by Deborah Schlein
As a thesis student this year in the department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies it was made abundantly clear to me from the very first day of my senior year that my life for the next eight months would be consumed by research, translation, chapter writing, edits, re-edits, and more edits. Though that work may frustrate me at times and drive me crazy, my research this year has been one of the most rewarding and worthwhile experiences of my college career.
Studying in the MESAS department has introduced me to the histories of vast and powerful empires, the religions that fueled them, and the intellectual achievements of their scholars. After much deliberation over sources and possible thesis questions, which seemed to change and switch almost from day to day, I put together a question concerning the agency of singing slave girls, or qiyan, in the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid empires, the second and third empires of Islam respectively. As slaves, these women were some of the most highly valued commodities in the empire. They were trained from an early age in the arts of poetic recitation, music, singing, verse creation, and general performance. It was this phenomenal knowledge of song and verse which they possessed that made them so desirable. My aim is to discuss, through the use of a number of historiographical and biographical texts, the use of their skills as it relates to the attainment of certain freedoms, influence, and social mobility within the caliph’s court.
The undergraduate fellowship at the Fox Center has benefitted me and my research more than I ever thought possible. When I received the fellowship, I was under the impression that I would get much needed office space for my periods of research frenzy. I’ve gotten so much more than just a desk and a computer from this fellowship. While it may seem trivial, the use of the office’s printer has been wonderful. I can print as many pages as I need to without worrying about paying with my Emory Card. I’ve also made great connections and met some wonderful people at the center who have helped me in my research endeavors and with everyday stresses. This fellowship has given me a quiet place to work where I know I won’t be distracted and I can write my endless pages and read through my ever-increasing stack of Arabic texts.
I am so grateful for the space, the atmosphere, and the general support I’ve gotten from this fellowship and I’m excited to see what this semester will bring in the way of new research and thesis madness.