Elizabeth Tower is a recent graduate from the University of Michigan. She earned an honors degree in the Program in International and Comparative Studies. Her concentration is on Middle Eastern comparative culture and identity, and her research interests pertain to hip-hop, visual art, and other creative work produced in Palestine.
In December 2022, I attended the Middle East Studies Association’s Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado. I attended not only as a student of Middle East Studies but as a panelist on the music production and ethnomusicology panel. To have my work selected for this conference was an honor, and presenting it was a tremendous opportunity for me as an undergraduate student. My only prior experience presenting my research was at the UROP Symposium, so presenting at MESA’s annual meeting proved to be a big step forward in the world of academia.
On the music production and ethnomusicology panel, I presented my research paper titled “Palestinian Hip-Hop Culture: Intermediality, Access Points, and a Movement Towards the Mainstream,” which I wrote under the mentorship of Dr. Samer Ali when I participated in the research scholars program. My research investigates the role of intermediality, a theory that refers to the interrelations between different art forms, in Palestinian hip-hop as a method of creative resistance. This work argues that Palestinian hip-hop is not a genre of music but an intermedia phenomenon that blends multiple art forms and aestheticizes elements of everyday life at every possible stage: inspiration, production, and integration into society. Through intermediality, Palestinian hip-hop offers Palestinian people an access point to a unified and uninterrupted mode of existence and resistance that is continuously evolving and spreading. In Palestine and in cultures of resistance around the world, intermediality is the key that opens the door of creative resistance to all people.
Presenting this work to a group of accomplished scholars in my field and hearing their feedback proved to be a valuable experience. After my presentation, I was able to converse with and answer questions from audience members. I met a handful of scholars who are familiar with the topic of my research and others who offered to connect me with their colleagues and students interested in Palestinian hip-hop. I also was able to learn a great deal from my fellow panelists, who presented on topics ranging from the music of Habiba Messika, traditional Tunisian musical motifs, and the development of music transcription in Baghdad. Presenting on and listening to this panel was an enriching experience and made my time at MESA all the more impactful.
Furthermore, not only did I benefit from presenting my work and the interactions that came from it, but I also benefited from the process of preparing my presentation and considering how to best present my work to an audience. This process was helpful to me as I rethought the organization of my work, the points that I emphasize the most, the clarity of different theories and frameworks, and the societal significance of the work I’ve conducted thus far. Being presented with a living, breathing audience encouraged me to adopt a new perspective regarding my research and made it much easier to put myself in the shoes of my audience, as opposed to when my audience was a disembodied and hypothetical “reader.”
Another highlight of attending the conference was hearing Dr. Sunaina Maira from UC Davis as she presented her current research on Yemeni identity in southern California. Dr. Maira’s book, Jil Oslo, was the primary source of inspiration for my research, and hearing her speak made this experience feel like a true full-circle moment in my research process.
As I am working on my honors thesis this year in the Program in International and Comparative Studies, the experience of reorganizing my research, presenting it to an audience, and receiving feedback on it was helpful in reconceptualizing my current research. The topic of my honors thesis deals with intermediality in the artwork of a small community of Palestinian artists in Hebron in the West Bank and is closely related to my research on Palestinian hip-hop. Therefore, the experiences I had at the MESA meeting, both as a panelist and participant, have already helped me to rethink and develop the theories and organization of my honors thesis.
Now, as I prepare to graduate from PICS and continue my international studies career outside of the University of Michigan, I am so grateful for the Global Islamic Studies Center’s financial support and for the opportunities, like this one, that I have been afforded to grow as a student and a scholar.
Wondering how this can be you? All students currently enrolled at the University of Michigan in an undergraduate or graduate/professional degree program (master's or doctoral level) are eligible to apply for the GISC’s Fellowship Funding.
The GISC Fellowship Funding may be used for the following:
Language training - to offset the costs of program fees for language learning.
Research support - to offset costs for an original project supporting Senior, Master’s, or Doctoral thesis completion.
Travel expenses (graduate students only) - associated with conducting original research or language training