Ruth Ziegler Early Career Chair in Jewish Studies, University of Southern California
Thesis Title: Missions of the Civilized: A Reconsideration of the Alliance Israélite Universelle as a Colonial Arm of the French Government in Morocco (1862-1912)
There is no question that the highlights of my time as a Social Studies concentrator were Social Studies 10 and the senior thesis. After graduating from Harvard, I pursued a PhD in the history of Jews in North Africa—the subject of my Soc Stud thesis—so it’s fairly obvious that the experience doing research and writing a substantial piece of original scholarship was hugely influential. Indeed, I would say that my decision to apply to graduate school was clinched by how much I loved working in archives as part of preparing to write the thesis. The interdisciplinary nature of Social Studies meant that when I discovered my passion for the history of Jews in North Africa, I didn’t have to change concentrations to pursue it—I could write about Moroccan Jews in the context of a Social Studies thesis. And now that I am on the faculty at the University of Southern California (in the Religion department), I use the research experience I gained as a senior all the time. I am convinced that I entered graduate school with more confidence in my ability to do PhD-level work because I had already written something resembling a mini-dissertation. I knew what it was to complete a long research project, comb through notes from the archives, come up with outlines, then draft chapters, and finally put it all together into a coherent piece of writing.
Just as concretely, I believe that Soc Stud 10 lay a foundation for my academic work—and for the way I think more generally—that continues to ground my research and my teaching today. Almost all of the texts we read that year continue to show up in my work on a regular basis; they are referred to in the books and articles I read, I teach parts of them to my students, and I draw on them in my own research. More broadly, reading those texts—many, if not most, of which can be slow going—gave me training in how to read, understand, and write about theoretical work. Not to mention that I look back at the discussion sections with great fondness; they were some of the most rigorous, most challenging conversations I had during my undergraduate career.