I think the Coptic identity is a dynamic and transforming concept, and that it is our job—as historians—to show how it has changed in response to different events, challenges, and opportunities.
On the surface, St. Athanasius comes across as a figure of resistance, keeping the faith against unfaithful emperors and heretical Christians. Yet, much of his legacy is missing from such accounts and may be revealed in the nuances of his story. One piece of his legacy that I aim to highlight and to show as relevant to Copts today is his responses to calls for unity; when he chose to join hands and when he chose to walk away.
My first book, which grew out of my PhD dissertation, is called Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (University of California Press, 2003). It is as much a history of modern Africa and the British Empire as it is of the Middle East. People often ask how I became interested in a subject like this one. I think it all started when, as a child, I would pore over the maps in my father’s National Geographic atlas. The maps for Africa and the Middle East always mesmerized me because I knew so little about what they contained.