History graduate caps BU career with departmental awards for academic success and research


Laura Comstock, a graduating senior this May, has won the two most prestigious awards Bloomsburg University’s Department of History has to offer. She won the 2019 Outstanding Research Project prize for her URSCA-funded investigation entitled “Egyptian identify and Thawara 1919: An analysis of Coptic Egyptian identity in the context of Egyptian nationalism.”

The department faculty member nominating her for this award noted that “the project demonstrates how she is willing to engage in a theoretical discussion of abstract concepts such as ‘identity’ or ‘orientalism.’” The faculty member added that Comstock’s “excellent” research on “works from [the] late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” included archival materials from both the United States Senate and the British Public Records Office. She will take her research skills to the graduate program in Middle Eastern studies at Boston University this fall, funded by a substantial scholarship and graduate assistantship.

Comstock also won the department’s James R. Sperry Award for 2019-2020, which is given each year to the “outstanding graduating senior” across the academic year. In nominating her, a Department of History faculty member praised Comstock’s commitment to academic excellence by “design[ing] a demanding program for herself … electing to major in history and Arabic, in addition to minoring in Middle East Studies and political science.”

The faculty member noted that she became a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, the Alpha Alpha Alpha Honor Society (a national honor society for first-generation college students), and the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society.” She has also been exceptionally active in service, as an officer for the Arabic Club, and as president of the Muslim Student Association.

The nominator also provided this summary list of her academic accomplishments:

* She completed two URSCA projects focusing on the condition of Coptic Christians in Egypt during the 19th century (for the first URSCA project), and the Coptic community’s involvement with 1919 Revolution in Egypt (for the second one). For these projects she conducted research in Cairo, Boston and Maryland.

* She presented several papers reflecting her active involvement in her field:

  • “Egyptian Identity and Thawra 1919: An analysis of Coptic Egyptian identity in the context of Egyptian nationalism.” Phi Alpha Theta Conference. Villanova, PA. March 21, 2020
  • “The Call for the End of Saudi Male Guardianship.” Bloomsburg College of Liberal Arts (COLA) Research Day. Bloomsburg, PA. April 24, 2019
  • “Coptic Identity from Nineteenth Century until Thawra 1919.” Consortium for Educational Resources on Islamic Studies (CERIS) Symposium. Slippery Rock, PA. March 23, 2019

Comstock has, moreover, begun to follow in the tradition of historian-activists like Gerda Lerner (1920-2013) John Hope Franklin (1915-2009) and Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937). It was Gramsci who insisted that historians having learned the realities of the past must be activists for the good in their own present. His opposition to contemporary fascism in Italy cost him his life. Franklin marched in the civil right movement, and Lerner was a leader in the American feminist movement.

Like them, Comstock — as another nominator noted — is an accomplished young historian who has also stood up as an advocate for women facing repression in Saudi Arabia, and on behalf of Muslim immigrant communities in the United States and elsewhere. She is a most worthy recipient of both these awards.