Anna Boots is a second-year student in the AM in Middle Eastern Studies program.
Why did you choose CMES?
I really liked that Harvard’s Middle Eastern Studies Master’s program is fundamentally academic and not policy-centric like some other similar programs. I wanted to study Middle Eastern history, languages, and literatures in addition to politics and policy. I like that the former is valued and emphasized here as much, if not more, than the latter.
What are your research interests?
I am writing my master’s thesis about migration challenges in Tunisia. I’m interested in the fact that we often talk about the global migration crisis as a problem that Europe needs to deal with, when in reality North African and Middle Eastern states are receiving the vast majority of the migrants who have been displaced by regional unrest and instability since 2011, in addition to sub-Saharan African migrants being forced northward due to changing environments and economic insecurity. Tunisia is a really interesting case because it has absorbed large waves of migrants since 2011, including both Libyans displaced by the civil war and sub-Saharan Africans displaced by other political conflicts, environmental catastrophes, and ongoing insecurity. Because Tunisia has had to address these challenges as a state and a society in the immediate aftermath of their own revolution, the issue has become intertwined with Tunisia’s post-revolutionary national identity building processes. In other words, the way Tunisians are talking about migrants and migration reveals a lot about the values and identity of the post-revolutionary society. As I write this, I’m preparing to return to Tunisia for the winter session to conduct more interviews for my research!
What do you like best about studying at Harvard?
I’ve loved taking advantage of all of the different schools and departments we can study in as master’s students. One of my favorite classes, and the one that provided the inspiration for my thesis, was at the Graduate School of Design. I also really love the community at CMES. It’s a small center so most of the master’s students know each other, and there’s a strong sense of community and identity in our cohort, even though people are coming from so many different backgrounds and are at different phases of their lives and studies.
What travel/research opportunities have you pursued during your time at Harvard?
I have traveled to Tunisia twice with CMES programs, and am about to return for a third time to finish thesis research that I began there this past summer. I went on the CMES trek to Tunis during the Winter Session of my first year, which was my first introduction to Tunisia. My CMES classmates and I had so much fun traveling around the country and getting to know Tunis as a city. I loved the cultural and intellectual life and the rich sense of history in Tunis, and immediately planned to go back for the summer. This past summer, I participated in the month-long Arabic reading course with Nour Barmada. Nour made the class lively and interesting, and I would say that my classmates and I struck a healthy balance between Arabic study and beach time. In August, after the Arabic program was over, I stayed in Tunis to start research for my master’s thesis. I felt like I was just getting started when it was time to head back to Cambridge, so I’m really excited to pick up where I left off this January.
What extracurriculars have you pursued?
In my first year at Harvard I was an Associate Editor with the student-run Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy. This year, I am co-leading the journal’s editorial board, along with my two CMES classmates and close friends Mohamad Saleh and Blaire Byg. The journal is completely online and publishes several analysis pieces per week, related to the Middle East and North Africa. We’ve also placed a strong emphasis on multimedia journalism during our time as lead editors, and were part of launching a podcast associated with the journal called Middle East Weekly. Every other week during the semester a group of editors and students get together to talk about interesting developments in the region, and we publish the conversations as podcasts. It’s still in its early stages and we’re working out the kinks, but we’ve had a lot of fun doing it and hope that listeners are learning as much from it as we have been.
What are your plans after finishing your degree?
I am really hoping to start a career in journalism after graduation. I love to write and to talk to people, and I like the qualities that journalistic writing helps me leverage: curiosity, storytelling, and good listening skills. This semester I took a course on investigative reporting taught by Jill Abramson, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times. It was a really interesting course and helped me merge my expertise in the Middle East and Arabic with the journalistic writing skills that I want to be working on. It's a hard industry to break into, but I'm going to give it a shot!