Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize

Submissions for the 2022 Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize are now closed. Submissions for the 2023 prize will open in December.

About the Prize

This prize was established jointly in 1986 by the Leigh Douglas Memorial Fund and BRISMES in memory of Dr Leigh Douglas who was killed in Beirut in 1986.  The prize is awarded annually to the writer of the best PhD dissertation on a Middle Eastern topic in the Social Sciences or Humanities awarded by a British University in the previous calendar year. The current value of the prize is £600 for the winner and £150 for the runner up.


Any student who has submitted their PhD dissertation on a Middle Eastern topic in the Social Sciences or Humanities to a British University in 2021 is eligible to apply. We recommend that submissions for this prize are made after completion of your viva in order to benefit from feedback from the viva panel, but applicants can make a submission before the viva if they wish. Please note that you can only submit your PhD dissertation once for this prize.

How to Apply 

Submissions for the 2022 Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize are now open. To enter, please send the following to administrator@brismes.org:

  • An electronic copy of your thesis
  • A letter of nomination from your supervisor

Deadline: Midnight on 31 January 2022

Entering your thesis for this award does not preclude entering it for other awards.

2021 Joint Winners (£300 each)

Hannah Elsisi Ashmawi

Mu'taqal Machine: Power, Gender and Identity in Egypt’s Political Prisons, 1948-1981
(Merton College, University of Oxford)

This is a very impressive thesis that makes a novel contribution to the field of Middle East studies in a number of ways. First, the thesis is based on a huge wealth of primary materials in Arabic, English, Italian and French, which includes private and public archives, published and unpublished audio of interviews, some 100 original interviews and published memoirs. The thesis also contains various images, such as layouts of prisons and letters written by political prisoners on cigarette papers. In this regard, the thesis constitutes a unique archive of the lives of political prisoners in Egypt, (re-)presenting their stories and sacrifices and ensuring that their names are written into the country’s history. Second, the thesis fills an important gap in the study of the Middle East through a focus on the prison machine, its history and development, deepening our understanding of the prison as a mechanism of governance in contemporary Egypt. Third, the thesis develops an original argument about the significance of gender in structuring the power of the prison and shaping prisoner subjectivities and resistance to the prison machine. Specifically, the thesis demonstrates how prison authorities sought to demoralise and ‘deactivate’ political prisoners by undermining their gender identities and, in turn, political prisoners reconstituted themselves, in particular by differentiating themselves from ‘ordinary criminals’, through the reassertion of particular gender identities of female respectability and manhood. The thesis also demonstrates how the gendered power of the prison extends beyond the prison walls and is also exercised and resisted in relation to prisoner families. Overall, this is an extremely rich piece of work. It is beautifully written and a joy to read. This will undoubtedly become a key reference in the study of political prisoners in the Middle East.

Mattin Biglari 

Refining Knowledge: Expertise, Labour and Everyday Life in the Iranian Oil Industry, c.1933-51
(SOAS University of London)

This is a truly outstanding piece of research. Its theoretical sophistication is far beyond that customarily encountered in PhD theses and shows not only an understanding of, but an active and confident engagement with recent trends in the history and historiography of modern Iran, of the oil industry in the Middle East and of the rapidly expanding field of Energy Humanities. Particularly welcome is its successful integration of subaltern actors into its analysis, giving full recognition to their roles in an area dominated by state-centred paradigms. It is entirely convincing in its reading of the oil nationalization in Iran in 1951 as a turning point not only for Iran and the wider Middle East but for the history of decolonisation across the Global South. The thesis makes use of a range of material either unused or under-used to date, archival material from Iran, the UK and US, and oral histories, memoirs and newspapers. The bibliography and footnotes demonstrate the astonishing range of secondary sources consulted. The thesis is beautifully written, the clarity of exposition is first class, jargon is avoided and the organization of the material assists the reader to a degree rare in unpublished work. This thesis is undoubtedly a major contribution to the fields it addresses. We have nothing in studies of the Iranian oil industry which approaches it in terms of originality, of theoretical depth and solid empirical research.

2021 Runner Up (£150)

Valentina Zagaria

'Burning’ borders: Migration, death and dignity in a Tunisian coastal town
(London School of Economics and Political Science)

This is an extremely original and well-grounded PhD dissertation, that demonstrates in-depth empirical research and that advances a key theoretical argument about the centrality of dignity in Tunisians’ migrations in the aftermath of the Tunisian revolution. The work develops a highly nuanced analysis of the political and social Tunisian context. Overall, the dissertation provides a very original insight about the nexus between migration movements and revolutionary uprisings. The work is fluently written and rigorously structured. It also unsettles taken-for-granted timeframes of the Tunisian revolution as well as of migrations to Italy by focusing on key events that happened in the city of Zarzis. This work brings a salient contribution to migration studies literature, by illustrating how dignity and social death play a crucial role in migration.

Honourable Mention (£75 book token)

Haya Al-Noaimi

The ‘Protectors of our Nation’: constructing masculinities between protection and in/security in Qatar and the UAE
(SOAS University of London)

This is a very strong dissertation that expounds a lucid and compelling argument about the gendered nature of conscription in Qatar and the UAE. It is beautifully written and manages to contribute to a host of literatures including feminist work, scholarship on masculinities, and the rather broad field of security studies. Through interviews and archival work, the thesis sets out to explore five interconnected logics of ‘protection’. It is successful in delineating these logics, as well as demonstrating the ways in which colonial violence has afterlives in the form of postcolonial security arrangements. The dissertation also evinces a sophisticated and self-reflective approach by laying out the difficulties in, and limits of, research methods including archival work, participant-observation, and discourse analysis. As such, it situates the author as a subject in the dissertation leading to a very mature and thought-provoking set of conclusions about the nature of research. Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the focus on ‘Gulf masculinities’ is both highly original and full of insight. By looking at an oft-neglected field of study – accounts of ‘gender’ in the Middle East are overwhelmingly concerned with Muslim women, and less often dedicated to masculinity in non-Gulf Arab countries – this thesis makes a convincing case for analysing how local experiences of ‘security’ and ‘protection’ stemming from violent state building endeavours are inextricable from colonial constructions of military masculinities. The final chapter makes an especially strong argument about how the Bedouin were made insecure by their incorporation into the colonial lexicon of ‘martial races’. In sum, this is an impressive and erudite thesis that makes a significant contribution to the field of International Relations (broadly understood) by highlighting the nexus between colonial and local instantiations of insecure masculinities in Qatar and the Emirates.

2020 Winner (£600)

Ayşe Arslan

Industrial Workers in the Garment Industry, House-Workers in the Family: Women's Productive and Reproductive Labour in Izmir, Turkey
(SOAS University of London)

This thesis is of very high quality not only in terms of the originality of its argument but also the strength of the empirical research used to back it up. Theoretically it combines E. P. Thompson’s approach to class formation with a Marxist-feminist approach to women’s reproductive labour. In doing this, Ayşe Arslan contributes to the literature through innovative concepts of her own, such as ‘women’s reserve army of reproductive labour’, referring to the role of women relatives and friends of working women in reducing the women workers’ reproductive obligations by undertaking some of their responsibilities without pay. The thesis is also based on a rigorous research which combines an ethnographic extended case study with quantitative data and secondary sources. It fills an important gap in the literature on the relationship between class and gender in the Middle East through a systematic study of how the industrial and reproductive work of women workers shape each other in the garment industry in Turkey. The thesis also provides insights on the factors that might enhance the formation of solidarity rather than competition among women workers, a crucial intellectual-political question for socialist feminists struggling against the double threat of neoliberalism and conservatism in the Middle East.

2020 Runner-up (£150)

Adélie Chevée

The Emergence of Syrian Grassroots Intellectuals: Critique and Political Commitment in the Revolutionary Press (2011-2017)
(SOAS University of London)

Adélie Chevée’s study about the emergence of grassroots intellectuals in the Syrian revolution is a creative and insightful. She compares the post-2011 generation of intellectuals to the one that dominated the socio-political scene before the revolution. The study is important in more than one way. It provides innovative tools to explore knowledge production in the context of the Syrian revolt. It sheds light on intellectuals who have an ability to communicate effectively through revolutionary media and who were able to build cultural (and revolutionary) capital through grassroots activism. Chevée proposes an original framework combining Gramscian and Bourdieusian theories to explore the role of the intellectual in revolutionary Syria. On the one hand, she proposes a sophisticated framework that builds on an extensive literature about traditional and organic intellectuals during political crises. On the other hand, she engages with Arab and Syrian scholarship about the role of critical intellectuals since 2011. This allows the author to formulate a solid critique of Western knowledge production about the region. Chevée debunks popular Orientalist tropes about cultures in the Middle East and the Arab regions. Finally, Chevée conducted interviews with key grassroots intellectuals in Beirut, Gaziantep, and Istanbul. This multi-sited study provides a nuanced account of the cultural field in Syria and the diaspora since 2011. It explains the tensions between older and newer generations of intellectuals and the evolution of the cultural field in the past decade. Ultimately, the study makes important contributions in several fields, including studies of nationalism in the Levant; knowledge production in the MENA region; as well as the history of the cultural sphere in Syria.

2020 Honourable Mention (£75 book token)

Simon Leese

Longing for Salmá and Hind: (Re)producing Arabic Literature in 18th and 19th-Century North India
(SOAS University of London)

This is an impressive piece of work, which takes as its subject an under-researched and almost wholly unexplored field that will almost certainly attract further attention as a result of Simon Leese’s preliminary explorations. It focuses on what Leese characterises as an ‘Arabic moment’ in the multi-lingual intellectual history of 18th- and 19th-century North India and investigates how Muslim poets and scholars in the area engaged with aspects of the Arabic literary heritage, moving between the ‘three languages’ (Arabic, Persian and Urdu) while careful to keep what he terms the ‘poetic terrains’ of those languages distinct. Much of the thesis is based on newly unearthed sources, which promise to provide material for much future research in this area.

The topic of the thesis clearly requires a knowledge of the languages involved that goes well beyond that of most PhD students but Leese demonstrates that he is well equipped for the task and it is hard to fault the detailed literary and textual analyses that make up a considerable proportion of the thesis. Leese’s argument that Arabic scholars in India during this period had a rich historical and geographical awareness is a cogent one, and seems certain to suggest possibilities for re-reading Arabic’s other multilingual pasts and multilingual poetics more generally. Not the least of the other merits of the thesis is that, despite the linguistic complexity of much of the material being discussed, it reads easily and is impeccably presented. All in all, this thesis not only makes a fascinating read for anyone interested in the literary and cultural history of the region, but also makes a highly significant contribution to the field of study.

2019 Joint Winners (£300 each)

Veronica Ferreri

A State of Permanent Loss. War and Displacement in Syria and Lebanon

This thesis chronicles the trajectory of displacement of a Syrian community from al-Qusayr and its countryside to Lebanon. Based on thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation, semi-structured interviews and the collection of oral histories, the work dissects Qusayris’ tasharrud, a term used by the community to define its own displacement and war. Veronica Ferreri has produced an outstanding piece of research, brilliantly laid out and evocatively drawing the reader into a compassionate understanding of the terrible loss which Syrians face in their displacement in Lebanon not only since 2011 but sometimes commencing decades earlier. Ferreri’s study is both original and persuasive. The redefinition of the term tasharrud as a state of permanent loss rather than the dictionary definition of homelessness, or vagabondage was both original and deeply convincing. The originality of this work lay in the manner in which Ferreri peeled back the meaning of tasharrud to show that is was a three-fold loss: loss of physical space; loss of social status; and loss of official documents. Ferreri’s clarity of exposition was faultless and she wrote with a warmth and approachability that gave the study great moral depth. The use of quotations was beautifully integrated into the discussions, supporting the analysis and not appearing as ‘anecdotal’ statements. Overall this manuscript makes a significant contrition to the field setting out the complexity first of the difficulty in distinguishing between forced and voluntary migration, and secondly in unpacking the significance of loss – as physical displacement, loss of social status as mutasharriduun, and what is so often overlooked, loss of legal documentations attesting to one’s citizenship, ownership, education, and other aspects of social and political belonging.

Shiva Mihan

Timurid Manuscript Production: The Scholarship and Aesthetics of Prince Bāysunghur’s Royal Atelier (1420-1435)
(University of Cambridge)

Shiva Mihan’s thesis puts the study of classical Persian painting in its early 15th-century golden age on an entirely new footing. The thesis is beautifully laid out and very well structured and is simply magisterial and mature beyond the years of its author. Its scholarship is profound, wide-ranging and all-encompassing, and that scholarship is the bedrock of the entire – and boldly ambitious – text itself. That text is, so to speak, the visible tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the iceberg, in other words the raw data which provides the basis for some 275 pages of closely-focused discussion, comprises a further 117 pages. Mihan meticulously examines and analyses the the physical state of these manuscripts: bindings, doublures, frontispieces, carpet pages, shamsas, ‘unwans, colophons, illumination, paper, calligraphy, seals, signatures and inscriptions. In other words, codicology in its fullest sense. No earlier scholar has come close to this breadth and depth of solid information for any period of Persian painting; a huge achievement, and a challenge for all future scholars. This is not to say that Mihan avoids speculation – she knows the scholarly literature, both Western and Persian, inside out, and has her own theories about it – for example, she takes issue very convincingly with the purpose of these manuscripts, the role of the patron, the detailed workings of his atelier, the intended audience of these manuscripts, their meaning, their distinctive style and why they developed it. Altogether, this as an absolutely outstanding thesis which is ready for publication more or less as it stands.

2019 Joint Runners Up (£150 each)

Dena Fakhro

The Blood Vengeance Theme in Arabic Poetry: From the Classical Poetic Tradition to the Present

This is an extremely impressive and mature piece of work for a PhD thesis in which Dena Fakhro examines the theme of blood vengeance in Arabic poetry over fifteen hundred years. The range of primary material under consideration, the coherence of arguments, and use of the relevant secondary literature are all outstanding. Three things stand out as particularly impressive in this work. The first is the way in which, in addition to literary sources, the Dena Fakhro successfully navigates her way through material rooted in a number of different disciplines, of which anthropology is clearly the most important. The second is how Fakhro has succeeded in constructing from this astonishing range of material a narrative that is not only plausible and coherent but is also a pleasure to read, being marked by an uncommon clarity of expression as well as an almost complete absence of the typos, transliteration errors and other infelicities that mar many PhD theses. The third, and perhaps most important, is that she has succeeded in bringing classical Arabic poetry — a field that many would regard as somewhat esoteric and arcane — out of the shadows and demonstrated its relevance to the study of movements in the contemporary Islamic world that are of urgent concern to an audience that extends far beyond academics.

Lewis Turner

Challenging Refugee Men: Humanitarianism and Masculinities in Za‘tari Refugee Camp

Lewis Turner’s thesis investigates the ways in which the humanitarian sector deals with Syrian refugee men in the context of Za’tari refugee camp in Jordan, arguing that refugee men present a challenge to the gendered and racialized logics of the humanitarian sector as they fail to comply with notions of feminised victimhood. This thesis is based on a very impressive amount of fieldwork in Jordan, including visits to Za’tari camp, participant observations in relevant workshops and gatherings of humanitarian actors and interviews with humanitarian actors and Syrian refugees. The thesis is a wonderfully rich and closely observed piece of work that overflows with insights and provocations about and connections between the humanitarian sector, the securitization of refugees, the governance of refugee camps, the geopolitics of the Syrian conflict and of the ‘refugee crisis’, refugee agency, race and gender. It demonstrates how the construction of refugees within humanitarianism as passive and vulnerable shapes how humanitarian actors deal with refugee men as either problematic or invisible and how, in turn, this impacts upon refugee men in the specific case of Za’tari camp. This is the first study that I have come across that addresses the situation of refugee men and makes an original contribution to our understanding of humanitarian responses to refugees by carefully analysing the ways in which humanitarian policies are informed by gendered and racialized assumptions about refugees and how, in turn, this impacts upon male recipients of humanitarian responses. Moreover, this thesis makes an important contribution to how we understand humanitarianism in the context of conflict and displacement in the Middle East, marking a critical turn in which humanitarianism is viewed not as a solution to suffering and indignity but rather as complicit with forces of oppression, violence and injustice.

2019 Honourable Mention (£75 book token)

Gizem Tongo

Ottoman Painting and Painters during the First World War
(University of Oxford)

This study focuses on the Ottoman art world during the First World War and explores how the war changed the conditions of art production, its agents, and the art itself between 1914 and 1918, a topic that has remained peripheral to international cultural histories of the First World War and modern art more generally. This is an excellent thesis. Its subject is a tightly focussed study about art, art institutions and artists during the period of the First World War. Set against the political backdrop of the last half century of the Ottoman Empire, with a concise and highly readable narrative it explores, within a clear chronological framework, the institutions, the key actors, and topics such as the relationship with western painting, how art was brought into the service of the state, the fate of Armenian artists as a result of the genocide, how the arts in fact benefited during the war and much else. Well illustrated, and with an extensive use of source material, this is an extremely rich story that has been largely overlooked. While focussing on art production in all its forms from academic painting to propagandist posters, it touches also in major on social history and the place of art in society. There has been some literature on this subject, but nowhere near as detailed and multi-facetted as this. In my view, this is a highly original contribution to scholarship.

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