2012 Dissertation Prize - Sophia Hoffmann and Melanie Tanielian

The Prize Committee of the Syrian Studies Association is pleased to announce the prize for best dissertation in the field of Syrian Studies defended between September 1, 2010 and August 31, 2012.

The number of submissions this year impressed the committee. We had nine (9, IX, ?) dissertations to evaluate. A lot of work and an embarrassment of riches! This has to be a record in the annals of scholarly production on Syria. We can say with complete confidence that Syrian studies is not only alive and healthy but it is flourishing.

Even more impressive was the high quality of all submissions. They ran the gamut from a study of a dabke and the politics of belonging to ethnographies of Druze, Shi’i, and Palestinian refugee communities and the language of neoliberal elites to analyses of cultural diplomacy and the politics of reclaiming lost territory. Though they were produced in faculties of Political Science, History, Religious Studies, Sociology and Anthropology, without exception each was interdisciplinary in one way or another.

All nine were based on extensive fieldwork in Syria. The committee recognizes that these newly minted PhDs may have been the last cohort for some time to come to have had such sustained access to the people and places of Syria. This is a sad commentary of the current state of Syria, but raises the bar for dissertations on Syria to follow.

Given the number and high quality of the submissions, the committee struggled to find a candidate for the top prize. In the end, we decided two dissertations earned this distinction. We hate to split the prize money but we are not splitting our acclaim.

The two winners are:

Sophia Hoffmann, who earned a PhD in Political Science and Sociology from the School for Oriental and African Studies, London with “Disciplining Movement: State Sovereignty in the Context of Iraqi Migration to Syria".


Melanie Tanielian, who earned her PhD from the University of California Berkeley in History with “The War of Famine: Everyday Life in Wartime Beirut and Mount Lebanon (1914-1918)".

Sophia Hoffmann's dissertation uses ethnographic work in Damascus to illuminate the many ways in which, through everyday interactions between Iraqi migrants and representatives of the Syrian state, other states, NGOs, and international organizations, state sovereignty was constituted both within and beyond Syria. A work of 'critical International Relations', the dissertation offers a theoretically-informed comparative case study that will be useful to researchers in many other fields. Self-aware without being excessively self-conscious, it impresses particularly in its grasp, and lucid exposition, of the many ironies of the Iraqi migrants' situation.

Melanie Tanielian's "The War of Famine", meanwhile, is a rich social history of Beirut and Mount Lebanon during the First World War. A full-length study of this subject in English was long overdue, and this dissertation is just what we needed. Drawing extensively on sociological literature on famine and comparative historical work on cities in the war, it offers its own thoroughly-researched contribution to both fields. From the point of view of Middle East history, it offers a detailed and convincing account of the catastrophic events that, among other things, permanently eroded the legitimacy of Ottoman rule in the area.

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