Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Newsletter 2016

Interview with Dr Fozia Bora

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Fozia Bora AIMES newsletter 2016




 Photo: During a trip to Marrakech




 How long have you worked at the University of Leeds? Always in the same position?  

I’ve been here for 3 and a half years. I spent one year as a Teaching Fellow and then two and a half as a Lecturer.

Beginning with your own time as a student, how did you come to attain your current position?

After my undergraduate degree in English Literature, I was a journalist for two years in London, which I loved, but I found that way of trying to understand the world a bit superficial. I missed the deep study of academia, and decided to return to it, but changed to Middle Eastern history. I did my Masters, partway through which I got married. Then I started my PhD, though after one year, we were expecting a baby so I took seven years off to see my two children into school, during which time I worked part time as an editor of academic texts for the Cambridge-based Islamic Texts’ Society, and also did some journalism. Once my kids were both in full time school, I came back to academia to finish my PhD. After that, I did a one-year post-doctoral fellowship in Cambridge, and then I came to Leeds.

Did you always know this was what you wanted to do?

Although it was always appealing, I wouldn’t say academia was always what I wanted to do. I would say it took me two years of doing something different to realise it was for me.  

What has been a highlight of your career so far?

There have been good moments in both the teaching side and the research side. On the teaching side, what I really love is the interaction I have with students, seeing them develop and grow intellectually. I have seen students arrive as first years and leave as finalists, and seen them discover their own passion and feeling for the subjects they study. On the research side, one highlight was winning an academic prize for a research article I wrote, and going to give a keynote lecture in London based on that piece.

Have you had any opportunities to travel to the Middle East? Where?  

Yes, I’ve been quite lucky. I’ve really enjoyed travelling throughout the Middle East, though my favourite trips have been in the Levant and in Egypt. In 1997, I travelled through Syria and Jordan and was able to cross the Allenby Bridge to visit Jerusalem. I also loved seeing Egypt in 2012, when sadly the Tahrir Square protests had been suppressed, but the revolutionary spirit was still very much alive. I’ve also had a several wonderful trips to Morocco and Turkey. All have been really lovely experiences, and I’ve never felt unsafe in those places: the Middle East is always a welcoming place to be.  

Outside of teaching, what projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a project called Chronicles as Archives in Islamic History, which sounds very technical but is all about using historical narratives in a new way. Rather than just as subjectively-told stories, it involves using them as a documentary record of a past which is often not otherwise be accessible as the sources for many aspects of medieval Islamic history are so limited. Currently I’m writing a book on this theme, which I hope will turn into a more broad-scale research project as it develops further and more sources are harnessed to this new approach.

What do you enjoy the most about working in AIMES?

I’d say we have a really lovely, close-knit team of lecturers and tutors, like a family. This means we work harmoniously but also get to know students as individuals thanks to being a small unit; unlike in POLIS or Medieval History where sadly it’s just impossible to know everyone in quite the same way. We have very good interpersonal relationships within the department, and a few of us have become friends outside of work as well which is nice, especially where our kids have also made friends and bonded.

What occupies your time outside of the university?

I love to go walking, especially in the Yorkshire Dales. I also thoroughly enjoy going abroad with my kids and husband; travel is our favourite thing when we can afford it and we have the time. We just had a wonderful trip to Bosnia and Croatia over the Christmas break, which was a wonderful treat -- and a part of the world we hadn’t explored before. I enjoy reading English literature, which I rarely get time to do, so I really savour it when I can. I also enjoy going to watch plays, which happens even more rarely these days! I’ve been involved the Ilkley Literature Festival for the past two years, which has been great fun. Giving or chairing talks in which academic research is made available to the general public is in my view a really worthwhile thing to do. Plus the audiences love a bit of medieval history, especially of the non-Western world, as they may not otherwise have the languages (Arabic, Persian, etc) to be able to otherwise access this history. Our last event was completed sold out with standing room only!

Do you think Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies as a discipline has changed since you began your career? How do you see it changing in the future?

I think it has been moving quite rapidly in an exciting direction, as older, Eurocentric models for examining and doing research on the Middle East are being replaced by a more forward-looking postcolonial, even de-colonial mindset. It’s moving into an era that is more innovative, as Non-European societies are coming together to re-imagine the world through a non-Eurocentric lens. For Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, this means trying to finally shake off the legacy of colonialism and/or old-fashioned Orientalism within academia. This is a long-term project, which could take generations to become fully realised, but it’s also very positive for the academic study of the non-Western world. Middle Eastern and Islamic cultures are rich and diverse, and it’s a privilege to be able to research and teach the history of those regions to the enthusiastic and talented students who come to AIMES.

Kate Solomon interviewed Dr Bora on 24/05/2016

Pages in this document

  1. Editorial: Zach Marzouk
  2. Student Profile: Jack Anderson
  3. Interview with Dr Fozia Bora