Here and Over There: Penn, Philadelphia, and the Middle East
NELC 133-301 | Here and Over There:
Penn, Philadelphia, and the Middle East
Heather Sharkey | Professor, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
This seminar explores the historic engagement of the University of Pennsylvania and its faculty, students, and graduates in the Near and Middle East. It does so while drawing on archives, rare books and manuscripts, and artifacts that are now preserved in the University Archives, the Penn Museum, and the Penn Libraries. Together we will consider how, beginning in the late nineteenth century, Penn scholars engaged in archaeological expeditions to celebrated sites like Ur (in what is now Iraq) and Memphis (in Egypt) – and how some of these efforts influenced the late Ottoman Empire’s policies towards antiquities and museums. We will examine how Penn’s curriculum changed over time to accommodate “Semitics”, including the study of languages and biblical traditions, in light of – or in spite of – historic tensions at the university between secular and religious learning. We will assess how Penn responded to changing American popular attitudes and U.S. foreign policy concerns relative to the Middle East, including during the Cold War and post-2001 (“post-9/11”) eras. Finally, we will trace the stories or “biographies” of some individual objects in Penn collections in order to appreciate the university’s roles in collecting, preserving, analyzing, and disseminating knowledge about the region’s deep cultural heritage. Ultimately, by investigating and writing about what we learn, our goal in the class will be to produce collaborative research on the history of “here” – the very local context of Penn and its environs – as it has tied into the history of the “over there” in the modern Middle East.