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Ian Straughn

Joukowsky Family Middle East Studies Librarian:
Brown University Library, Research and Outreach Services
Phone: +1 401 863 3394


My research and teaching interests focus on the emerging study of the archaeology of the Muslim World. This work was first developed while a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of Chicago and has continued as a member of the Joukowsky Institute faculty, and currently the University Library. More specifically my work has concentrated on understanding how Muslim societies have been shaped by the landscapes which they have constructed and conceived and by their relationship to the material world. A major aspect of my research has consisted of developing a methodology for bringing the archaeological and textual records into a productive dialogue about past societies. Additionally, my work has sought to understand the relationship of materiality to religious experience and the place of archaeology in the study of religion.


My research is engaged in a variety of different projects that range from the strictly archaeological to more general questions concerning the social theory of materiality and spatiality. I am currently completing the monograph for a research project that investigated the early Islamic period landscapes of Greater Syria. The book will be titled: "Islam Emplaced: The landscape of an emerging religious tradition."

Most recently (Summer 2010) I have served as field director for the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP) under the overall direction of Dr. Susan Alcock. Within that framework I am developing an Islamic Period Petra Initiative that will bring much of the data that we will be collecting for the later periods of the site (post 7th c.) into a synthetic archaeological study of the region that does not follow rigid political temporalities but looks to expand forward and backwards what constitutes an Islamic history.

Another archaeological project, currently in development, will examine the transformations to the fertile Egyptian region of the Fayyum located about one hour south of Cairo. Here I am putting together a team of researches to examine a 13th century irrigation wall that was instrumental in the agricultural and political revitalization of this region under the Mamluk Sultanate.

The broader theme of my work has been to understand the role of material culture in human societies. This has prompted me to form the Material Worlds working group at Brown that has brought together and interdisciplinary set of faculty members whose work focus on these issues. Supported by a grant from the Cogut Center for the Humanities we will continue to raise the profile of how things shape our lives through various campus events and developing new curricula. This has lead to my own particular interest in researching how Muslim thinkers understood the made world and what effects these discourses of the material had on the practical formations of the archaeological record. This has become most apparent in things such as the built environment and hence my research has concentrated on everything from ceramic scatters in fields, to walls to the cities of the Muslim world.

Information on my current research projects are available here


Ph.D, 2006, Anthropology, The University of Chicago


  • Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Cogut Humanities Center, Brown University (2007-2009)

  • Cogut Humanities Center Research Group Grant ($5000), Brown University (2007-8)

  • Watkins Dissertation Fellowship, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago (2005-2006)

  • Century Fellowship, Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago (1997-1998, 1999-2001, 2004-2005)

  • Martin Marty Center Dissertation Fellowship, Divinity School, The University of Chicago (2004-2005)

  • Fulbright-Hays DDRA Dissertation Fellowship, Syria (2002-2004)

  • Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fellowship (declined)

  • Social Science Research Council, International Dissertation Research Fellowship, Syria (2002-2004)

  • Fulbright Islamic Civilizations fellowship (awarded 2002, declined)

  • Fulbright IIE (awarded 2002, declined)

  • Mellon Foundation Fellowship, Center for Arabic Study Abroad, Cairo Egypt (2001-2002)

  • Phi Betta Kappa - Stanford University


Editor for Archaeological Dialogues


My teaching ranges from introductory courses on the archaeology and social history of the Islamic world to advanced seminars in the study of archaeology, religion, and landscape.

Please see the following course web pages:

Introduction to Islamic Archaeology
Sacred Space
Archaeology and Religion
Islamic Landscapes
Arabia and the Arabs

Funded Research

  • Cogut Center Working Group grant for "Material Worlds"

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