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Three Quick Questions for Duke Faculty: Adam Mestyan

Adam Mestyan is an associate professor of history who researches and teaches the history of empire and subordinated states in the Arabic-speaking world.

He is most interested in devising new analytical categories to describe temporal change. His current research interest centers on the relationship between nature, Islamic law, taxation and state formation in the 20th century.

Mestyan joined the Duke community in 2016. He was awarded tenure in 2022 and selected for a Thomas Langford Lectureship Award.


You have a book coming out soon. Could you describe something you particularly enjoyed about working on it?

Writing “Modern Arab Kingship” challenged me in new ways — and I enjoy challenges. I started my career as a cultural historian of Egypt but “MAK” — as it came to be called by me and my editors — was a political and legal history project with a huge dose of theory. 

Also, the project expended the geographic scope of my research to Syria especially, including research visits to Beirut, Damascus and even to Saudi Arabia. And I really enjoyed this new direction.

How would you describe your main area of research to someone with no background in that area?

Today, we have lots of debates about whether Islam is compatible with modernity, the nation state, etc. Can we think differently about these questions, outside of the European norm of the nation state and American norms of democracy? My research evaluates Arabic (and Ottoman, French, etc.) primary sources based on many years of work in archives. 

Perhaps the most important result of “MAK” is that instead of nationalism, Muslim monarchical federations fueled the integration of Arabs in the new global order, exactly a hundred years ago — of course, except colonized Palestine. 

Next, my novel research on environmental history in the Nile Valley has a larger aim at taking the case of Cairo as an example of planetary urbanization and climate change.

What do you like doing for fun or relaxation?

I love swimming, walking and running. I was also once an award-winning poet in my native Hungarian language and a punkish bass-guitarist. I may return to one of these obsessions again.