MESA Book Awards
Nadia Abu El-Haj
2002 Albert Hourani Book Award Co-Winner
The two co-winners are, in alphabetical order, Nadia Abu El-Haj for her work Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society published by the University of Chicago Press. Professor Abu El-Haj is a member of the Department of Anthropology, Barnard College, Columbia University and this is her first monograph.
The other co-winner is Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship authored by Professors Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled and published by Cambridge University Press. Professor Shafir is a member of the Department of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego and Professor Peled is a member of the Department of Political Science, Tel Aviv University. Both Professors Shafir and Peled have authored a number of books.
The two winning books have a number of elements in common. The first is that they are both grounded in their disciplines and draw upon theoretical works from those disciplines. Second, each book reflects extensive original research in a broad range of sources. Third, each in their own way deals with nation building and the creation of identity. Abu El-Haj uses Arabic and Hebrew archival sources, the author's experience on excavations, and many interviews to weave a complex analysis of the role played by archaeology in shaping the contours of colonial rule and legitimizing the Zionist/Israel nation-building project. Her analysis is grounded in the sociology of science, colonial studies (focusing on the power of knowledge to shape the contours of colonial rule) and recent developments in the study of science that emphasize the relationship between scientific practice and the larger socio-political worlds. Shafir and Peled studied three partly contradictory political goals and commitments, which they define as colonialism, ethno-nationalism and democracy and which they analyzed in light of the struggle for political mastery in Yishuv, the pre-statehood Jewish community in Palestine and later in Israel. The divisions in Israeli society between left and right, secular and religious Jews, Ashkenazim or Jews of European origin versus Mizrachim or Jews hailing from the Muslim world, and Jews versus Palestinian Arabs are also central in their study. Fourth, all the authors are sensitive to the use of language by the subjects they study and how they use language in telling their own story. The result is two nuanced, non-polemic works on subjects that too often lend themselves to political tirades. Finally, both sets of authors create models for approaching other societies so that as committee members read both books we could imagine using the same type of analysis for a study of modern Turkey, Iraq or Iran. Our warmest congratulations to Professors Abu El-Haj, Peled and Shafir.