Zayde Antrim Profile



Zayde Antrim (Virginia & St Antony’s 1995) has been at Trinity College, Hartford since 2006 and became an Associate Professor last year. She is a published author specializing in the Middle East and the early Islamic world. She received a Ph.D. in History from Harvard in 2005, an M.Phil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Oxford and a BA in History from the University of Virginia.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Zayde Antrim: I guess I call New England home, in a general sense. Despite coming originally from Richmond, Virginia, which shaped me in some pretty important ways, my adult life has mostly been spent in the Northeast. I feel like the culture, the people and the cities of this part of the United States really suit my personality. Most of my friends are here too, so this is where I call home.

Rhodes Project: What is the last book you read for pleasure?

Zayde Antrim: The last non-fiction book I read for pleasure was a biography of a Palestinian poet named Taha Muhammad Ali, with a great title, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness. It’s wonderful because it discusses both poetry and the life of someone who identifies as Palestinian and spent half of his life in the state of Israel. I’m constantly reading and I read a lot of fiction. I love murder mysteries, so if I were perfectly honest, the last book I read for pleasure would be one of a huge number of murder mysteries that I’m constantly devouring!

Rhodes Project: What did you find strangest about the environment at Oxford?

Zayde Antrim: There was a reticence about exchange in social and intellectual settings that surprised me; I always felt like I was louder and talked more than everyone else. That might have been a cultural difference. I was also surprised by the way in which education at Oxford was structured differently to the United States. There was a different kind of interaction, both in the classroom and with professors, compared to what I was used to at home. 

Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in the Middle East and early Islamic world?

Zayde Antrim:  When I was studying Arabic in Jordan. I was 20 years old and studying there over the summer. I wasn’t studying in Jordan because I was interested in the Middle East but because I was interested in Africa. I decided to take up Arabic because it was the language that was available to me at my undergraduate institution, other than French, which I already spoke, that seemed most useful for African history. But I spent the summer in Jordan and my eyes really opened to a lot of the issues relevant to Middle Eastern studies. Most importantly, though, I fell in love with the Arabic language. That’s what has seen me through, until now, in terms of my own personal excitement and in terms of what I do.

Rhodes Project: Is there something that you find consistently frustrating about the way in which your area of expertise is widely understood, particularly given current media coverage of the Middle East?

Zayde Antrim: I’m constantly frustrated by the way Middle Eastern issues are covered in the media. To be more specific, I am frustrated by the way in which we, as scholars of this part of the world, are forced into discussions in a way that answers back to the media. So even though we’re frustrated by the media coverage, and we see what we do as a corrective to it, or as a way of revising or challenging some of the dominant narratives in the media, I wish we didn’t have to deal with that at all. I wish we could free ourselves from that because it limits us. I try in my courses both to respond to the media and to be very explicit with my students that I want to get away from the media and open up different areas, one of which is the deep past. That is what I’ve done most of my research on in the last ten years. I want my students to look at the early Islamic world, between the seventh and fifteenth centuries, in complex and nuanced ways. It’s hard because American undergraduates aren’t interested in the deep past in general, but particularly that of the Middle East. A lot of the assumptions we make, what we think we know about the Middle East, have a timeless character to them. Those assumptions are really pervasive.

Rhodes Project: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Zayde Antrim: Teaching, without a doubt, is the most challenging part of my job. It can be exhilarating, but it’s also incredibly hard. I constantly feel like I’m inadequate, that I’m not giving my students what they need. I worry that I’m not able to stimulate their individual interests in the subject matter. I love teaching but my students have so many different ways of learning and I want to figure out a way to reach most of them, not just those who sit in the front row. There’s also a perception that’s increasing – particularly in the United States – that teaching ought to be entertainment. That’s not the way that I operate in the classroom and I am constantly feeling like I should push myself in that direction. I find that challenging.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about something that you feel you’ve learnt from your students?

Zayde Antrim: I’m really interested in writing and I love writing but it’s something that a lot of people struggle with, including both me and my students. My students seem to struggle with it a lot more than I remember doing as an undergraduate, so I feel strongly about guiding their writing. I think one of the things I’ve learned from them is that the guidance I give has to be with a soft touch. There are more ways of writing than I would have thought were acceptable ten years ago, so I’ve had to open my mind a little bit about the different ways that my students communicate. I’ve come to appreciate different ways of presenting ideas.

Rhodes Project: If you could be anywhere in the world at this moment, where would you choose to go and why?

Zayde Antrim: It would be to a place in New Hampshire by a lake that I’ve gone to throughout my life with members of my family. It’s in the mountains and the lake water is clear and cold. When I go there I feel like my mind is clear. I feel healthy and I feel creative.

Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy?

Zayde Antrim: One thing that brings me a lot of joy is solitude. I crave it and it’s hard to find ways of having it in my life. Spending time with people I love brings me joy. Reading for pleasure brings me joy. Those are the top three things.

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