Gavin Brockett


Campus: Wilfrid Laurier
Office: DAWB 4-144

Until recently there were only limited opportunities for students interested in Middle East history to study at Canadian universities. I had the privilege of doing so at Simon Fraser University before completing my graduate work at the University of Chicago. Today more opportunities exist at Canadian universities, and at the Tri-University Graduate Program we are fortunate to have three faculty who work directly in the field along with others who work in related areas. We welcome the opportunity to work with graduate students interested in exploring the history of the modern Middle East. The field is extremely broad, and there remains an array of important and interesting topics that students might explore.

My own commitment is to examining the relationship between the emergence of new nation-states in the twentieth century Middle East, the continued importance of Islam to society in these countries despite decades of modernization and globalization, and the current conflicts-national and international-that dominate the region. In particular I have been concerned to study the social history of modern Turkey, long considered the primary example of successful nation-state formation in the Muslim Middle East. Today, however, Islam is alive and well in Turkey: the country’s government is formed by a moderate Islamist party, and Turkish society is characterized by a frequently acrimonious debate over the importance of Islam to the nation. The challenge facing scholars is to explore aspects of Turkey’s past so as to resolve the apparent contradiction between Turkey today and the prevailing image of secular reform associated with its early history. I am fortunate to be among the first generation of scholars able to utilize a variety of sources for these purposes. From a socio-historical perspective, I find that the most fruitful means to do so is to explore the intersection between elite agendas for the new nation and popular efforts to adopt these as they were implemented. The result was a process of negotiation as to the nature of the Turkish nation-a process which continues to the present day.