Mira Schwerda is a student in the joint PhD Program in History of Art & Architecture and Middle East Studies.
How did you become interested in Middle East Studies?
As an undergraduate student in Germany I became interested in the Middle East and Central Asia, first its histories and languages, then its art, architecture, and visual culture. After pursuing an undergraduate degree in Iranian Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Modern History in Germany, I completed a master’s degree in Islamic art history at Princeton.
Why did you choose CMES?
The idea of a joint program and an interdisciplinary approach perfectly corresponds to my dissertation research, which bridges different disciplines. At Harvard I am able to learn from many different specialists, not only professors, but also curators, librarians, and conservators. Another important aspect is that Harvard has wonderful libraries and great collections of manuscripts and works of art.
What are your research interests? What are you working on now?
I specialize in the visual culture, art, and architecture of 19th-century Iran and Central Asia. My main focus is the history of photography and printing. In my dissertation I analyze visual and written sources related to political imagery of the Qajar period, which have received little attention so far. My article "Death on Display: Mirza Reza Kirmani, Prison Portraiture and the Depiction of Public Executions in Qajar Iran" will be published in the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication (Brill) in June 2015. This summer I will continue my research on Iranian art and visual culture as a Smithsonian fellow at the Freer|Sackler galleries in Washington DC.
What do you like best about living in Cambridge?
Cambridge is a lovely place with many cafés and book stores. If it becomes too small once in a while, Boston, with its great museums, its opera house, and the lovely red brick buildings of Beacon Hill, is just a few minutes – only two T stops – away. Cambridge and Boston are home to many different universities and colleges, therefore there is always an interesting conference or lecture taking place, and you can meet people from all over the world here.
What are your plans after finishing your degree?
I have found lots of interesting material during my studies, which will not make it into my dissertation – therefore the next book project is already waiting!
Any advice for a prospective student?
Take the time to come to Harvard and meet the students and the faculty before you apply! Ask many questions! Don’t be afraid to work on topics nobody has ever worked on before!