The History Department is delighted to welcome Professor Laura Goffman, our new Assistant Professor in Middle Eastern history. Goffman is an historian of public health, empire, and social change in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. She is currently completing her first book, "Disorder and Diagnosis: Health and the Politics of Everyday Life in Modern Arabia," now under contract with Stanford University Press. Drawing on a wide range of state records, newspapers, local histories, religious opinions, memoirs, and scientific literature in Arabic, French, and English, Goffman’s book details the origins and evolution of public health institutions and practices in the Persian Gulf from the mid-nineteenth century through the 1970s. Working at the intersection of the histories of empire, gender, and public health, her work offers an interconnected history of the Arabian Peninsula, nuancing national narratives of state-driven modernity and centering women in Gulf history. Her next project continues her focus on the history of medicine through an exploration of the life and career of an Egyptian gynecologist who played a major role in modernizing Kuwait’s public health system. The project focuses on questions of reproductive health, medical modernization, and migration, while continuing her interconnected and global approach to Middle Eastern history.

In her scholarship Goffman is committed to recovering the voices, labor, and experiences of Middle Eastern doctors, practitioners, and ordinary people, whose use of local and folk knowledge often challenged prevailing imperial episte­mologies. She also situates the history of public health in the Middle East in its regional and global contexts, supplement­ing archival and library holdings in the Middle East (Qatar, Oman, Kuwait) with additional materials from the UK, India, Zanzibar, and the US. Her writing has already appeared in five refereed publications, including articles in Labor: Studies in Working-Class History (2023), The International Journal of Middle East Studies (2021), Radical History Review (2021), and Women’s History Review (2018).

Goffman received her Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University, and her dissertation won the 2019 Association for Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies Dissertation Award. She also holds an M.A. in Near Eastern Studies from New York University and a B.A. in History from Grinnell College. Prior to arriving at Illinois, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oslo (2019–20) and worked as an Assistant Pro­fessor of Health Studies of the Middle East and North Africa at the School of Middle East and North African Studies at the University of Arizona (2020–23).

At Illinois, Goffman has quickly found her footing in our Middle Eastern history sequence, teaching HIST335 this fall, covering from the mid-sixteenth to early twentieth centuries, and continuing with HIST337 in the spring, on the twentieth century. She will also teach a graduate seminar on Middle Eastern history in the spring. In her undergraduate courses she is particularly committed to helping students understand the historical origins and evolution of norms and social cat­egories we now take for granted. She intentionally focuses on developing students’ ability to recognize biases, arguments, and viewpoints when approaching texts, maps, and images. In all her classes, Goffman foregrounds the experiences of ordinary people. “Studying Middle Eastern history,” she notes, “is not about trying to understand the ways in which a civiliza­tion, religion, or culture is different from our own; rather, it is about coming to terms with how the daily experiences of people in this region have been profoundly human.” Already, she has been impressed by her students’ curiosity and open­ness to new ways of understanding the Middle East and the world, and she looks forward to continuing to engage with Illinois students in the years to come.

For Goffman, the move to Illinois is a return home in two respects. After spending several years teaching in an interdisciplinary program, she is especially excited to return to a history department, where she can engage with both colleagues and students about sources and questions, that, despite being situated in specific time periods and places, are fundamentally universal. She has already been impressed by the collegial environment within the department and looks forward to contributing to our intellectual community. It is also a personal homecoming. Born and raised in Indiana, she graduated high school from St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, where her parents now live. After years further afield both in the US and around the world, she is thrilled to have landed so close to home. We are lucky to have her. Welcome to Illinois, Professor Goffman!


Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the 2024 issue of the History @ Illinois Newsletter.