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Mohamad Ballan

Assistant Professor (Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2019)

Cuurriclum vitae. Summer 2020

Office: SBS S-315


Interests: Medieval Mediterranean; borderlands and frontier history; political thought; Islamic history; medieval Iberia; sectarianism and intercommunal relations; early modern Europe; intellectual networks; philosophy; historiography; Ottoman Empire; late antiquity.


My research focuses on the intellectual, political and cultural history of the pre-modern Mediterranean world, with a focus on the classical and post-classical Islamic world between roughly 1100 and 1600. My work engages with a number of geographic and temporal contexts across Europe, Africa and Asia but is motivated by a similar set of thematic concerns, the most central of which are the study of intellectuals, the transformation of institutions during moments of crisis and transition, and the role of medieval and early modern literary representation and historiographical production in shaping modern understandings of the past. In many ways, my current research is largely animated by an interrogation of how moments of political crisis, transition and transformation are reflected in the writings of what we today might call public intellectuals and considers the important role of these actors and thinkers in shaping the collective memory of society, the development of its institutions and the transmission of particular ways of thinking and knowing. I am interested in understanding the manner in which intellectual and social networks were shattered, refashioned and reconstituted following major moments of political transformation and cataclysmic events such as conquest, mass conversion and forced migration in the pre-modern world. An exploration of these questions provides the point of departure for critically interrogating the relationship between knowledge, power and social change. My research is underpinned by a commitment to understanding the history of the Islamic world from an interconnected and global perspective. This approach engages with the Islamic world in its various dimensions (from Islamic Spain to the Middle East and Central Asia) and emphasizes the importance of interconnections and linkages across geographic, temporal and cultural spaces. In addition to heavily informing my research, this idea of interconnected histories has greatly shaped my teaching, with my classes seeking to integrate premodern Islamic history into broader developments in world history. 

My current book project, tentatively titled   Lord of the Pen and Sword, examines the phenomenon of the “scholar-statesman”—litterateurs, physicians, and jurists who ascended to the highest administrative and executive offices of state—in Islamic Spain and North Africa. It focuses on the career and writings of Lisān al-Dīn ibn al-Khaṭīb (1313–1374), the preeminent historian, philosopher and chancellor of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, situating this figure within a vast intellectual-political network of scholars, functionaries and statesmen across the late medieval Mediterranran world. Drawing upon a corpus of over 200 Arabic manuscripts, including historical chronicles, political treatises, epistolography, medical tracts, biographical dictionaries, and poetry, I argue that the gradual concentration of executive political authority in the hands of these scholar-officials was part of the process of the consolidation of royal power at the expense of the nobility. . The book examines this professional rivalry, which reshaped the political culture, social hierarchies and conceptions of sovereignty in Nasrid Granada, in order to illuminate the social and political context of knowledge production in the premodern Islamic world. It demonstrates that it was the dual identities and roles of many of these individuals as both scholars and statesmen that shaped their writings, their statecraft and their conception of the world. The project investigates the interconnections between political upheaval, social change and scholarly production to illustrate the various ways in which the crisis and transformation that characterized the territorial fragmentation of Islamic Spain and North Africa contributed to the rise of a distinct class of scholar-officials who reshaped the intellectual and political culture of the Islamic West. It situates their innovative historiographical and literary writings about society and politics within the broader context of a rising concern with governmentality, bureaucratization, and the reshaping of society in the late medieval and early modern Islamic world. The project, which utilizes texts as well as coinage and epigraphy, seeks to pave the way for a new understanding of a distinctly Islamic “early modernity” by bringing the histories of the Islamic West into conversation with the broader intellectual, social and institutional developments taking place across the Mediterranean and Islamic world, including both the Arabic-speaking and Persianate lands.




"Fraxinetum: An Islamic Frontier State in Tenth-Century Provence,"  Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies  41 (2010): 23-76