Zachary Sheldon, ACOR-CAORC Fellow, Fall 2017

Zachary Sheldon is a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Chicago and an ACOR-CAORC Fellow in fall 2017. His research project is titled “Guests in the ‘Garden’: An Ethnography of the National Present among Iraqi Residents of Amman, Jordan” and it is an exploration of young Iraqis whose families left Iraq and have come of age in Amman.

Containers await shipment to Iraq from the Zarqa Free Zone. Overland trade has long contributed to the Iraqi and Jordanian economies. Today, Iraqi entrepreneurs bring their capital and expertise to employ Jordanian workers from the impoverished industrial city of Zarqa. But since the arrival of the so-called Islamic State (Daesh) organization in Western Iraq, traders have been forced to transport their goods by sea, via the ports of Aqaba and Basra, a longer and far more costly trip that has put the future of this industry in doubt. (Photo Z. Sheldon)

Zachary’s ties to Iraqi communities in Jordan and in the USA have deep roots dating from his undergraduate studies when he interviewed Iraqis who had worked as contracted interpreters during the American invasion and occupation of Iraq.  That research and the personal connections with members of the Iraqi diaspora in the Chicago area consequently informed his Master’s Thesis, an examination of American support for Iraqi refugees and the experience of a particular Iraqi community center in Chicago. In 2013, during a short visit to Amman, Iraqi friends from Chicago connected him to their own families and friends in Amman.  The following summer (2014) he returned to intensively study Arabic in Jordan, and the following year was awarded a Fulbright IIE research Fellowship to continue to study the Arabic language, focusing on the Iraqi spoken dialect, and to design and lead a seminar course in collaboration with the Janet Abu-Lughod Library at Studio-X Amman, an extension of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

An Iraqi restaurant on Gardens Street displays a banner wishing a happy Ramadan to the Jordanian King Abdullah II. The restaurant offers national specialties like semech masgoof, a fatty carp split open and cooked over a wood fire. In Iraq, the carp used to come from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, while in Jordan they are farmed. (Photo Z. Sheldon.)

His current research will stretch over more than 18 months, and it involves in depth personal interviews with selected participants, kinship mapping, and participant observation. For example, Zachary conducts field work observing some research participants at work at a factory in the Zarqa Free Zone.  He also observes interactions between Iraqis and members of other nationalities at popular cafés around Amman as well as visiting Iraqi families in Jordan in their homes.  His subjects are young adults in the range of 20 to 40 years old, people just starting their lives and making decisions about where and how to work, whether or not to start a family, and thinking to put down roots in Jordan or Iraq or someplace else.  Jordan makes permission for Iraqis to reside and work in the country contingent on their ability to deposit funds in Jordanian banks, so participants who cannot afford to do so must trust in the unofficial policy of tolerance extended towards Iraqi migrants. To protect the privacy of his subjects, Zachary uses remote, password protected data storage, does not use individual names or identifiers in his field notes, and uses pseudonyms in his writing, in compliance with the Institutional Review Board of the University of Chicago.

Playing a hand of wahid wa khamseen (“51”). This card game is enjoyed every night at cafes all over Amman by Iraqis and Jordanians alike, although Jordanians know it by the name sheddeh. Cafes are important social sites, providing a public place for friends to get together and catch up at the end of the day over a game of cards, backgammon, or dominoes. This particular cafe is Iraqi-owned and caters to an almost exclusively Iraqi clientele. (Photo Z. Sheldon.)

Zachary Sheldon is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He has an M.A. in Sociocultural and Linguistic Anthropology from the University of Chicago (2015), and a B.A. in Anthropology from Tufts University (2011).  As a graduate student, his research has been supported by earlier fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the University of Chicago, and the Fulbright program. You can read more about his research in POMEPS STUDIES 25: Refugees and Migration Movements in the Middle East. To learn more about his teaching work with the Columbia Global Center – Amman and the Janet Abu-Lughod Library, see his piece in Jadaliyya. Zachary can be reached via email at

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