After discussion earlier this spring, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations has decided to offer a new concentration track beginning in fall 2012 focused on the history, politics, and cultures of the contemporary Middle East.
The introduction of the concentration follows the creation of a secondary field on the same topic in May 2011 and is accompanied by a new joint concentration between the history and NELC departments.
“We’re expanding in the world of Islamic studies,” said Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, a Jewish studies professor. “What part of the world is more interesting, more volatile than the modern Middle East?”
The modern Middle Eastern studies concentration, which allows study of the region since the 1800s, will serve as the fourth track within NELC, adding to existing offerings of Middle East in antiquity, Jewish studies, and Islamic studies.
A new course, Modern Middle East 100, has been created as a gateway course for all students considering the concentration.
The curriculum for the new area will pool new and existing courses.
“Basically what we are doing is that we are restructuring the undergraduate program,” said NELC department chair Ali S. Asani ’77. “It’s a big change in the direction of the department.”
Though concentrators will be required to take a sophomore tutorial and complete two years of study in a Middle Eastern language, the track boasts “a great deal of flexibility,” Asani said.
“People don’t have to restrict themselves to what NELC offers,” he said, adding that concentrators can select classes in related departments in order to shape their curricula. “NELC will be the home base.”
In addition, NELC has also partnered with the history department to host a pre-approved joint concentration that combines the study of the Near Eastern languages and literatures with the study of Near Eastern and Middle Eastern history.
According to history professor Ann M. Blair, the joint concentration is modeled on a similar partnership between history and East Asian languages and civilizations, which has been “considered a good success by the students and faculty.”
Some students interested in the Middle East praised the creation of the new concentration option.
“In essence, that was what my concentration would have been,” Renee C. Motley ’14 said, adding that she applied to Harvard with the intention of studying the modern Middle East. She is currently concentrating in economics and pursuing a secondary in the modern Middle East.
“I think it should encourage more students to concentrate in NELC,” Motley said,
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