Essay Contest

Essay Contest

Undergraduate Essay Contest

The Middle Center (MEC) at the University of Pennsylvania is now accepting submissions for our 2022 Essay Contest. The competition is open to all current Penn undergraduates. Essays may deal with any topic within the context of the modern Middle East/North Africa. Papers addressing any aspect of the region from the late 18th century to present will be considered for the prize. All entries should be the student’s original work and not previously published or accepted for publication elsewhere.

There will be a first place prize of $500 awarded to the winner. The Center will also award one honorable mention prize of $200.

Please submit entries to with the subject, “Undergraduate Essay Contest,” no later than Monday, March 15, 2022 by 11:59 p.m. Essays should range from 3000 to 5000 words, not including notes, charts, appendices and bibliography. Please use MLA or Chicago-style citations when submitting papers.

Essay Contest Winners:

  • 2022: Leyla Theunissen, "The World Islands and the "Heart of Europe" in Dubai: Micromanagement of a Global Identity on a Local Stage"
  • 2021: Elie El-Kefraoui, "Arabizi: An Unintended Challenge to Arab Nationalism"
  • 2020: Nitin Rao, "Exiles in a Post-Exilic Land: The Circassians of Israel"
  • 2019: Francesca Ciampa, "BitOasis: Cryptocurrency and the Future of Money in the Middle East"
  • 2018: Zach Hamdi "From Egypt to Israel and Beyond: Exploring the Lives, Politics and Fates of Egyptian Jews, 1990-1970"
  • 2017: Lauren Beard, "Mental Health Conditions of Syrian Refugees in Turkey"
  • 2016: Anna Hess, "The Shopping Festival:Guilded Fanfare and the Emirati Economy."  
  • 2015: Nicolò Marzaro, "History Reoccurring in Afganistan: How the US Failed to Learn from the Past.”
  • 2014: Shaj Mathew, "Peripheral Peoples: Istanbul on the Margins of Modernity in Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence."
  • 2013: Autumn Patterson, "All That Glitters Is Not Gold: The Fate of Regime Change in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria."
  • 2012: Ellen Frierson, "Gift of Nile: Egypt's Hydropolitical Dominance of the Nile Vallet in the Modern Era." 

Honorable Mention Award:

  • 2022: Cole McCann-Phillips, "Resistance in the Global Precariat: From Uncertain Futures to Desperation: Migrant Worker in Lebanon's Existential Crisis"
  • 2021: Isabel Zhang, "Submerging Kurdish History in Turkey: A Case Study of the Ilisu Dam"
  • 2020: Donya Zarrinnegar, "Love and Unity in Maulana's Masnavi: A Translation of 'The King and the Slave Girl"
  • 2019: Madeline Smith, "Migrant Pregnancies: Maternal Health and International Aid Along the Refugee Trail from Syria to Europe"
  • 2018: Madeline Smith, "Contraceptive Coercion: Family Planning and Population Policy in Nasser-Era Egypt"
  • 2017: Michael Karam, "The Lebanese M Community: Identities Lost (or Found) in Translation"
  • 2016: Angela Perfetti, "Morocco (1930):Marlene Dietrich and the Queer Visage of American Orientalist Cinema."
  • 2015: Alex DeBerardinis, "Drone Warfare and the Attack on Nation-State Sovereignty."