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Meet the New Faculty: Rama Alhabian, Arabic Studies


Rama Alhabian joined the faculty in August as assistant professor of Arabic studies. See what she has to say about her research interests and her first semester at Hamilton.

Why did you start teaching?

Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by what teachers do, and there were teachers who had a great impact on me and how I viewed the world as an adult. I just love standing in the classroom, communicating ideas to students, and being challenged by multiple perspectives — especially in higher education; being in the classroom can be very inspiring.

Why did you choose Hamilton?

I admire Hamilton’s values, vision, and mission, especially the part that stresses “knowing thyself.” I was also fascinated by the variety and number of concentrations and programs at the institution and the open curriculum it offers to students. I must also add that the location did matter a lot. I spent seven years in neighboring Ithaca where I received my Ph.D., so Central NY has a special place in my memory.

Tell us about your research interests.

My focus is on 19th century Arabic literature. I look at a literary genre that was revived during that period, itself emerging at the hands of a Persian rhetorician from 10th century Baghdad. Generally, my study of modern Arabic literature looks at travel, genre, and translation to show that the “modern” in Arabic literature did not only emerge out of Arab intellectuals’ contact with Europe but has genetic precedents that go as far back as the Middle Ages.

But I come to Arabic studies after having “traveled” a lot in world literature myself. I had my first graduate degree in East African Anglophone postcolonial fiction; then I received two years of Ph.D. training in comparative and world literatures before I finally decided to do a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies. In a way, the return to Arabic happened after all sorts of aesthetic and intellectual “contaminations” were contracted by engaging with English, Anglophone, and world literatures. It’s like coming home after a long, but very formative, journey to other shores.

What’s one of your favorite places on campus?

Kind of a hard question to answer. Our campus is beautiful; there is something that is particularly liberating about being on the Hill. I love where my office is in CJ; the building has beautiful skylights. However, I find I am being super productive when I work in one of the cafés on either side of campus.

What do you do in your free time?

I love knitting and coloring, but I seldom get to do any of those. I also like to read outside my field of study and discover new works in science fiction.

What experiences stand out?

Although working during the pandemic was hard, working with Hamilton students was the highlight of the year for me. I was extremely inspired by students and their genuine interest in Arabic studies, whether in the language or literature classes. The amount of effort students put into the work was outstanding. Interacting with and learning from the students made up for all the challenges I faced during pandemic.

What are you looking forward to in the upcoming semester?

I can’t wait for the sun to come out in spring, so I can invite the students out for a class in nicer weather.

Can you talk about your faculty colleagues?

Colleagues at Hamilton were very welcoming, kind, supportive, and offered great advice on how to set reasonable expectations for myself during my first year of appointment.

Has anything about Hamilton surprised you?

I was not surprised by students’ perseverance and high-quality work. Before joining, one of my colleagues-to-be mentioned that Hamilton students are very talented and hardworking, and that they can rise to any challenge. What I saw last year only confirmed what I heard about them.

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