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Syrian Conflict: Professor Wins NEH Grant for Book Project Challenging Country's Stereotypes

August 24, 2017 – A book project by a Georgetown professor that challenges the traditional and popular narratives of modern, war-torn Syria has received a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH).

Daniel NeepDaniel Neep, an assistant professor of Arab politics in the university's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, has received a Public Scholar grant from NEH for a book project titled The Nation Belongs to All: The Making of Modern Syria.

The book is the latest in Neep’s continuing research on state formation and state-society relations in the Middle East.

Making History Accessible

“I was deeply irritated by the tone of much of the media coverage about the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011 and the country’s subsequent descent into civil war,” Neep says. “Although Syria has never been far from the news in recent years, there is not one book currently available for the non-specialist general public that adequately situates the current conflict in relation to Syria’s broader historical context.” 

He says the book will counter commonly held views that Syria is an artificial state carved from the demise of the Ottoman Empire by colonial powers, which forced together disparate religious and ethnic groups with no common identity. –

“The few books out there that are accessible to non-academics tend to focus on a narrow tranche of recent history, present a narrowly political account of Syrian history or else simply summarize the existing academic literature in English,” Neep says. “In contrast, my book is based on a wide array of sources in Arabic. It aims to present original research on the development of Syria’s politics, society and economy in a way that is accessible to a general readership, while also offering new insights for academic specialists.”

Broader Forces

Neep says his "more nuanced, dynamic look" at the forces and people that have shaped Syria tells a very different story about the country.

"In part, it’s a story of economic inequality, social transformation and the quest for justice,” he says.

The professor also details what he calls the "broader forces" that have shaped modern Syria.  

"Emerging configurations of state power, geography, and capital, I suggest, shaped and reshaped the social and political field in which protest and contention were embedded," he explains.

A Moral Imperative

Neep is the second School of Foreign Service professor in recent memory to receive a NEH Public Scholar grant, previously given to Charles King.

The highly competitive program, which funds only about 8 percent of its more than 400 applications per year, is dedicated to encouraging the work of well-researched humanities projects to reach broader audiences.

“The NEH Public Scholar Program aims to break academic knowledge out of the ivory tower and bring it to a wider audience," Neep says. "As a scholar who works on Syria, I consider it a moral as well as an intellectual imperative to escape the strictures of media discourse about the current conflict and present intelligent, evidence-based analysis about Syrian politics and history.” 

He adds that this kind of public scholarship fulfills an important element of the School of Foreign Service’s mission – to foster a national debate about international affairs that is genuinely well-informed and global-minded.

Allen Lane Random House is expected to publish the book in late 2018.