University of Washington quad with fall colors

University of Washington main quad in the fall

Congratulations to the University of Washington graduate students whose achievements over the 2022-23 academic year crossed courses of study including History, Ethnomusicology, Near and Middle Eastern studies, and Computer Science, and crossed continents with research opportunities in Greece, Israel, Spain and Turkey.

Read on to learn more about how these seven students, whose research is centered at the intersection of Ottoman, European, Jewish, Mizrahi, and Sephardic studies, are being recognized for their work.

Ke Guo receives the Finish Line Fellowship for research on Sephardic music in diaspora

Ke Guo in dress outdoors, smilingGuo, Ke (郭可), a doctoral candidate in music education with a focus in ethnomusicology at the UW School of Music, was awarded the 2023-2024 Finish Line Fellowship in Jewish Studies from the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.   

With support from the fellowship, Guo will complete her dissertation focusing on the intersection between Jewish studies and music education in the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year. More specifically, Guo’s research explores how the musical cultures of the Sephardic diaspora have grown in an organic manner across the past millennium, resonating with the idea that “folk music is never frozen.”

Büşra Demirkol awarded the American Academy for Jewish Research Travel Grant, among other honors

Büsra Demirkol smiling in sweater, outdoors

Büşra Demirkol, Ph.D. candidate in Near and Middle East Studies, received numerous awards to support her research this year, including the UW Chester Fritz and Boeing International Fellowship for Field Research, the UW Maurice and Lois Schwartz Fellowship for Language Learning, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture Fellowship Grant and the American Academy for Jewish Research Travel Grant. 

Büşra spent the 2022-23 academic year and summer abroad conducting dissertation research in Istanbul, Madrid and Jerusalem where she delved into sources in Ottoman Turkish and Ladino. Her dissertation focuses on Jewish women and Muslim women in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, their roles as midwives and practitioners of abortion, and how modern science and medical practices disrupted their worlds.

Sasha Yilmaz-Ward receives multiple Stroum Center fellowships

portrait of Sasha Yilmaz-Ward smilingSasha Yilmaz-Ward, Ph.D. student in Near and Middle East Studies, received the Hall-Ammerer Fellowship as well as the Stroum Center Opportunity Grant and Schwartz Fellowship to support her attendance at the Intensive Ottoman and Turkish Summer School (IOTSS) in Cunda, Turkey. These awards also helped enable Sasha’s archival research at the Devlet Arşivleri on early twentieth century antisemitic conspiracy theories in Turkey–one of the key subjects of her dissertation.  

Sasha also received the Stroum Center Graduate Fellowship for the 2023-24 academic year, which will allow her to share some of her research and begin writing her dissertation.

Joana Bürger wins writing prize in Hellenic Studies, publishes peer-review on H-Italy

Joana Buerger in cardigan, outdoors, smilingJoana Bürger, Ph.D. student in the Department of History, published a review of Valerie McGuire’s new book, Italy’s Sea: Empire and Nation in the Mediterranean, 1895-1945, which deals, in part, with the Island of Rhodes on H-Italy, a member of H-Net Humanities & Social Sciences online.   

Bürger also received recognition from the University of Washington Hellenic Studies Program receiving the 2023 Eleftherios and Mary Rouvelas Endowed Writing Prize in Hellenic Studies for her research paper, “Greece as Multidirectional Refugee Transit Space: Greek Jews’ Refugee Relief Work (1933-1941)” which explores how Greek Jews contributed to the making of a transnational space of refuge and transit in the Aegean Sea and the broader Eastern Mediterranean in the interwar period.

Benjamin Lee to become new assistant professor at the UW in September 2024

A portrait of Ben Lee smiling, wearing a white button-up shirt and tan blazer, with a medieval painting visible in the backgroundBenjamin Lee received the prestigious Klug Fellowship in digital studies at the Library of Congress for the 2023-2024 academic year and will be returning to the University of Washington in 2024 as a tenure track assistant professor in the Information School.

Formerly the Richard and Ina Willner Memorial Fellow in the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies, Benjamin successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation in the Paul G. Allen School for Computer Science & Engineering at UW.

Entitled, “Human-AI Interaction for Exploratory Search & Recommender Systems with Application to Cultural Heritage,” Dr. Lee’s dissertation work highlights, in part, the uses of digital technology to enhance access to Ladino source materials, especially newspapers. His work on Ladino newspapers has been profiled here 

Oya Aktaş awarded several fellowships supporting research in Turkey and Israel

Portrait of Oya Aktas smiling, wearing a sweater and necklace, with a gray backdrop behindOya Aktaş, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History, has received several fellowships to support her dissertation on Ottoman Jews, Armenians, liberal citizenship and the 1915 genocide, including those from the American Research Institute for the South Caucus (ARISC) and the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry at Brandeis University.  

With this support, Aktaş spent the academic year abroad, conducting research in Istanbul where she sought out Ottoman Turkish archives at the Prime Minister’s Archive and other repositories; and in Jerusalem, where she explored the Central Zionist Archives and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People.

Elyakim Suissa presents at two conferences, receives department fellowship for two consecutive years 

Elyakim Suissa in cardigan, outdoors, smilingElyakim Suissa, an M.A. student in the Department of Middle East Language and Culture (MELC), presented several conference papers related to his research: “The Law of the Other: Converts and Gentiles in the Eyes of Seventeenth-Century Istanbul Rabbis” at the Annual Western Ottomanists’ Workshop; and “In Disagreement Against the Shekhina’: Disputes and Transformations in the Religious World of Early Modern Ottoman Jews” at the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Conference at the University of Washington.  

He also received the Turkish and Ottoman Literature Endowed Fellowship from his department in both the 2022-23 and 2023-24 academic years. To support his Ottoman Turkish language studies at the Cunda Ottoman Turkish Summer Program (2023), Elyakim received an opportunity grant from the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies and the Maurice and Lois Schwartz Endowment Fellowship through MELC.  

Elyakim will be the Stroum Center Robinovitch Family Graduate Fellow for the 2023-24 academic year. 

Want to see more articles like this?  Sign up for our newsletter!
⇒ Learn more about the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, our Sephardic Studies Program, or our Israel Studies Program.
Note: The opinions expressed by faculty and students in our publications reflect the views of the individual writer only and not those of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.