MESA Graduate Student Paper Prize

Shireen Hamza

Harvard University, Department of History of Science

2018 Winner

Shireen Hamza

Shireen Hamza

The Ḥammām as a Public Space: Health, Labor and Desire in Late Medieval Bathhouses

After reviewing the nineteen excellent entries into this year’s Graduate Student Paper Prize competition, the jury has enthusiastically agreed to award the 2018 prize to Shireen Hamza for her essay, “The Ḥammām as a Public Space: Health, Labor and Desire in Late Medieval Bathhouses.” In this well-written, clearly argued and original piece, Hamza moves beyond past morphological treatments of the hammam's place in the "Islamic City" to explore the hammam as a place of ulama anxiety.  Using an impressive array of sources including Arabic-language hisba manuals, fourteenth to seventeenth-century Shafi'i legal treatises combining sharia and tibb/medicine, and Persian love poetry, the author  shows that the hammam was not only a place of ritual cleanliness but could also stoke erotic desire between elites and non-elites. The bath attendant was a marginal figure in most accounts of the medieval hammam, but Hamza asks whether analyzing this figure can shed fresh nuance on the history of Islamicate sexualities.  Rather than the humble stock character of poetry who serves as a foil to elites, or the functionary of legal and medical manuals, Hamza invites us to see the bathhouse attendant as a vulnerable subaltern, but one who exercises agency and makes choices between competing ‘scripts.'

2018 Review Committee
Brian Catlos (chair), University of Colorado Boulder
Dina Bishara, University of Alabama
Matthew MacLean, New York University

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