of a process of globalization. He questions the spatial implications of the concept of culture hitherto characterized by isomorphism where cultural space equals geographical space, and offers a critique of the current representations of the “Oriental entrepreneur.” His research goes beyond the usual suspects of the tabaqa jadida, a group of about seven Syrian businessmen that has already been extensively written about, and concentrates instead on others, especially in the city of Aleppo . By studying this group of entrepreneurs, Boeckler offers fresh insight into a new part of the Syrian bourgeoisie and lays the groundwork for a new cultural geography.

Best Article Prize: Dr. Dana Sajdi

The winner of this year’s prize for the best article on Syria is, Dana Sajdi for “A Room of His Own: the ‘History’ of the Barber of Damascus,” published in the MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies 3 (2003): 19-35.

Article Prize Committee members: Professor Mary C. Wilson, chair, Professor Aida Bamia, and Professor Tayeb El-Hibri.

Dr. Sajdi is assistant professor of history at Concordia University in Montreal. Her article compares an eighteenth century manuscript written by a barber, which Sajdi found in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, to its well-known nineteenth century recension by Muhammad Sa`id al-Qasimi published by Ahmad `Izzat `Abd al-Karim in 1959. She finds that al-Qasimi, a prominent Damascene literary figure, altered the text in accordance with elite narrative structures, assumptions, and goals. Thus al-Qasimi’s recension begins: “In the year 1154 [1741], the governor of Damascus was `Ali Pasha of the Turks. This was eleven years after the investiture of our master, Sultan Mahmud Khan the son of Sultan Mustafa Khan, may God support the throne of the state till the end of time.” The manuscript version, however, begins: “The first day of 1154 {1741} was a Saturday. The common people were saying that a great earthquake will take place in Damascus as a result of which many places will be destroyed and men will turn into women.” Read the whole article and Sajdi’s analysis of literary form and meaning online at by clicking here.