Just short of two years after the upheavals in the Middle East erupted in what would be called the “Arab Revolutions” or “Arab Spring,” an academic symposium in Doha, Qatar took advantage of new scholarship informed by those events and linked to earlier study. This monograph is a result of that conference and reflects collaboration between Northwestern University’s Middle East and North African (MENA) Studies Program, based in Evanston, Illinois, and Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q).
Being late to the party, in the scholarly world, can have certain advantages, as Brian Edwards, editor of this volume, explains in the introduction. MENA studies traces its modern roots as a multi-disciplinary field in the United States to the post-World War II period – with antecedents going back much further. However, Northwestern’s formal program in the field dates only to 2011. As Professor Edwards suggests, this “late start” allowed Northwestern to benefit from the legacy of established scholarship, avoid the rabbit holes of earlier controversies and narrow its program’s focus with a greater sense of relevance and urgency.
In 2008, the university established its first international campus in Doha in the form of a school of communication, media and journalism, which subsequently added a liberal arts program. While not planned as a MENA studies enterprise per se, NU-Q quickly established classes to help its students understand the culture of the Gulf and Middle East region. This resulted in a modest suite of courses in Middle East and Islamic studies, as well as those especially focused on media in the region.
The NU-Q efforts in Middle East and Islamic studies were also late to the party in Doha’s Education City, where different coursework at sister campuses such as Georgetown University in Qatar, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and the Qatar School of Islamic Studies was already in place. Our students could sample and integrate those programs with our own curriculum and specialty courses. NU-Q, as the sixth of six US schools invited to Education City by the Qatar Foundation, was literally the new kid on the block.
NU-Q’s interest in creating a Middle East studies certificate program inspired invitations to Northwestern colleagues in the US, encouraged by Professor Edwards, who directs the MENA program and had earlier presided at two symposia in the US. Those conferences were called “New Directions in Middle East and North African Studies” and were held in May 2010 and April 2012. This is, in effect, the third installment in that series.
That earlier work was hailed as fresh and exciting, appreciating earlier scholarship and making an end run around old controversies by showcasing the creative new scholarship of (mostly) young scholars from the social sciences and humanities. We invited Professor Edwards and a group of his MENA colleagues to come to Doha to consult with our media and liberal arts faculty as they crafted the Middle East studies certificate program. A symposium involving NU and NU-Q faculty and following the New Directions model was held in conjunction with that visit. On September 11, 2012 (a date set coincidentally), 10 scholars presenting papers connecting what Professor Edwards calls the “circulation of political discourse” and “transnational migrations.”
Many of these papers draw on or are related to the upheavals of the “Arab Spring” of 2011 and beyond, while others present an earlier legacy that helps illuminate the backdrop for MENA study. As Professor Edwards’ introductory essay explains, this work is multidisciplinary, with contributors from anthropology, sociology, history, political science, law, media studies and other fields. It connects findings from ancient texts and scholarly traditions with contemporary observations and analysis and even digital media. This is a collection of preliminary yet well-formed ideas – reflective essays by scholars that hint at the larger body of work in which they are engaged. It is, as the introduction states, a promissory note on research still to come, but satisfying in its own right.
We at NU-Q are proud to have hosted the symposium that led to this monograph, which has been expertly edited by Professor Edwards. Having several of our NU-Q colleagues represented in the conference – and two in these finished chapters – suggests the kind of productive collaboration that is possible with an international campus. For me, personally, working with Professor Edwards and his gifted colleagues was a distinct pleasure. It is our hope that this volume will advance scholarship and stimulate public discussion of one of the most dynamic regions of the world, one much in need of continued, considerate study.
Everette E. Dennis, PhD
Dean and Chief Executive Officer
Northwestern University in Qatar