Miller, Nathaniel

Humanities Research Fellow Affiliation: NYU Abu Dhabi
Education: BA St. Olaf College; MA Indiana University; MA University of Chicago; PhD University of Chicago

Research Areas: Medieval Arabic Poetry


Nathaniel Miller is from Rhode Island and has a BA (St. Olaf, 2002) and an MA (Indiana, 2005) in English literature, with a focus on British Romanticism. He lived in Cairo and Alexandria from 2007 to 2010, studying Arabic from 2009 to 2010 as a fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) at the American University in Cairo. He returned to the US where he completed his PhD in Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Chicago (2016). He was a visiting University Lecturer and Leverhulme Early Career fellow at the University of Cambridge until 2020. His first book project, To See Canopus: Early Islamic Group Identities and the Genesis of Early Arabic Poetry (550-661) examines early Arabic poetry as an artefact of social history, analysing imagery of material culture and migration in order to better understand the construction of early Muslim tribal and other group identities. Drawing on a recent scholarly understanding of the heterogeneity of early Arabian cultures, he argues on the poetic evidence that both rural and urban Hijazi group identities in the region where Islam emerged differed starkly from other areas of the Arabian peninsula.

His second project, “The Poetics of Sunnism,” forms the basis for his current research at NYUAD. This project focuses on the 10-manuscript-volume poetry anthology of ʿImād al-Dīn al-Iṣfahānī (d. 1201), entitled Pearl of the Palace and Annal of the Age. ʿImād al-Dīn was the principal secretary of Saladin, the hero of the counter-Crusade who in 1187 retook Jerusalem, which had been in primarily French hands since 1099, back from the Christians. The Pearl of the Palace, a compendium of thousands of Arabophone poets from Spain to Iran, on the one hand documents the “soft power” side of the counter-Crusade, and includes praise of Saladin and his family and their military exploits. On the other, it records the quasi-indifference of Muslims to the Christian presence in the holy land, documenting ongoing internal developments in traditions of wine, love, and even obscene verse. By departing from previous assessments of the period as “post-classical” and decadent, or which mined ʿImād al-Dīn’s work exclusively for Crusades-related historical nuggets, “The Poetics of Sunnism” will include several case studies and a monograph arguing that The Pearl of the Palace represents the increasing incorporation of “secular” literature (adab) in the comportment of Sunni scholarly elites.