Meet the Fellows: 2019 Newcombe Fellow Nimrod Ben Zeev

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2019 class of Fellows includes Nimrod Ben Zeev, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Pennsylvania. Nimrod shares the story behind his dissertation research:

In many ways my research interests have been the product of my personal journey, as a middle-class, Ashkenazi, secular Israeli Jew who’s trying to make sense of things which Israeli reality and society had rendered invisible. Only when I moved to the United Kingdom to study music did I become deeply fascinated with Middle Eastern cultures and histories. Despite being “from” the Middle East, this was for me the first time I had lived near and among Middle Eastern communities. Then, only when I began studying Middle East history as an undergraduate at Tel Aviv University did I begin noticing not only the material remnants of Arab Palestine all around me. Gradually, I also noticed how so much of what was built atop of those remains had been, and was still, being built by Palestinians. Finally, it took moving to Philadelphia to understand that underlying these personal observations, which had an immense emotional and political influence on me, there were histories that demanded studying.

Since I’ve embarked on this project, my most formative experiences have coalesced around two sets of conversations. The first has been those with former construction and quarry workers and their families in Palestine/Israel, the majority of whom have been Palestinian; and the second has been the conversations with scholars and peers about the historical legacies of racism around the globe. My hope is that my project is successful in weaving these various strands—deeply personal, political, and scholarly—together, through the history of construction work and workers in Israel/Palestine, in a way that is readily communicable but also honors the people who are at its heart.

Nimrod’s dissertation, titled Foundations of Inequality: Construction, Political Economy, and the Senses in Palestine/Israel, 1918—1993, examines the role construction work and the construction industry have played in shaping  inequality in twentieth-century Palestine/Israel. For more information on the 2019 Newcombe Fellows, click here.


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