Keith Watenpaugh

Associate Professor of Modern Islam, Human Rights and Peace
Director of Human Rights Minor and UC Davis Human Rights Initiative
Co-Director of UC Human Rights Collaboration
2012-2013 ACLS/NEH/SSRC International and Area Studies Fellow


Personal Website:


Education and Degree(s):

  • B.A. (with Honors), History and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Washington
  • Ph.D. Modern Middle Eastern History, University of California, Los Angeles


Keith David Watenpaugh is a historian of the Modern Middle East and Associate Professor of Modern Islam, Human Rights & Peace who teaches in the Religious Studies and Human Rights Minor programs. Trained at UCLA, he has lived and conducted research in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia and Iraq.

At UC Davis, Dr. Watenpaugh teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on Modern Islam, Genocide, Human Rights, Humanitarianism, Fundamentalism and the larger issues raised by the Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria. He developed the Interdisciplinary Minor in Human Rightsand serves as the minor's primary advisor.

Note for prospective graduate students

Letter of recommendation policy

Dr. Watenpaugh is also the founding director of the UC Davis Human Rights Initiative. Human Rights is a new field, but one that allows scholars and students to exam enduring and important questions about suffering, the destruction of culture, injustice, and power and powerlessness in ways that transcend established disciplines.   The HRI exists to build faculty and graduate student capacity in the research and teaching of Human Rights, as well as to enable undergraduates to integrate Human Rights into their own fields of study.  Over the past four, years, the HRI has grown from a series of faculty conversations that led to the creation of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Human Rights (which graduate its first minors in 2011-2012) to a diverse project embracing the several elements of the university’s mission.

With colleagues from UCSD and UCSB, Dr. Watenpaugh is the co-director of the UC Human Rights Collaboration, a multi-campus research group sponsored by the UC Humanities Research Institute.

Princeton University Press published his first book Being Modern in the Middle East: Revolution, Nationalism, Colonialism and the Arab Middle Class and he has written articles for the American Historical Review, the International Journal of Middle East StudiesSocial History, the Journal of Human Rights and Middle East Report. His work has been translated into Arabic, French, German, Turkish and Persian.  

He is currently finishing the book, Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism.  The book is under contract with the University of California Press.

Over the year the 2012-2013, Dr. Watenpaugh will be a American Council of Learned Societies/National Endowment for the Humanities/Social Science Research Council International and Area Studies Fellow.

He also serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Middle East Studies

He has received several noteworthy grants including the CIEE Fulbright, Fulbright-Hays, Social Science Research Council, Will Rogers and the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq fellowships; he was the Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in Middle East Studies at Williams College (1998-2000), a Visiting Scholar at Harvard's Center of Middle East Studies (2004), in 2005-2006 he was the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Democracy and Diversity at the Tanner Humanities Center, Univ. of Utah and in 2008-2009 he was a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow in International Peace at the United States Institute of Peace.

As one of the few American scholars to have lived and worked in Syria, Dr. Watenpaugh has worked extensively with media, non-governmental organizations and the US goverment to create a better understanding of the humanitarian and human rights problems facing the Syrian people as their country faces civil war.

Dr. Watenpaugh has also become involved in international elections monitoring and is part of a group of UC faculty and researches creating the UC Election Observation and Technical Assistance (UCEOTA) Group.

A father of twins, he is an avid fly fisherman, sailor and bicyclist, enjoys working in his garden and growing California native species.

Selected Publications:


Being Modern in the Middle East: Revolution, Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Arab Middle Class, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. (Read the First Chapter) [pdf]

Recent Reviews:

Also See:

Dr. Watenpaugh discusses his book with UCD reporter Paul Pfotenhauer

Selected Juried Journal Articles and Book Chapters

“‘Are there any children for sale?’: Genocide and the Forced Transfer of Armenian Children (1915-1922),” Journal of Human Rights, 12:2 (2013) forthcoming.

“Being Middle Class and Being Arab: Sectarian Dilemmas and Middle-class Modernity in the Arab Middle East (1908-1936)” in Barbara Weinstein and A. Ricardo Lopez, (eds.) “We Shall Be All:” Toward a Global History of the Middle Class (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).

“The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism (1920-1927)”American Historical Review115:5 (December 2010).

"Scouting in the Interwar Arab Middle East; Youth, Colonialism and the Problem of Middle-Class Modernity." Scouting Frontiers: Youth and the Scout Movement’s First Century. Nelson R. Block and Tammy Proctor, editors. (Cambridge, 2009)

"The Uncomfortable Inhabitants of French Colonial Modernity: Mandate Syria's Communities of Collaboration (1920-1946)," in Hafid Gafaïti, Patricia Lorcin, and David Troyansky (eds.), Transnational Spaces and Identities in the Francophone World (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007).

"Cleansing the Cosmopolitan City: Historicism, Journalism and the Arab Nation in the Post-Ottoman Eastern Mediterranean,” Social History 30:1 (2005)

"Colonial Cooperation and the Survivors' Bargain - The Post-Genocide Armenian Community of Syria under French Mandate," in The British and French Mandates in Comparative Perspective, Peter Sluglett et al., eds., (Leiden: Brill, 2004) 597-622.

"Middle-class Modernity and the Persistence of the Politics of Notables in Syria under French Rule," The International Journal of Middle East Studies, 35 (2003). 257-286.

"Steel Shirts, White Badges and the last Qabaday: Fascist Forms and the Transformation of Urban Violence in French Mandate Syria” in France, Syrie et Liban, 1918-1846 - les dynamiques et les ambiguïtés de la relation mandataire, Nadine Méouchy, ed., (Damascus: Institut Français d'Études Arabes de Damas Press, 2003) 325-347.

"Creating Phantoms: Zaki al-Arsuzi, The Alexandretta Crisis and the Formation of Modern Arab Nationalism in Syria," in The International Journal of Middle East Studies, 28 (1996), 363-389.

Interviews, Essays and Op-Eds on the Civil War in Syria

"Halep Saraybosna mı olacak?" Agos 22 August 201 [.pdf]

"Aleppo Now and the Future of Armenians in Syria" — 31 July 2012

“Bosnia taught us we must slow the killing in Syria – immediately,” —op-ed Sacramento Bee, 31 May 2012

Blog Entry: Some Thoughts on the Battle for Aleppo 7 August 2012  

Capital Public Radio Insight Interview on Syria 6 August 2012

Blog Entry: Why the Targeting of Children in Syria? 4 April 2012

Blog Entry: Some Thoughts on the humanitarian challenges of the coming civil war in Syria 23 October 2011

Capital Public Radio Insight Interview on Syria, 30 June 2011

Writings on Iraq

Death of Iraq's middle class: The country's best and brightest have fled, demolishing hope for the country's future [pdf] - Chicago Sun Times 1/25/2007

Middle East Brain Drain, National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation - 11/22/2006

Outrage over Haditha could explode: The alleged slaughter of civilians in Iraq reminds one historian of an ugly chapter in Briti [pdf] - Chicago Sun-Times 6/11/2006

The coming civil war in Iraq - Salt Lake City Tribune 2/24/2006

Between Saddam and the American Occupation: Iraq's Academic Community Struggles for Autonomy - Academe: Bulletin of the American Assn. of University Professors, 90:5 (September-October 2004) 18-24.

Opening the Doors One Year Later: Reflections on the Iraq War and the Middle East Studies Community - Bulletin of the Middle East Studies Association, 38:1 (Summer 2004) 16-23.

A Fragile Glasnost on the Tigris Middle East Report, 228: Fall 2003

With Edouard Méténier, Jens Hanssen and Hala Fattah, Opening the Doors: Academic Conditions and Intellectual Life in Post-War Baghdad The Iraqi Observatory (15 July 2003)

The Guiding Principles and the U.S. "Mandate" for Iraq: 20th Century Colonialism and America's New Empire Logos (Winter: 2003)

Recent Conference Presentations

“Human Rights and Human Suffering: Armenian Genocide Refugees and the Practices of Interwar Humanitarianism” Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the Department of Religion, and the Department of History at Tufts University, 9/27/2012

“Between Human Rights and Humanitarianism: The League of Nations and the Survival of the post-Genocide Armenian Communities of the Middle East,” From Humanitarianism to Human Rights, Department of History and Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University, 6/1/2012

“Modern Humanitarianism and the Armenian Genocide” Keynote, at Aid and Genocide Scandinavian Relief Work Among the Christian Minorities In the Ottoman Empire, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark, 9/25-9/27 2011.

 “‘America’s Wards’ Social Engineering, Orphan Care and the Beginnings of Professional Relief Work” at Humanitarianism, Nursing, and Missions: How to Study Knowledge Exchanges in aHistorical and Transnational Perspective, University of Bergen, 9/21-/9/23 2011

“The League of Nations and the post-Genocide Armenians of the Middle East: Between Communal Survival and National Rights” at Towards a New History of the Leagueof Nations, The Graduate Institute, 8/25-8/27 2011 Geneva, Switzerland

“The Social Death of Children in the Armenian Genocide,” Spring Human Rights Symposium, Lost Children: The Transfer of Children during War and Genocide, UC Davis, 5/17/2011

“Hate in the Past Tense: Understanding the Origins of Armenian Genocide Denial as a problem of Contemporary Reconciliation,” Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, 4/14/2011.

“Finding the Lost: The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Paradoxes of Modern Humanitarianism,” Department of History, University of Michigan, 1/12/2011

“'A drop of mercy to give men a chance to live’: Nansen Passports and the Invention of the Refugee,” Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), 11/20/2010.

 “The Three Faces of Social Death in the Armenian Genocide,” Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial, Washington, D.C. 10/27/2010

“Modern Humanitarianism and the Origins of American Exceptionalism in the Middle East,” United States Institute of Peace, 10/25/2010

“Interwar Humanitarianism, The League of Nations and the Rescue of Trafficked Armenian Women and Children in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Workshop for Armenian Turkish Scholarship, VII, University of California, Berkeley 3/4-6/2010.

Human Trafficking in the Post-Armenian Genocide Middle East and the Dilemmas of Modern Humanitarianism,” Human Rights Center, University of Connecticut, 3/15/2010.

“America's Wards: Orphan Survivors of the Armenian Genocide and the Origins of American Humanitarian Exceptionalism” (1920-1925),” University of California, San Diego, 4/14/2010.

 “Mandate Humanitarianism and the Management of the Minority Refugee,” Minorities in the Middle East, Department and Program in Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University,  5/15/2009.

 “‘A Pious Wish Devoid of All Practicability": The League of Nations' Eastern Mediterranean

Rescue Movement and the Paradox of Interwar Humanitarianism,” Histories of Humanitarianism, Columbia Center for International History and Consortium for Intellectual and Cultural History, Columbia University, 4/3/2009

“America's Wards: Orphan Survivors of the Armenian Genocide and the Origins of American Humanitarian Exceptionalism (1920-1925)” IICAS, UC San Diego, 1/14/2010

"The Paradox of Humanitarianism: The League of Nations' Efforts to Rescue Trafficked Women and Children in the Middle East, 1920-1927, Department of History, UC Santa Barbara, 11/9/2009

"Interwar Humanitarianism, Refugee Sectarianism and ‘Soft’ Ethnic Cleansing: The League of Nations' Response to the Assyrian ‘Tragedy’ (1933-1940)," Annual Meeting, Middle East Studies Association, Boston, 11/23/2009.

"Mandate Humanitarianism and the Management of the Minority Refugee," Minorities in the Middle East, Department and Program in Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University 5/15/2009.

"'A Pious Wish Devoid of All Practicability': The League of Nations’ Eastern Mediterranean Rescue Movement and the Paradox of Interwar Humanitarianism," Histories of Humanitarianism, Columbia Center for International History and Consortium for Intellectual and Cultural History, Columbia University, 4/3/2009

“The League of Nations and the Origins of Armenian Genocide Denial,” American University of Armenia, 4/28/2008

"The Problem of Being Modern in the Middle East," Interdisciplinary Lecture Series, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley, 5/3/2007

“Defending Higher Education in Iraq” Scholars at Risk Biennial Symposium Human Rights and Academic Repression, University of San Francisco, 4/14/2007

"The Generation of 1900 in Rashid Ali al-Kaylani's Baghdad (1940-1941): Reassessing the Iraqi Interregnum and Early Pan-Arabist Thought,” Iraq: Notions of Self and the Other since the Late-Ottoman Era, Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies (RIIFS) Amman, Jordan, 1/7/2005

"Killing Intellectuals and Violence against Publics in post-War Iraq," Thematic Conversation: "Rebuilding Public Spheres in Iraq," Annual Meeting, Middle East Studies Association, San Francisco, 11/21/2004

"Rebuilding Iraq’s Academic Community and the Challenges of Civil Society in Civil War," Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, Villanova University, Philadelphia, 9/29/2004

"Journalism, Media and the Culture of the American Occupation in Post-Baathist Iraq," 3rd International Conference on the History of Journalism in the Middle East, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus, 5/25/2004

"Opportunities and Challenges for Undergraduate International Studies Programs in Iraq and the Arab World" Undergraduate Title-VI Directors' Session, concurrent with the Annual Meeting, International Studies Association, Montreal, Quebec, 3/18/2004

"Whose Art Really Matters in Post-War Iraq: Islamic and Ottoman Architecture and the Culture of the American Occupation," Special Advocacy Session: Cultural Heritage in Time of War, Annual Meeting, College Art Association, Seattle, 2/20/2004

Thoughts on Teaching and Learning

Reflections on the Teaching of Human Rights at Ten Years After 9/11

POV @ DHI, "A University is Like a University"

Faculty Mentoring Faculty Presentation, Winter 2010 

"Really Awful Things: Reflections on Teaching Genocide, Fundamentalism and Iraq"

Virginia Tech's Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Fall 2008
"Learning from Genocide"