New Course to Bridge Cultures

The Harvard Summer School is going global this June—even for students who will remain on this side of the Charles.

SAST-S140: “Social Development in Pakistan” will bring together Harvard Summer School students and Pakistani activists and scholars through real-time video conferencing between Cambridge and Islamabad.

The course will examine development-based movements throughout Pakistan through a series of three-hour modules.

While the Harvard Summer School offers a variety of summer study abroad programs, this is the first truly “bi-locational” course offered, according to the class syllabus.

“We do have the technology to do this,” said Elisabeth L. Laskin, associate dean for academic affairs at the Harvard Summer School. “But we’ve never done anything like this before, where it’s really a course being offered in real time here and in Islamabad.”

Each year, the Harvard Summer School program accepts course proposals from faculty outside of Harvard. The proposals are passed on to Harvard departments that might be interested in offering credit for the course.

SAST-S140 was proposed by Margaret E. Ronkin, senior fellow of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, who taught a previous version of this course at Georgetown University.

Speaking from Islamabad, where she is currently conducting research on African-Pakistani constructions of identity, Ronkin said she conceived of the course through conversations with colleagues about negative perceptions of Iraq and Pakistan after 9/11.

“What we really needed,” she said, “was a course that could refocus away, in some way, from the kind of monologic discourse about the war on terror and about national security.”

The course will begin with a weeklong orientation of social development in Pakistan and interview-based research, according to the syllabus. Students will then hear lectures by and conduct interviews with experts in Pakistan through video conferences, on topics ranging from urban development to arts-based initiatives.

Ronkin has been working with her colleagues throughout Pakistan to coordinate guest speakers. So far, the lineup includes Nobel Prize nominee Shoaib Sultan Khan and United Nations Gender Specialist Salman Asif, among others.

Ronkin emphasized the benefits of the unconventional format of the course. “This feeling that you get [from real-time video conferencing] is simply not available in a normal class and form in the same way,” she said. “It’s very real and immediate and personal.”