MEMEAC Alumni Spotlight: Sara Pursley

MEMEAC is excited to announce that Sara Pursley (PhD in History, 2012) has published her first manuscript Familiar Futures Time, Selfhood, and Sovereignty in Iraq (Stanford University Press, 2019).

Iraq was the first postcolonial state recognized as legally sovereign by the League of Nations amid the twentieth-century wave of decolonization movements. It also emerged as an early laboratory of development projects designed by Iraqi intellectuals, British colonial officials, American modernization theorists, and postwar international agencies. Familiar Futures considers how such projects—from the country’s creation under British mandate rule in 1920 through the 1958 revolution to the first Ba’th coup in 1963—reshaped Iraqi everyday habits, desires, and familial relations in the name of a developed future.


Sara Pursley investigates how Western and Iraqi policymakers promoted changes in schooling, land ownership, and family law to better differentiate Iraq’s citizens by class, sex, and age. Peasants were resettled on isolated family farms; rural boys received education limited to training in agricultural skills; girls were required to take home economics courses; and adolescents were educated on the formation of proper families. Future-oriented discourses about the importance of sexual difference to Iraq’s modernization worked paradoxically, deferring demands for political change in the present and reproducing existing capitalist relations. Ultimately, the book shows how certain goods—most obviously, democratic ideals—were repeatedly sacrificed in the name of the nation’s economic development in an ever-receding future.

Sara Pursley is currently Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University.

Also, Sara Pursley has been featured on the lattest episode of the Ottoman History Podcast

Professor Sara Pursley with her book at the Middle East Studies Association’s annual meeting