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Marina Rustow

Charlotte Bloomberg Associate Professor in the Humanities

Gilman 330A
On leave Spring 2015 and Fall 2015
Personal Website


My research focuses on the medieval Middle East, especially documentary texts from the Cairo Geniza, a storeroom for discarded papers found in the attic of a medieval synagogue.

My first book was about how Mediterranean Jews navigated religious sectarianism and communal politics during the Fatimid period (909–1171), among other things by fighting out communal conflicts in state-run institutions. That project made me realize that the Geniza had preserved an inordinate amount of otherwise inaccessible information about medieval Middle Eastern governments and polities, especially the Fatimid state. I am currently in the final stages of drafting two book manuscripts articulating the implications of this realization. The first asks what government documents tell us about the chanceries and provincial scribes who drew them up and the institutions they served. The second asks what those documents can tell us about the Jewish community that preserved them, its relationship to the state, and the state’s approach to governing a multi-religious empire.

I also have an ongoing side-project on the Jews of Sicily, who continued to speak, read, and write Arabic (usually in Hebrew characters) long after the defeat of Muslim rule on the island ca. 1060 and the expulsion of the Muslims in 1246. The persistence of Arabic among Sicilian Jews has usually been explained as either a cause or a consequence of their putative isolation as a minority. Both the documentary and literary sources in Judaeo-Arabic from Sicily suggest the opposite: that Arabic offered Jews coveted roles as cultural and linguistic mediators and, therefore, social privileges—privileges that they deployed to various ends depending on who was ruling.

I am interested in training graduate students across the entire gamut of medieval Jewish history, in the social and economic history of the medieval Islamicate Middle East, and, especially, in the use of documentary sources.

AS.100.128 Ancient and Medieval Jewish History

AS.100.193–194 Undergraduate Seminar in History

AS.100.415 Papyrus, Parchment, and Paper

AS.100.642 Historiography of the Jews

AS.100.759 The Cairo Geniza

AS.100.723 Seminar in Mediterranean History: The Fatimids as a Medieval Empire