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NELC Expands Degree Options

By Julia L. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writer

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) will offer a secondary field in Middle East studies this fall, creating the first undergraduate program focusing exclusively on the study of the modern Middle East.

“My hope is that this will eventually lead to the creation of a separate Middle East studies major, which is long overdue,” Department Chair Ali S. Asani said.

Although undergraduate interest in the Middle East has been growing over the last two decades, the College lacked a program designed specifically for students to study the modern Middle East. NELC has traditionally emphasized languages and the study of medieval and ancient civilizations.

“We have been discussing [creating a Middle East studies secondary] for years. Part of the problem is that we never really had enough courses across the disciplines to sustain a secondary concentration,” said William E. Granara, NELC professor and director of modern language programs.

“But now there have been some good hires and there has been a concerted effort on the part of the new chair of NELC and the directors and associate directors of [the Center for Middle Eastern Studies].”

The secondary field will consist of five courses: one required “gateway” course and four courses of the student’s choosing, according to Asani.

NELC lecturer Susan M. Kahn will coordinate the required course, NEC 100: “Approaches to Middle Eastern Studies,” which will be an interdisciplinary introduction to studying the region.

This new course “will give definition and focus to the field of the Middle East in a way we haven’t had before,” NELC Director of Undergraduate Studies Peter Machinist said.

Social Studies concentrator Chloe K. Goodwin ’12 said she was “extremely frustrated” there was no Middle East studies concentration. Although she considered creating her own concentration, she settled on studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within Social Studies.

“I am fine with the trajectory that my academic career has taken without Middle East studies being offered, but ... I think it’s ridiculous that there was no track for it,” Goodwin said.

For the four elective courses, students will be able to take Middle East focused classes in various departments, such as Anthropology, History of Art and Architecture, History, and Government, with approval from the director of undergraduate studies.

The department wanted to “create a program with sufficient flexibility with an intellectual coherence,” Asani said.

“I think this program is part of an initiative to try to think about the Middle East not just in terms of [NELC], but [also] drawing on the resources in various other departments,” he added.

Both Asani and Granara noted the hire of Malika Zeghal, a NELC professor and specialist on Middle East politics and religion, as an important move towards improving Middle East studies at Harvard.

But Granara noted the importance of support from other departments.

“NELC and CMES can’t do it all. We need commitment in departments like history, government, anthropology, fine arts, and sociology,” he said.

—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at

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