Thanks to a prestigious 2018-2019 Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant, Associate Professor of History and American Studies Nabil Al-Tikriti will spend the next 10 months researching centuries-old manuscripts and archives in Azerbaijan.
Al-Tikriti will concentrate on 15th- and 16th- century intellectual history as well as Sufi movements and their connections to the significant political dynasties of the era in this Caucasus country that was once part of the Soviet Union. He’ll also teach Middle East history to university students in two Azerbaijani universities.
Al-Tikriti stated, “This award is a great honor and should provide an additional impetus to strengthening international education at UMW in the years to come. I hope to bring knowledge and contacts back from this experience, which will then further enrich UMW’s curriculum.”
Al-Tikriti is no stranger to the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program. Established in 1946 as a means of enhancing mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries, the Fulbright program is sponsored by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). As advisor for University of Mary Washington’s Fulbright Program since 2006, he’s counseled several student fellowship finalists who have gone on to study and teach in countries around the world. In addition, as a student himself, Al-Tikriti received two Fulbright awards to live and study in Istanbul, Turkey.
This is the professor’s first Fulbright Scholar grant, which sends American faculty members, scholars and professionals abroad for up to a year to study, lecture, conduct research, share ideas and help find solutions to international problems. Participants are chosen based on academic merit and leadership potential, which should make Al-Tikriti’s selection no surprise.
Born in New Orleans, he was 10 the first time he traveled internationally, visiting family in his father’s native Iraq. By the time he entered Georgetown University as an undergraduate, Al-Tikriti had set his sights on a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.
He’d just finished a master’s in international affairs at Columbia University in New York City when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The politics of that war changed the course of his life, as he then decided to volunteer for humanitarian service instead.
In 1992, Al-Tikriti joined Médecins sans Frontières (MSF-Doctors Without Borders). He has since served on the Board of Directors and as vice president for the U.S. branch of that aid organization, traveling to countries as far-flung as Somalia, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Albania, Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia.
He has worked aboard rescue ships filled with desperate refugees, and also served as an election monitor and polling station supervisor in Bosnia, Kosovo, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Montenegro, among others. Along the way, he fell in love with the history of the regions he visited; in 2004, he received his doctorate in Ottoman History from the University of Chicago, and joined the UMW faculty.
Al-Tikriti has long advocated international exchange and international education.
“Both have been marginalized in the last 20 years, which has cost us dearly. It’s making our competitive position in the world far weaker,” he said.
Travel and study abroad “make you much more emotionally mature. It makes you much more accepting of differences and much more self-aware,” Al-Tikriti said. “When you have a population that doesn’t know the world, it makes it easy to promote policies not to their advantage.”
As advisor for UMW’s Fulbright Program, Al-Tikriti has helped advise 22 fellowship finalists and 24 semi-finalists. Mary Washington currently ranks as one of the top producers of student Fulbright awards.
Two UMW professors were awarded Fulbright Scholar grants in 2015-2016: Melanie Szulczewski, associate professor of Earth and environmental sciences, and Julius Esunge, assistant professor of mathematics.
Dianne Baker, associate professor of biological sciences who has co-advised UMW’s Fulbright Program since 2015, was also a 2014-2015 grantee.