Detail from a watercolor on paper. “A Turtledove on a Tamarind Branch.” Signed by Zain al-Din India, Calcutta; 1778 51.9 × 72.4 cm (David Museum, Denmark)

My current research explores a golden age of Arabic encyclopedic literature that emerged in the scholarly centers of Egypt and Syria during the 14th-16th centuries, a period that witnessed the composition of enormous books covering a vast array of subjects, from literature, history, and geography, to law, theology, and exegesis. A brief synopsis of the project can be found here.

In 2016, I published an abridged translation of a 14th-century Arabic encyclopedia, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri (New York: Penguin). A monograph about the encyclopedic production of the Mamluk Empire is forthcoming from Princeton University Press in 2017.

In addition to the subject of comparative encyclopedism, I have interests in the problem of the vernacular in different literary traditions, and the reception of classical Islamic texts in Europe. I am the director of the Digital Islamic Humanities Project at Brown University, an initiative devoted to supporting data-driven scholarship in Middle East and Islamic Studies.




  • “The Scattered and the Gathered: Questioning Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi.” In Essays in Islamic Philology, History, and Philosophy, edited by Alireza Korangy, Roy P. Mottahedeh, Wheeler Thackston, and William Granara. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016).
  • “Encyclopaedias, Arabic,” Encyclopaedia of Islam Three (Leiden: Brill, 2015).
  • “Why was the 14th Century a Century of Arabic Encyclopaedism?” In Encyclopaedias and Encyclopaedism from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Edited by Jason König and Greg Woolf. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. (pdf)
  • “Establishing a Lebanese Senate: Bicameralism and the Third Republic,” Stanford Univ. Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Working Papers Series, no. 125 (August 2012). Arabic translation available here.
  • “The Sultan’s New Clothes: Ottoman-Mamluk Gift Exchange in the 15th Century.” Muqarnas 27 (2010): 189-207.  (Winner of the Margaret B. Sevcenko Prize from the Historians of Islamic Art Association)
  • “Ilyâs al-Mawsilî.” In Essays in Arabic Literary Biography, c. 1350-1830. Edited by J. Lowry & D. Stewart. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 2009.


  • Review of Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic, in The Nation, January 11-18, 2016.
  • Review of Carl Petry, The Criminal Underworld in a Medieval Islamic Society, in Mamluk Studies Review 18 (2014-15).
  • Review of Matthew Ingalls, “Subtle Innovation Within Networks of Convention: The Life, Thought, and Legacy of Zakariyya al-Ansari,” Ph.D. diss., Yale (2011), in Dissertation Reviews.
  • Review of Poetry and History: The Value of Poetry in Reconstructing Arab History, eds. Ramzi Baalbaki, Saleh Said Agha and Tarif Khalidi, in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73.1 (April 2014): 176-78.
  • Review of Reza Aslan’s Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, in The Nation (Aug 29, 2011).
  • Review of Michael Young’s The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggle, in The Nation (July 15, 2010).
  • Review of Eugene Rogan’s, The Arabs: A History, in The National (December 4, 2009).