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SSA Dissertation Prize (dissertations completed June 2004-06)


Kevin Martin, “Enter the Future! Exemplars of Bourgeois Modernity in Post-World War II Syria.” PhD, Georgetown, 2005.

This dissertation focuses on the period 1954-58, the so-called “the democratic years.” Kevin Martin explores advertising to situate “bourgeois modernity” in the striving towards achieving a lifestyle replete with symbols of modernity like cars, radios, eating out, and going to the movies. And he explores two advice columns, one by a doctor and the other by a lawyer, to situate “bourgeois modernity” in the cultivation of knowledge about legal matters and health care. The columns reveal a bedrock of common sense, which itself reveals something about urban bourgeois mentalité, combined on the doctor’s part with “science” and doubtful pharmaceuticals and on the lawyer’s part with a healthy regard for establishing written records to make cases to the bureaucratic state. Each presents his advice in fatwa form, question and answer. Their answers draw seamlessly on folk remedies and new pharmaceuticals and on shari`a and new state laws respectively. Through the use of these novel sources, Martin is able to present a picture of life as lived and as dreamed in Syria of the mid-fifties. In his closing chapter he attempts a daring narrative technique by inventing a couple who walk through the western (modern) parts of Damascus in fall 1955 during the first international fair and again in fall 1956. He convincingly describes what they see, where they eat, how they pass the time, and their attitudes towards the goods and entertainments that mid-1950s Damascus offers them.


Meriem Ababsa, “Ideologies et territoires dans un front pionnier: Raqqa et le project de l’Euphrate en jazira syrienne.” Thèse pour l’obtention du titre de Docteur de l’Université de Tours. Geography

Meriem Ababsi argues in her dissertation that the development of the Raqqa region is best evaluated through the lens of governmental success in overturning local hierarchies of power and loyalties based in tribalism, rather than through the usual measures of agricultural production and infrastructure building. She suggests that government-inspired development projects are perhaps more successful in subtle political and cultural ways by transforming parochial identities into citizenship than in achieving their overt goals of economic development. By looking at a region that has been largely ignored by scholars she is able to map it alongside the development narrative directed from Damascus.