Booth, Marilyn

Senior Humanities Research Fellow Affiliation: NYU Abu Dhabi
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Education: BA, Summa cum laude, Harvard University; D.Phil, St. Antony's College, Oxford


Marilyn Booth, as a Senior Research Fellow at NYUAD, joined in September 2014. She is writing a book on early Egyptian/Arab feminism and on women’s contributions to the nahda in the final twenty years of the nineteenth century. The book focuses on the writer Zaynab Fawwaz (c1850-1914), who immigrated from Ottoman Lebanon to Egypt and wrote articles in the press, two novels, and a play.

She’s perhaps best known for her massive biographical dictionary of world women, al-Durr al-manthur fi tabaqat rabbat al-khudur (1893-6). Marilyn just wrote a book about that book (Classes of Ladies of Cloistered Lives: Writing Feminist History through Biography in fin-de-siècle Egypt, Edinburgh University Press, January 2015). Fascinating, complicated, and distinct from most of the early Arab women writers, Fawwaz merits further attention.

For the past five years, she holds the Iraq Chair in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Before that, she taught in the Comparative Literature department at the University of Illinois, US, as well as Brown University (US) and the American University in Cairo (Egypt). Her year at New York University Abu Dhabi marks another transition: at the end of her fellowship, she will be moving to Oxford (UK) as the Khalid b. Abdallah Al Saud Professor of the Study of the Contemporary Arab World, at the Oriental Institute and Magdalen College, University of Oxford. For her, this is also a return, since she wrote her DPhil dissertation at Oxford (St Antony’s College) and was the Joanna McIver Junior Research Fellow there (St Hugh’s College) before moving to Cairo for a job with Project HOPE.

Her areas of interest span gender studies, Arabic literature, auto/biography studies, translation studies and the practice of literary translation, vernacular culture and dialect literatures, and cultural history especially in the context of imperialised societies.

Her previous single-authored books concern Egyptian dialect poetry and popular prose, and intersections of biography, gender debates, and feminism. She also translated a dozen or so novels and short story collections from the Arabic. While remaining focused on the Arab region, she is increasingly keen to explore linkages historically between Arab societies and those of South Asia, and to think broadly about circulations of texts — through translation, travel literature, newspaper ‘borrowings,’ and the like — across subcontinental ‘divides.’ She feels that Abu Dhabi is a perfect site from which to begin exploring.