On Jan. 20, Shaun Cason ’23, a senior in the History department, was awarded this year’s Sachs Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at Worcester College at University of Oxford. Anna Allport ’23, an independent concentrator in performance studies and interdisciplinary theater at Princeton, was also awarded the Sachs Global Scholarship, which allows recipients to study at any university outside of the U.S.
Cason will continue studying the Byzantine Empire and, more generally, the Middle East during the medieval period. A recipient of a Purple Heart and military veteran, Cason is the first transfer student and veteran to have been awarded the Sachs Scholarship.
Cason spent 15 years in special operations in the Marines. He transferred to Princeton as a sophomore knowing he wanted to pursue history. “Because of my time in the military, you realize how rich and diverse the world is,” Cason noted.
Cason, who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, is also focusing on Southern Iraq for his thesis. “[It’s] interesting how they tie into each other,” he said regarding his service and research. “I’ve been there. I’ve been to some of the places that I’m researching right now. I’m seeing how it was hundreds of years before I was there.”
Allport will be pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Shakespearean literature, with research focusing on “combining Shakespeare’s dramatic literature with multimedia technology tools in K-12 education curricula,” she wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. After completing her Masters in Fine Arts (MFA), she is interested in creating a standardized Shakespeare education curriculum for K-12 public schools.
The Sachs Scholarship, which Cason received, enables recipients to study for any degree from the University of Oxford, guaranteeing a full scholarship for two years and an allowance for other expenses. Worcester College, a college within Oxford, has been housing Sachs Scholars since the establishment of the program in 1970.
Oxford University has been the “golden standard” for becoming a Byzantinist or Medievalist, Cason told the ‘Prince’.
While at Oxford, Cason said that his studies are going to be a “lot more focused,” citing that his next 10 years of academia are going to be focusing on this niche, which he discovered during his undergraduate education at Princeton.
In addition to history, Cason plans to continue studying Greek and learn Arabic.
“Learning Arabic is high on my priorities because there is a treasure-trove of source work in the Arab world,” Cason said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’
“I’m a huge nerd, I love history: just all of it excites me. If you told me the history of garbage cans, I’d sit here and listen,” he said.
Despite his interest in history, he never anticipated that he would become a medievalist. “I started looking to the east, and really looked at Byzantium and the Middle East and the Islamic world,” Cason said.
“I didn’t know anything, so it was all fresh, shiny, and really exciting, and so I took a complete right turn, went in head first,” Cason said about his developing interest in medieval and Byzantine studies. “We have this amazing middle ages tradition here [at Princeton] and just access to the most brilliant minds in the field. You can’t help but get excited about it.”
Cason focuses on “slavery in the Middle Ages and middle Byzantine period, which coincides with the golden age, the Abbasid caliphate.”
According to Cason, medieval studies in the Byzantine Empire are “lacking academic work” right now. He noted that, unlike with other periods and locations, historians in his field have to look beyond written texts to artifacts and other sources. Because of this, Cason is pursuing the archeology certificate. “I really like multidisciplinary approaches to research,” Cason said.
Referencing the lack of available sources, Cason said that his studies are “going to take a lot of effort. You really have to look at more of a geographic study, looking regionally and at the interactions [between cultures]. But that’s the interesting thing about this area: you have such a mixing of cultures and people, languages, customs. I think the Middle East was a really exciting place during the Middle Ages,” Cason said.
Cason, who describes himself as “not the traditional recipient,” said that receiving this scholarship was “huge” for him, his family, and his community. Accordingly, he thanked some of his professors: Professor Helmut Reimitz, Professor Teresa Shawcross, and Professor Jack Tannous.
“Their investment in me has really solidified that I’m making the right decision,” said Cason. “One day, I would like to be in a position to pay it forward and to have the same impact on students’ lives and not lose sight of what’s important in academia, which is the student,” he added.
Cason plans on pursuing his Ph.D. to become a professor who can mentor non-traditional students and veterans. “That’s a long term goal, to continue to put myself in a position to advocate — to do good,” Cason said. “I aspire to live up to this legacy that has been placed before me.”
Simone Kirkevold is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’