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Arts, Culture & History

NYU Abu Dhabi is working across borders and disciplines to tell the story of the UAE and Middle East region as it has never been told before and also developing important programs that will contribute to the country’s next chapter, particularly for young Emirati scholars.

NYUAD’s research assistantship program gives Emirati university graduates first-hand experience working with a faculty mentor on important research projects ranging from arts to science to engineering, often with a regional focus, and in preparation for master’s or Ph.D. programs abroad.

Born and raised in Dubai, Ayisha Khansaheb graduated with a degree in international studies from Zayed University and will spend two years at NYUAD working as a research assistant with Marzia Balzani, professor of anthropology, examining how the lives of senior Emirati women in all parts of the UAE, including remote and mountainous regions, have changed over time: before and after the discovery of oil and post-independence.

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There’s a lot of unrecorded oral history still extant in the UAE and if it is not systematically collected over the next few years this lived experience will be lost to future generations of Emiratis and scholars.

Marzia Balzani, professor of anthropology

“We want to talk to ordinary women and hear their stories,” said Khansaheb, “Women who maybe didn't go to school, who speak Emirati Arabic, and listen to them describe their own lives and the dramatic changes that have occurred during their lifetimes, in their own words.” These types of interviews are rare among UAE communities and particularly among Emirati women who are typically very private.

Abu Dhabi Corniche in 1954
Abu Dhabi's waterfront Corniche in 1954. Photo obtained from the National Centre for Documentation and Research.

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Khansaheb and Balzani aim to build a comprehensive archive collection of audio and film interviews, photographs and even family recipes that few people ever get to see. “It’s important research because there’s a lot of unrecorded oral history still extant in the UAE, and if it is not systematically collected over the next few years this lived experience will be lost to future generations of Emiratis and scholars,” said Balzani.

The project is an “exploration of Emirati gender, identity, and nation building,” she added, as seen through the life histories of senior Emirati women.

Khansaheb hopes the two-year project made possible by the research assistantship program will help her develop graduate-level research skills to prepare her for graduate school in the US or the UK: “I want to apply to the top programs, so my research here will help me develop relevant skills,” she said.

Article by Andy Gregory, NYUAD Public Affairs