Maha Nassar

About Maha Nassar

I am a cultural and intellectual historian of the twentieth-century Arab world, with a focus on Palestinian history. My research on intellectual constructs of social, political and cultural identities seeks to trace the circulation of political vocabularies that construct as well as contest nationalist narratives.

My first monograph, Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World, examines the ways in which Palestinian cultural producers in Israel during the 1950s and ‘60s positioned themselves within an Arab and third world social, cultural and intellectual milieu that extended far beyond the confines of the Israeli nation-state. By mapping the strategies they deployed, my book demonstrates the importance of Arabic newspapers and literary journals in traversing national boundaries and in creating transnational and transregional communities of solidarity. In 2018 Brothers Apart received a Palestine Book Award for academic titles.

My current projects explore further various dimensions of Palestinian subject formation in the twentieth century. One project involves an analysis of the discursive framings utilized during the 1950s regarding “Arab women in Israel,” in which Israeli officials appropriated Mandate-era Palestinian nationalist discourses to position the state as an emancipator of Palestinian women. Yet some Palestinian women pushed back against these discourses, in part by deploying Israel’s own narratives of gender equality to call for more equitable treatment. Another project examines how Palestinian intellectuals challenged stereotypical images of Arabs in Western and Israeli expressions of popular culture, which they saw as part of the larger Palestinian struggle to win global hearts and minds.

In keeping with my interest in the transnational circulation of political vocabularies, I am also exploring how Palestinian writers engaged with the Black American freedom movement. While scholars have recently examined how certain Black American intellectuals became interested in the question of Palestine during this period, little attention has been paid to how Palestinians drew on the vocabularies of Black liberation to make legible their own conditions, whether as citizens of Israel, under occupation, or in exile.

For my next book project, I aim to tell the story of how Palestinian identity has been constructed and maintained under the conditions of statelessness and transnational dispersal. I argue that despite the lack of an independent nation-state, Palestinians have nonetheless articulated a clear sense of national identity--as well as a larger sense of "peoplehood"--that  transcends state boundaries and often challenges the dominant national narratives of the countries in which they live. I argue further that their sense of identity is rooted in familial connections to specific locales in historic Palestine and is expressed through self-identity, civil society organizations and grassroots mobilizing. In addition, cultural expressions such as cuisine, clothing, family celebrations, and dialect have further contributed to this strong sense of Palestinian identity. These bottom-up practices of identity formation—frequently led by women—challenge our understanding of national identity as being forged through top-down (and often male-dominated) state institutions such as museums and schools.

I teach graduate and undergraduate courses on Middle Eastern history and historiography, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Islamic thought. I have conducted fieldwork in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine.

I am also a 2018 Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project and a Policy Member of Al-Shabaka - The Palestinian Policy Network. My analysis and opinion pieces have appeared in numerous U.S.-based publications including The Washigton Post, The Forward and The Hill.


Ph.D. (with honors) University of Chicago, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 2006

M.A. University of Chicago, Middle Eastern Studies, 1999

B.A. Benedictine University, English Language and Literature, Secondary Education (minor), Summa Cum Laude, 1997


Selected Publications


Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017)


“Palestinian Engagements with the Black Freedom Struggle before 1967,” Journal of Palestine Studies, 48, no. 4 (Summer 2019): 17-32.

“’My Struggle Embraces Every Struggle’: Palestinians in Israel and Solidarity with Afro- Asian Decolonization Movements,” Arab Studies Journal, 22, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 74-101.

“Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Discourse on the Right of Return, 1948-1959.” Journal of Palestine Studies 40, no. 4 (Summer 2011): 45-60.

“The Marginal as Central: Al-Jadid and the Development of a Palestinian Public Sphere,   1953–1970,” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 3, no. 3 (November 2010): 333-51.  

Book Chapters:

“My Resilient Flag,” in Being Palestinian, ed. Yasir Suleiman (forthcoming with Oxford University Press)

“Looking Out, Cheering On: Global Leftist Vocabularies among Palestinian Citizens of Israel,” in The Global Sixties: Conventions, Contests, and Countercultures, edited by Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney and Tamara Chaplin (London: Routledge, 2017)

Book Reviews:

Zareena Grewal, Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority (2014).  American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 32 (2015): 113-6.

Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman, Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within (2008). International Journal of Middle East Studies, 45 (2013): 631-3.

Hillel Cohen, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948, tr. Haim Watzman (2008).  International Journal of Middle East Studies, 41 (2009): 506-7.

Shawkat Toorawa (translator), Adonis, A Time between Ashes and Roses: Poems (2004).       Journal of Arabic Literature 38, no. 2 (2007): 240-3.

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Contact Information

Maha Nassar
Associate Professor, Modern Middle East History, Islamic Studies, Director of Undergraduate Studies
Telephone: 520-626-5189
Office: Marshall 453
Office Hours: By Appointment

Courses Taught

MENA 160 A1: Religion of Islam (Tier 1 General Education)

MENA/HIST 277A: History of the Middle East, 600-1453 (Tier 2 General Education)

MENA/HIST 277B: History of the Middle East, 1453-present (Tier 2 General Education)

MENA/RELI 334: Islamic Thought  (Tier 2 General Education)

MENA/GWS 463/563: Gender Issues and Women’s Literature in the Middle East

MENA/HIST 480/580: The Middle East in the 20th Century

MENA/HIST/POLI 484/584: History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

MENA 595D: Introduction to the Study of the Middle East

MENA 696Y: Nationalism and Islam