2009 Dissertation Prize Abstracts

For more information on the 2009 dissertation prizes, see the Spring 2010 TAARII Newsletter, Issue 05-01.


Dr. Jonathan Tenney (University of Chicago), “Life at the Bottom of Babylonian Society: Servile Laborers at Nippur in the 14th and 13th Centuries BC”

The public servile labor force at Nippur can be identified by standard Middle Babylonian markers of sex-age class and physical condition as well as by other distinctive designations (e.g., qinnu, amîlûtu) in a corpus of more than five hundred tablets and fragments dating between 1359 and 1224 B.C. This collection of administrative texts, legal documents, and letters partially illuminates for us several key features of this group, including aspects of its demographic composition, its family and household organization, its occupations, and the administrative structure concerned with maintaining, tracking, and controlling the laborers.

This servile population, numbering in the thousands, has been investigated with traditional philological analysis of the texts as well as with the application of quantitative methods, historical demography, and historical-ethnographic comparisons. Descriptive statistics and sex ratio indicate that the environment of the laboring population favored males over females and that, although its adult sex ratio is close to that of other premodern societies, its all-age sex ratio is consonant with that of a recently established slave population. Likewise, patterns of family and household differ notably from those of other premodern populations. The high percentage of single mothers and female heads of household shows that women played an unusually prominent role in these servile families.

Individual workers could be assigned to a location, to a large institution, to a household, or to a private individual. Occupations listed in the rosters indicate that laborers worked in the care and management of animals, in textile production, and in food preparation, among other tasks. Significant numbers of the workers (mostly males with no family ties) fled the servile system — a problematic situation for officials because the servile population was unable to sustain its size through natural reproduction. Most runaways were successful in their escape attempts; but some were recaptured, placed in prison, and eventually reassigned to a new master.



Dr. Juan Romero (University of Texas at Austin), “The Iraqi Revolution of 1958 and the Search for Security in the Middle East”

This dissertation contends that a revolutionary situation built up in Iraq during the last decade of the monarchic system. Opposition to constraints on civil rights, close ties with Britain, accession to the Baghdad Pact, the semi-feudal economic system in rural areas, and the plight of the unemployed in the slums of the big cities fanned revolutionary sentiments in Iraq during the monarchic era. The ambitious development program financed with Iraq’s considerable oil revenues did not address these problems, however, since the program focused on large-scale and long-term projects which did not rapidly improve the situation of the poorer strata of the population. Furthermore, external events such as the formation of the Baghdad Pact in 1955 and the Suez Crisis of 1956 directly fueled anti-regime sentiments in Iraq, since students and intellectuals contended that the monarchy’s foreign policy had contributed to these events and isolated Iraq from its Arabs neighbors. The regime managed to remain in power, however, through heavy-handed suppression of any public manifestation of political opposition. This left the army the only force in Iraqi society capable of effectuating change. The regime was convinced of the army’s complete loyalty and therefore made the mistake to dismiss intelligence on coup plans.

This dissertation further argues that the Free Officers coup of July 14, 1958, was the initial phase of a social, economic, political, and psychological revolution. The fact that Baghdadis took to the streets in massive numbers on the morning of July 14 shows strong popular support for and participation in the Free Officers coup. The foreign and economic policies of the new regimes also constituted a revolutionary departure from those of the monarchy. Furthermore, the new government declared that Iraq’s foreign policy would be based on the principle of neutralism, and that its economic policy would eliminate the semi-feudal system in the rural areas to build an equitable society. Iraq’s decision not to withdraw from the Baghdad Pact and not to nationalize the Iraq Petroleum Company was made for security reasons, and did not signify a continuation of the policies of the previous regime.