MESA Mentoring Award

Judith E. Tucker

Georgetown University

2023 Recipient

Judith E. Tucker

Judith E. Tucker

Judith E. Tucker 


This year’s mentoring award is given to Judith E. Tucker in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to the training and development of others in Middle East studies.

Dr. Tucker is well known to most Middle East studies scholars for her research, as a giant in the field, whose career has included six books, dozens of articles and book chapters, and service as editor of the International Journal of Middle East Studies and as MESA President.

But what many Middle East Studies scholars do not know is that Dr. Tucker is also an exceptional mentor. Over the course of 40 years of teaching at Georgetown University, she has taught and mentored hundreds of undergraduate, M.A., and Ph.D. students, as well as many junior colleagues from around the country and the globe.

Throughout the letters of support and the testimonials at last year’s roundtable in her honor at MESA 2022 in Denver, a number of aspects of Dr. Tucker’s mentoring stand out. 

The first is her steadfast support of female students in the early stages of their academic journeys. Testimonials mention what a powerful role model she was in the 1980s, 1990s, and even 2000s, when the number of prominent female historians of the Middle East was still few. She gave others hope that they, too, could one day succeed. Related as well is her unflagging support of Arab and Muslim women. Dr. Tucker not only wrote about Muslim women and subaltern women in the Middle East, she mentored and endeavored to support individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds to find their paths through academia. 

Second, she was not the kind of pioneer you can admire from afar, but whom you did not actually want to meet. Dr. Tucker hosted her students at her house for end-of-semester dinners, and annually cut a rug at the MESA Dance Party. In addition to her many accomplishments, she modeled that there is much more to life than climbing the academic ladder, such as her principled activism. She has maintained two extraordinary features in someone so accomplished: humility and love for the life of the mind. This capacity to remain a student, to remain excited about in and invested in learning, is the mark of the best kind of teacher and mentor.

This leads to a third theme, her teaching style. Tucker taught her students how to read: closely, critically, capaciously. She taught her students what feminism is, in thought and practice. She taught her students how to craft excellence by embracing humility. Time and again, her intellectual work and her engagement with her students’ work inspired them to ask difficult questions and embrace new ways of thinking, knowing, and teaching. It was from her that many of her students first understood in practice that historical research means how to listen to the sources: When things in the archive aren’t going the way you expect, perhaps it’s your questions that need to be rethought.

Fourth was her institution building, by mentoring, supporting, and encouraging others. This is true both for MESA as well as for Washington DC-area universities. MESA, IJMES, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown, theArab Studies Journal, and many other projects would not be the same without her, due to her quiet mentoring of the many individuals shaping and sustaining these initiatives.

Fifth was her unique vision and sense of care for the individual person. Dr. Tucker constantly spotted talent, even in the rough. She pulled students from other fields, from other countries, from other careers. She never sought out or sought to make copies of herself. She saw potential, she encouraged it, and she shaped it — no matter the person or their passion.

Sixth is her style of mentorship, in its subtlety. Again and again, she left students the space to unfold independently, while quietly supporting them behind the scenes. Dr. Tucker has touched the lives of many young scholars who had potential they were not aware of, and ambitions that they did not know how to fulfill. More than that, as a teacher, she is patient and kind. As a mentor, she is wise and candid. As a dissertation advisor, she was both hands off – trusting students to do what they needed to – and hands on, in that she unfailingly had their backs – often, behind their backs. Most of the time, her support was completely invisible to her students – they only learned about it much later, usually through other people. And she not only offered that quiet, constant form of intellectual care to her students, but also to other junior scholars and students from other universities, her peers, and senior colleagues of decades — as well as extending her support to displaced scholars in exile who had never met her, simply because they were in need.

Seventh and finally is the enduring nature of her mentorship. Many years later, Dr. Tucker continues to mentor, often indirectly. She taught her students how to lead, and how to stand one’s ground in the face of intimidation. She remains for her students a model of how to navigate an often brutal and petty academy with compassion, quiet strength, steely resolve, and the gracious professionalism that she embodies. 

It is an honor to recognize Judith Tucker — a truly outstanding scholar, teacher, and mentor — who has throughout her career encouraged the very finest of Middle East studies scholarship by mentoring generations of scholars.

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