James Russell, an expert on the ancient Near East specializing in Armenian and Iranian Language and history, has accepted the Mashtots chair in Armenian studies in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department.
Russell, who was a professor at Columbia University until budgetary constraints forced cuts to its ancient Near Eastern studies, is presently teaching at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is expected to arrive next fall.
Harvard colleagues laud Russell, who was trained at the University of London, as an outstanding linguist and talented teacher.
"He's one of those absolutely incredible linguists," said Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Peter B. Machinist.
The new professor speaks a number of languages, including English Hebrew, Armenian, Russian and Persian.
It is this versatility that makes Russell an especially valuable addition to the department and enables him to bridge gaps between various areas of study, Machinist said.
Russell is relatively unusual in his expertise in both Iranian and Armenian studies and Languages, Russell said.
Its like having someone who could be a full professor in the classics department, the English department and the German department he said.
In addition to his scholarly achievements the new professor was a pope it teacher at Columbia.
Aga Khan Professor of Iraman P. Oktor Skjaeryo a member of the search committee that selected Russell, said Russell's class on Shamanism taught in Columbia's equivalent of the Core Curriculum drew enthusiast clouds.
"The students of Columbia taxed about his teaching he said.
Russell has published a book on Zoroastrian elements in Armenian and well over 100 articles in both scholarly and more popular venues, Skjaervo said.
"He's interested in the history of Armenia in the formative period of the first century A.D.," Skjaervo said. Russell focuses on the links between ancient Armenian and Iranian cultures and languages, according to Skjaervo.
Machinist said the new professor is very interested in promoting his area of study to undergraduates as well as graduate students. Classes with a broad appeal and an eventual Core offering are possible, he said.