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Camille Cole Awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Camille Cole

Pomona College senior Camille Cole, a double major in politics and Middle East Studies from Millburn, NJ, has won a highly competitive Gates Cambridge scholarship. Only 40 of the scholarships are awarded annually to students in the United States. She is the second Pomona College Gates Cambridge Scholar, following chemistry major Paul Robustelli ’06. 

Established in 2011, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship was initiated with a $210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The one-year award covers the full-cost of pursuing full-time graduate study at the University of Cambridge. According to the scholarship’s website, “The new scholars are outstanding men and women who are intellectually stellar, likely to be future leaders and have a commitment to improving the lives of others.”

In Cambridge, Cole intends to pursue an MPhil degree in historical studies, researching "Mesopotamia: The Ma'dan and the British Empire in the Marsh Sphere, 1836-1914." Building on her senior thesis on the environmental history of modern Iraq, she will examine the interactions between political, economic, social and environmental developments in the marshes of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in southern Iraq during the late Ottoman and Mandate periods.

“Generally speaking,” explains Cole, “I am interested in complicating global histories, particularly imperial history, through a focus on links and processes and a move away from received notions of unmitigated Western domination.”

Her Arabic language skills will allow her to research and incorporate diverse narratives and alternative viewpoints, elements she says that “remain disappointingly absent from much scholarship on the Middle East today. The inclusion of indigenous sources is essential to recovering histories of imperial interactions with peoples missing from existing accounts,” says Cole. “By examining a ‘peripheral’ population in terms of the connections that community ­– the Ma'dan – sustained with the rest of Iraq and with more distant peoples, my study will offer a more nuanced look at the histories of Iraq and the British Empire. It will expand upon the world historiographical paradigm of global or ‘connected’ history by incorporating peoples of the ‘periphery’ into the world historical narrative.”

Cole began her Middle East studies, she says, “in a moment of freshman impetuousness in which I chose to study Arabic, a choice which led me to my major and to my major extracurricular activities.” The summer after her freshman year, she worked at a Palestinian farm/peace NGO in the West Bank. “Living in a Palestinian area encircled by Israeli settlements and the Wall, and experiencing the human impact of U.S. and Israeli policies were visceral shocks which forced me to radically reconsider my conceptions about the Israeli/Palestinian situation.”

Her academic interests developed over the course of three extensive research projects on the Middle Eastern imperial encounter, including her senior thesis, for which she used the British national archives.  She has high praise for Prof. Bassam Frangieh, the head of the Arabic department at Claremont McKenna College. “He is really the best person you could ask for to teach Arabic to beginners, especially as he designed the program to be very tight-knit and culturally holistic in terms of speakers, cultural events etc.”

Following her year in Cambridge, Cole plans to attend graduate school and earn a doctorate in Middle Eastern history, followed by a career as a professor of history.