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2021-2022 Course Descriptions

MENA 290-4/HIST 271-3: History of the Modern Middle East, 1789-Present

The course surveys the factors that shaped the political, economic, and social features of the modern Middle East from 1789 to the present. The course begins with a study of traditional (mainly Ottoman) institutions; it then traces the forces which weakened those institutions and examines the efforts of Middle Eastern leaders to resist or encourage change. The second half of the course focuses on the period since World War I. It examines the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the significance of secular ideologies such as Arab nationalism and socialism, the successes and failure of the Nasser regime in Egypt, the rise of Islamism, the Iranian revolution, and the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.

MENA 290-4-21/JWSH ST 280-4-1/HIST 200-0-30: Jews and Arabs in Palestine/The Land of Israel, 1880-1948

This course will explore the historical relations between Jews and Arabs in Palestine/The Land of Israel from the close of the nineteenth century to 1948. According to prevalent assumption, both inside and outside academia, the relationship between Jews and Arabs in those years was solely characterized by mutual rivalry, violence, and conflict. This course, however, aims to challenge this approach by looking at diverse interactions that went beyond the political rivalry between the two communities. Relying on a 'History from Below' approach, we will analyze shared identities and joint experiences, and discuss a wide range of daily encounters and collaborations which took place between ordinary Jews and Arabs in different spheres such as: mixed cities, education system, business and labor market, political organizations, leisure spaces and more.

MENA 390-3-22/POLI_SCI 351-0-20: Politics of the Middle East

This course explores the comparative politics of the Middle East and North Africa. The first half of the course focuses on the historical and institutional context of politics and government. Here we examine the emergence of independent states, the consolidation of regimes, and patterns in the relationship between state, society, and economy. We compare explanations for the endurance of authoritarian regimes, examine the role of Islam in politics, and also look at the Iranian Revolution and Islamic Republic. The second half of the course concentrates on dynamics of mobilization and conflict. Here we explore the Arab uprisings that began in late 2010 and their aftermath, current challenges facing the search for stability and democracy in the region, the Syrian war, and the origins and evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

MENA 390-4-20/ART HIST 319-0-1/CLASSICS 390-0-1/HUM 370-4-20/ANTHRO 390-0-26: Comparative Approaches to Ancient Empires

Stimulated by current interest in decolonization and globalization, the study of ancient empires is now thriving. A major research trend adopts a comparative, cross-cultural framework to try to understand and explain commonalities and differences, which this course explores. Did the first complex territorial states we call empires emerge and develop in similar ways? What factors or institutions were crucial to their trajectory and success, and what theories have been proposed to account for them? What are the benefits and challenges of a comparative, multidisciplinary perspective, and what new kinds of histories might it produce? Many recent investigations compare Rome and Qin/Han China; others consider the historical sequence of empires in the Middle East, such as the Neo-Assyrian and Achaemenid Persian empires; still others analyze characteristics of imperial formation and rule in historically unrelated empires in different geographical regions and eras.

This course examines selected case studies drawn from a wide geographical and chronological range, with special focus on the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East. We will examine different aspects of territorial expansion, consolidation, and rule, including state ideology, bureaucracy, cosmopolitanism, urbanism, borders and frontiers, religion, and the creation and circulation of the imperial image. Readings will represent contributions by scholars working in different disciplines, including history, art history, and archaeology.

MENA 390-6-20/ART HIST 390-0-1: Cairo/Paris: Art and Empire in the Modern City

This seminar will explore the co-evolution of artistic modernity and the colonial metropolis in the 19th century through a focus on Ottoman Cairo and its connections with the traditional center of art historical study of art, empire, and modernity: Paris.

Beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and ending with the country’s occupation by the British in 1882, this course will trace Cairo’s cultural transformations through close attention to a range of objects and sites—paintings, political cartoons, urban monuments, museums, world’s fairs, architecture, and scientific illustration—all emerging at the nexus of Ottoman and French interimperial rivalry and cooperation. 

This course will challenge the conventional binaries of East vs. West, traditional vs. modern, and local vs. global by exploring art and architecture’s active role in shaping urban life across these two cities, paying special attention to the emergence of national, racial, and sexual identities


MENA 390-6-20 / RTVF 351-0-20: MENA Cinema after the Arab Spring

This course will screen and analyze dramatic documentaries and narrative fiction films from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen that were made in the decade that followed the beginning of the Arab Spring, 2011-2020. By analyzing the selected films for their political and societal context, students will gain perspective into the events that led to the Arab Spring and the complex set of consequences that followed and continue to reverberate throughout the world. Students will interact with some of the filmmakers of the screened films to gain insight into their personal reasons for making their films.

MENA 390-6-21 / RTVF 351-0-21: Arab Women Filmmakers

This course will screen and analyze dramatic documentaries and narrative fiction films made by Arab women filmmakers from North Africa, the Levant and Gulf regions. Consideration of the female gaze and Orientalism will be integral to understanding the aesthetics and themes of each film. Students will interact with some of the filmmakers of the screened films to gain insight into their challenges, directorial choices and singular cinematic vision. Required readings will be provided on Canvas.

MENA 410-0-20: Analytic Categories, Discipline Creation, and the Politics of Constituting the MENA field

What is the Middle East? What is the Middle East and North Africa?  This course interrogates how scholars and institutions have constituted the MENA field in ways infused with academic, national, and international politics at various points in time – from the post-WWII creation of area studies, to the critique of area studies, to the current moment of rethinking both the creation and the critique. We will examine how various notions of “region” – e.g., geographic, environmental, sociocultural, and geopolitical – are both created and challenged through shifting analytic categories. We will also explore the similarities and differences between disciplines in terms of how they constitute and approach the issue of region. In the latter section of the course, we will explore how the region has come under renewed attention in work on transborder, translocal, and transnational circuits, and what distinguishes this new work from earlier kinds of area studies – both theoretically and empirically. Overall, we will inquire what analytic purchase the idea of the region has had, what scholars are responding to by elevating the region analytically, and what spatial practices they showcase as constitutive of region formation. 

MENA 490-0-20/ART HIST 460-0-1/COMP LIT 487-0-21: Aesthetics of Solidarity

This course focuses on connected political and social movements--both within the MENA region and between movements outside of it--alongside the aesthetic forms those movements and solidarities produced and sometimes shared. Specifically, this course helps us think critically about the long history of solidarity politics and forms as well as their future, and even about the terms “solidarity”  [تضامن]. and “aesthetics” [جماليات] themselves.   

What can we learn from historical examples of connected movements in order to understand the way in which allegiance and disidentification are articulated through multiple aesthetic platforms and modalities?  What can aesthetics teach us about the possibilities and limits of shared imaginations and political aspirations? Additionally, we ask how activists, artists, and scholars mobilize the aesthetic and the linguistic to address tensions in translocal solidarities between national or local specificities and singularities on the one hand, and shared or cognate experiences and structures on the other? Are “solidarity” and “aesthetics” even the most accurate or desirable terms to describe such diverse movements as they exist in the history of connected struggles across the long 20th century (from third worldism of the mid-century to more contemporary actions such as DecolonizeThis Place/BDS)?

Our investigations will bring us to study literary texts, manifestos, journals, art works and projects, scholarly debates, and films emanating from or concerned with the formerly (or still) colonized regions of the Middle East.

This class includes a professionalization component in that it culminates in a symposium of 20 minute presentations from all class members, the texts of which are to be handed in for graded assessment which feeds into final grades, otherwise equally based on class participation and contextual research presentations. A significant majority of materials will be available in English, but language skills in Arabic and/or French would be helpful.

MENA 490-0-21/ANTHRO 490-0-24: Ethnography in the Archives

The defining research method of ethnography is participant observation with living interlocutors. Ethnographic understanding emerges through human exchange and collaborative meaning making, both between the anthropologist and research participants (participation) and between individuals in the field of investigation or fieldsite (observation). What does it mean, then, to do ethnography in the archives? Archives -- inscribed traces of lived worlds left by people – seeming cannot speak back to the reader. Without this lived exchange, what can we learn from documents created historically for administrative purposes of states or colonial empires? In this graduate seminar, we consider both narratives of state domination through text creation and possible stories about actions of individuals in non-dominant social groups, especially women, children, the poor, and ethnic minorities. Rather than adopting purely an anti-empirical approach to archived texts, we consider ways in which the bureaucratic scribe’s record is both situated fact and angled purpose, and how documents’ potential stories exceed their intended purposes. Theoretical and conceptual readings frame case studies from the MENA region including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco. Students write and workshop original research papers from an archival corpus of their choice.

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