HIST 395: An Independent Study in the Making

I had one goal going into my glorious four years of undergrad: I wanted to conduct an independent study before graduation. Initially, it felt like a huge mountain of time, classes, and learning stood between me and that moment, not to mention a grandiose amount of brainstorming but on my first day on campus, I had this ominous feeling that time was about to fly by, and boy was I right. Part of it was the pandemic, no doubt. It felt as though all the good things in life had been put on pause and yet we still had to keep going with the rest. Not being on campus and the academic spirit that comes with rushing from class to class with a quick coffee or lunch break in between or bumping into friends at the library and whispering way too loudly; I felt a disconnect without it all. It felt like the world was ending and we’d never go back to normal. Bless mask mandates and vaccines and all the other powers that allowed us to be back on campus for Fall 2021. But now, the time had come. I was a junior working towards two BAs in International Relations and History with a ton of required courses that I had to take. If I put off planning an independent study it would be too late. It was now or never.

Given my interest areas were cross-regional, interdisciplinary, and whatever other adjective you can think of to mean “all over the place”, it was difficult to narrow it down. I intended to broach the subject with my history department academic advisor Professor Tarik Cyril Amar and that gave me the push needed to articulate what it was I wanted to do. Speaking with him was most enlightening as he guided me to a professor in the department who would be a good fit. “Reach out,” he said, “I’m sure she would love to have a meeting.” I didn’t think it would be that simple, but it was!

Applying what I learned through the various research-based courses in both the International Relations and History departments prepared me for the mission that was planning an independent study. I began by exploring the expansive collection of texts at the Suna Kirac Library on campus, browsing titles on some of the topics that interested me. As the semester progressed, I spent hours in the cafes on campus working on research papers for various courses but always kept the question at the back of my head, “What is piquing my curiosity?”
Finally, I settled on an area: Islamic Political History and Theory. It was an anxiety-riddled experience, reaching out with my idea and proposing that Professor Dahlia Gubara take me on, despite not having met her let alone having taken any courses from her. But her quick and warm response was encouraging. We set a meeting for a couple of weeks before finals and discussed what I was interested in broadly and what themes I’d be open to exploring. She suggested various thinkers and texts I hadn’t heard of (being that she was the expert) in addition to those I had suggested, and I left the meeting incredibly motivated and pleased that I had taken the first big step. Next came the process of identifying a period narrow enough to be a course but wide enough to span a whole semester. Choosing between key figures, themes, and texts has been unforgiving but I know it is going to be worth the effort when I finally have a paper to show for and expertise in a niche area that I am passionate about. We are now close to finalizing the planning process as I put together my syllabus with less than a month left for the Fall 2022 semester. I’m excited!

Khadijah Ismail

College of Administrative Sciences and Economics, International Relations Major and College of Social Sciences and Humanities, History Double Major, Junior