May 5, 2017
I am happy to report that 2016-2017 has been a remarkably successful year and that we are on the home stretch of our journey from an undergraduate concentration into a center. Middle East Studies (MES), launched almost five years ago, is now widely considered the rising star of peer programs in the country. Our faculty-led signature research projects – such as Displacement, Islamic Humanities, and Palestinian Studies – have put Brown at the center of these critical areas of scholarship. Our compelling programming, always in partnership with other units, occupies a large footprint on campus. Enrollments in MES-coded and cross-listed classes this year of nearly 1,400 represent an equivalent of one-fifth of Brown's undergraduate student body.
We are close to achieving a critical mass of faculty that can sustain MES and its future growth. Three new assistant professors started teaching in the fall of 2016: Emily Drumsta, Jennifer Johnson, and Sreemati Mitter. Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities Shahzad Bashir will join us in the fall, as will Amir Moosavi (modern Iranian studies) and Alex Winder (Palestinian studies). We are excited that the search for a senior social scientist of the Middle East to fill the Stephen Robert Chair is moving forward.
A major grant from the Mellon Foundation allowed MES to organize a year-long series of workshops and conferences on displacement led by a steering committee of faculty from seven different departments. This interdisciplinary and collaborative effort deepened the integration of MES into the intellectual DNA of Brown. The fourth annual conference of New Directions in Palestinian Studies, “The Politics of Archives and the Practices of Memory,” as well as an agreement with University of California Press to publish the first-ever book series in the US in Palestinian Studies, further solidified Brown’s role as a leading home for this field. These highlights are but two of the dozens of events organized by MES that bring deeply informed and critical perspectives on pressing issues of our time.
We have worked hard to combine a rigorous concentration with a close-knit family community feel, and that has fueled the growth and popularity of MES among undergraduates. It is very gratifying that most of my conversations with graduating seniors at this time of the year are about choosing from among the many options they have for top graduate schools and job offers. Their success is closely related to the opportunities we provide for engaged scholarship. A curricular highnote this year was the field trip for Professor Sarah Tobin’s course on Displacement and Refugees. During spring break the students visited refugee camps in Jordan and witnessed firsthand the profound impacts of regional displacement.
The Middle East embodies the entire range of systemic challenges, from climate change to refugees, that our planet faces. The mission of MES is as pressing and vital as ever. We thank you for your support as we redouble our commitment to positive change during these troubled times.
Director, Middle East Studies