Dr. Ayesha Jalal #AsianPacificAmericanHeritageMonth
Today we are celebrating Ayesha Jalal, PhD, a Pakistani-American historian who serves as the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University, and was the recipient of the 1998 MacArthur Fellowship — the “genius grant.”
Everybody talks about accommodating differences but nobody is comfortable with differences. As far as I am concerned, I am what I am. If I wear shalwar kameez and they think that I have to be a particular woman then that is their problem.
At first glance, Ayesha Jalal seems like an unlikely agitator. She is a tiny, angular woman whose small frame is accentuated by her flowing beige shalwar kameez, a traditional Pakistani outfit consisting of a loose tunic and baggy trousers. Her scholarly credentials — Wellesley, Oxford, Harvard — are purebred establishment.
But in recent years, Ms. Jalal has taken on the academic and political mainstream in her native Pakistan as well as the administration of Columbia University, where she taught history for seven years. And while her historical work on South Asia has elicited anonymous threats, it also brought her a MacArthur Fellowship (commonly called the genius grant) this year, worth $265,000, no strings attached, and a reputation as one of the most innovative scholars in the history of the region.
What may be most unusual about Ms. Jalal is that she studies Pakistan at all. There are only a handful of scholars of Pakistan in the United States; most South Asian specialists here focus on the country’s considerably larger neighbor, India. And to hear Ms. Jalal tell it, the state of Pakistani history in Pakistan is no better. The country did not even have a free press until the late 1980’s, and four decades of military rule have left a legacy of media self-censorship. The country’s liberal arts colleges are controlled by the central Government.
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