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Teaching

Thomas lecturing in a bright, brick dining hall, with rows of tables and people

As a teacher, I build on my background in the arts, academia and activism to cultivate non-hierarchical, collegial space where collaborators feel comfortable and encouraged to share their unique perspectives. I anchor my teaching in rigorous research as well as popular culture to bring ideas to life.

 
In addition to university courses, I've given private lectures for Signature Theatre, Elective, the Swedish Boys and Girl Scouts, and participated in digital dialogues with the Arab American Studies Association, Asian American / Asian Research Institute at CUNY, afikra, Armenian American Action Network, Ars Nova, Woolly Mammoth Theater, Yale GALA, Yale Arab Alumni Association, Critical Muslim Studies with the Association for Asian Studies, and Netflix Institute.

Courses

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Race & the Middle East

Since 1994, the Clinton, Obama and Biden administrations have successively proposed creating an "Arab, or Middle Eastern" or “Middle Eastern or North African” (MENA) federal classification to disaggregate MENA Americans from the White category. However, many young activists and even institutions like the University of California, University of Southern California, Association for Asian American Studies, and other collectives have adopted “SWANA” (South West Asian and North African) as an alternate identity category. In a country – if not world - saturated by race, why is there so little consensus about “racing” the Middle East? Race has finally been meaningfully taken up in Middle East Studies, just as Ethnic Studies, and particularly, Asian American Studies have made space for the shifting racialization and stigmatization of peoples from the Middle East and North Africa. This course situates cutting-edge developments in multiple disciplines, activist imaginaries, and unfolding policy overhauls within a century of interconnected, global practices of “racecraft.” Using the racial ambiguity and instability of the MENA region as an invitation, this course will put different racial and identitarian systems in conversation to analyze ancient race-making, early modern literature and jurisprudence, nineteenth century eugenics, and contemporary DEI efforts.

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Representing Egypt

One of the most remarkable aspects of representations of Egypt in the United States is its enduring popularity as well as its ubiquity, with multiple groups claiming and consolidating Egypt as a both literal and symbolic place of origin. From feminist belly dancers, pop archeologists, orientalist filmmakers to Black nationalists, Egypt remains a core area of cultural imaginaries of difference, situated along a continuum of American representations that predate the republic itself. However, recent years have also seen increasing opportunities for Egyptian and MENA Americans to offer multivalent counter-discourse dedicated to more nuanced and authentic visions of Egypt. This workshop series will interview cultural producers and stakeholders to explore the opportunities and challenges of contesting preeminent representations of Egypt, while situating their work within a longer historical arc of questions of representation and equity. 

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Interpreting Politics & Culture

This class will examine the historic relationship between politics and culture by investigating how diverse media represent, interpret and challenge political power and social (in)justice. The syllabus is organized chronologically and thematically, and will focus on filmic responses to  issues like racism, sexism, empire, human and civil rights, climate change, liberalism and globalization. Throughout the course, we will use critical theory as a tool to read the sensory grammar of culture and the role of ideology therein, while rigorously contextualizing cultural objects in twentieth and twenty-first century history. Because this is an intensive course relying on close reading practices, attendance is mandatory – but we will have a lot of fun doing the creative work of interpreting culture and politics as mutually constitutive sites of meaning-making. 

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MENA American Politics & Culture

Despite centuries of immigration and organizing, many Americans overlook the long and rich history of Middle Eastern and North African Americans, and the dynamic identities, cultures and resistance they have forged in diaspora. Equally importantly, methodological nationalism has often obscured different MENA diasporas as fellow travelers who have shared interconnected migrations, marginalization, segregation, languages, musics and religions both abroad and in the MENA region. This course focuses on uplifting MENA American stories and voices through an expansive archive of legislation, culture, critical theory, and academic scholarship, that articulate multiple, overlapping and sometimes distinct “Middle Easts.” Modeling an inclusive American history that foregrounds MENA Americans and our shared investments in the region, this approach emphasizes the interconnectedness of intra-and inter-ethnic politics in relation to mainstream American politics and foreign policy, thereby deepening our understanding of American history as a whole. 

An image of Frantz Fanon, the psychologist, theorist and activist from a square in Martinique

Introduction to Global American Studies: Critical Theory and Race

This course provides a solid foundation in key theorists for contemporary Humanities scholarship on race, establishing cross-disciplinary connections as well as productive tensions. By pairing a brief - though rigorous - theory excerpt with a full monograph each week, this course will hone students' ability to identify critical concepts as well as how race scholars have utilized theory for a variety of audiences. Examining myriad analytical frames used to make sense of globalization and modernity, this course examines race and especially race-making as salient characteristics of modern governance as well as identity formation in the modern world. 

An Andalusian hall in a hotel in Barranquilla, with arches and a skylight over red tiles

American Constructions of the Middle East

As reported in December 2015, Public Policy Polling showed that 30% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats supporting bombing “Agrabah,” the fictional city of Disney’s Aladdin. Among Trump supporters, the tally was even higher, as was their support for the “Muslim ban” and outlawing Islam in the US outright. How do we reconcile many Americans’ limited knowledge of the MENA region with their certainty that they must ban Muslims, bomb Agrabah, or legislate against “shariah law”?

 

This course historicizes and interrogates various perceptions of the “Middle East” to better understand the emotional and material investments Americans hold for the region. In a moment in which expertise is uniquely devalued – and truthiness, to borrow from Stephen Colbert, seems to matter as much as fact – this course seriously considers how and why Americans feel so deeply - and so certainly - about the Middle East. 

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MENA American Autobiography

Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? has become one of the most commonly assigned high school and university required readings, but few scholars have contextualized this work within the long and rich history of autobiographies by people of MENA descent, especially in diaspora. This course aims to rectify this oversight by considering a range of autobiographical works by MENA Americans, while also interrogating autobiography as a historical archive. Moving chronologically, this course examines the varied identities and beliefs these autobiographies articulate, to foreground diaspora as an essential facet of Middle Eastern and American identities, and to trace changes and continuities in the the region as a critical site to explore contemporary globalization.

Lectures

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