2017 Spring

Middle East Center Newsletter | Spring 2017


As the Middle East Center (MEC) celebrates the close of the 2016-17 academic year, I look back on our community’s discussions and events, and am proud to consider the MEC’s contributions toward our greater mission, educating our community about pressing issues in the Middle East.

As part of that mission, we take seriously our work at local high schools and community colleges. This year, building on the success of the MEC’s Bridging Cultures project, we developed training workshops for the Colleges of Education at both Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University, facilitated by MEC Affiliate Faculty David Fenner. See more about the project in this issue.

Also during this year academic year, the MEC hosted some twenty-two events that attracted the interest of well over one-thousand members of our community, including faculty and staff, students, and of course, members of the public. We offered presentations by experts on a range of subjects, from Moroccan music traditions, to the effects on the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) on Iranians, and the recent referendum in Turkey. Throughout the year, however, one theme persistently had a strong resonance with our community, the conflict in Syria.

To gain a deeper understanding of different aspects of the Syrian crisis, we featured speakers on a range of topics, including a discussion of the meaning and impact of possible “safe areas” by Senior Lecturer, Rick Lorenz (UW) and Special Forces Lt. Colonel and UW Army Fellow, Owen Ray. In January, we featured Professor miriam cooke (Duke University), whose talk reflected on material and cultural production by artists and activists from Syria. Then in April, we welcomed Professor Sarah Tobin (Brown University), whose presentation examined the vicissitudes of the lives of Syrian refugees in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, Zaatari, in Jordan.

Of course our community – and the larger public – has been concerned with the forced migration of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, the vast majority of which are hosted within the Middle East. To address this concern, we held a roundtable discussion in February that drew from the local expertise of our community to address “Migrations Within the Middle East. To that end, we featured history professor, Nova Robinson, from Seattle University, urban studies professor, Ali Modarres, from UW-Tacoma, anthropology professor, Andrew Gardner, and Rita Zawaideh, Seattle-based activist, humanitarian, and founder of SCM Medical Missions, each of whom offered specific expertise and provided a deeper and more nuanced understandings of migrations within the region.

Finally, in May, the MEC helped organize the second Annual Graduate Student Conference, which brought together M.A. and Ph.D. students from three different Middle East-focused programs within the College of Arts and Sciences to present their original research.

We are thrilled to celebrate the achievements of our community members, Assistant Professor of History of the Modern Middle East, Arbella Bet-Shlimon; and Head of the Near East Section Librarian, Dr. Mary St. Germain, who this year are recipients of the UW’s Excellence Awards for Distinguished Teaching and Librarian, respectively. Their accomplishments are a testament to the UW’s strengths and commitments to the Middle East. See our interviews with them in this issue.

As always, the MEC is grateful for such an engaged community. We are working on an exciting program for the coming academic year and look forward to seeing more of you soon. We wish everyone in our community a joyful and energizing summer!

Arzoo Osanloo
Director, Middle East Center
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies


Middle East Center Affiliated Faculty and Staff Win 2017 UW Awards of Excellence

Arbella Bet-Shlimon, Assistant Professor, Department of History, and a Middle East specialist, is a recipient of the University of Washington’s 2017 Distinguished Teaching Award. The award recognizes excellence in teaching with selection criteria focusing on mastery of subject matter, innovation in course design and ability to inspire, guide, and mentor students. In the interview below Professor Bet-Shlimon offers her own unique perspective on the art of teaching in the university setting.

Was there a teacher in your life who strongly influenced your teaching style?

I wouldn’t say there is a single teacher in my life who strongly influenced my style. But every good pedagogical idea I have has ultimately come from someone else. I observe other teachers and listen to what my colleagues have said they do in their classes, and I modify those approaches to fit the material I’m teaching and incorporate them into my own classes. I’ve gotten ideas from teachers in many disciplines, including the sciences.

You’ve been teaching at the University of Washington for several years now. Do you see your approach to teaching changing or evolving?

I’m sure my teaching approaches will evolve with new technologies and the corresponding shifts in generational norms, though I imagine that could take many years. The roots of good teaching—keeping open lines of communication with your students at all times, getting a sense of what they need to comprehend the material and consistently trying to meet that need, giving them as much direct feedback as is feasible, getting them excited about the material—have been my approach from day one and will probably stay the same.

You teach almost daily in the academic year, do you have any special routine that helps you prepare for each class?

I review the reading and my lecture or discussion notes before every class, and make sure the course website is updated. I also think about ways to connect what we’re about to talk about with recent news, whether in politics or pop culture, because this piques students’ interest and helps them engage. This takes at least an hour or two before each class session I teach, even if I’ve taught the class before.

Is there any part of being a teacher that you struggle with?

The biggest struggle for me is when a class session, or even an entire course, just doesn’t seem to be going very well—the students aren’t connecting with the material I’ve put in front of them and I can’t figure out why. Every class is a unique mix of personalities and other factors, and the results can be unpredictable. I’ve had more than one course where, despite my best efforts to dial up the level of engagement and solve ongoing problems (in one particularly messy case, with mid-term revisions to the syllabus), the discussions were typically lackluster. It happens.

In your opinion, what are the three key things for being a successful teacher at the University of Washington?

I think the most important keys to being a good teacher are empathy, conscientiousness, and enthusiasm. That is: listen to your students and try to understand how they are experiencing the class, and act accordingly. Be on time, get papers back on time; be clear with assignment guidelines and grading standards. And remember that you got into this field because there’s something you love about the work, and try to convey that love to them, because it’s contagious. The history of the Middle East is an all-consuming fascination for me, and, by the end of the quarter, I want my students to be fascinated with it too.


Mary St. Germain, Head of the Near East Section, UW Libraries, received the prestigious UW 2017 Distinguished Librarian Award. The award recognizes excellence in librarianship, especially as it benefits the academic community through innovative approaches to professional practice, research, and/or teaching and learning. In the interview below, Dr. St. Germain offers insights into her role in acquiring and developing Libraries resources on the Middle East.

You have been the Head of the UW Near East Section for a number of years. What changes (positive and negative) have you seen in the field?

I’ve been the Head of the Near Section since summer, 1996. On the positive side, the internet and email have made a huge difference. When I started, faxes were the fastest means of communication, but letters were cheaper, and thus more common. If one had a question about a book, it could be a long time before the answer came back. Now, it’s usually less than a day.

Turkey has been moved to publishing national bibliographies and indexes on the internet and has gradually added the volumes originally published only in print. In the last few years, a digital repository for academic journals has been developed, although earlier years are still being digitized. More recently, provincial presses have been putting their publications online for free after they have been in print for a year or two. The lag time allows them to make money from sales so they can continue to publish.

The database “Hathi Trust” provides free online access to many older works that would be impossible to buy.

On the negative side, prices have increased considerably. Due to the unrest in the Middle East, shipments have to be sent by carriers like FedEx and DHL, which is very expensive. Publications from places like Syria take longer to get out of the country to a dealer that can mail them.

What part of working in the field do you find most satisfying?

I particularly like ordering publications the faculty will want, and getting them here before anyone asks for them. I also like the range of languages in the job—Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Central Asian languages, plus the Western language secondary sources, mostly from the U.S., England, France and Germany. I originally studied and worked with Slavic languages. Slavic countries publish about the Middle East and vice versa. I appreciate knowing the material from both sides. It’s also rewarding to show students how to find information for their research. They’re always surprised at how much is out there that doesn’t come up when they search the library catalog.

You work with a lot of students at the UW. Is there any advice you can offer them on how to sort and filter information so they do not become overwhelmed by the quantity of information available?

It’s not quite that simple, nor is it a one size fits all methodology. We have many places to look, and different places work better for different topics. Library catalogs are now programmed so that they can include data from many large databases. Yes, one can find a lot in the catalog, but who really wants to scan through 50 pages of citations? In my opinion, it’s easier to target information by searching several specific databases, websites, etc., after one chooses which sites cover the topic best. I would highly encourage students to come in fairly early in their degree, sit down with me and go over how to search efficiently. It really isn’t quite like searching in one’s favorite browser, nor is searching that browser sufficient.

You translated Sun ‘Allah Ibrahim’s novel al-Lajnah (The Committee [Syracuse University Press, 2001]) from Arabic to English and co-edited Essays in Arabic Literary Biography (Harrassowitz, 2009-11), are you currently working on any projects?

I became the selector for Jewish Studies about two years ago and I am learning Hebrew in my spare time. I also assist with special projects the Libraries archives and mounts on the web. A long term project is with Professor Joseph Butwin, Department of English, who recorded oral histories from Jewish veterans of the Spanish Civil War in the early 1990’s, which he will be turning into a book. Once the book is published, an oral history website will be built to provide public access, hosted through and archived by the Libraries. With a small grant I received from the Friends of the Libraries, the original cassette tapes have been digitized and will be made accessible on the website. The Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the Jackson School of International Studies is also providing funding for this project. Updates on project developments will be available on their website.


Middle East Center Programming Engages Area Colleges of Education

The Middle East Center (MEC), as a US Department of Education National Resource Center, has as its absolute priority the training of teachers. In the field of K-12 teacher professional development, the MEC has a long history of offering workshops for in-service educators focused on the Middle East. Perhaps less well known is that the MEC also works with area Colleges of Education to train pre-service teachers even before they begin their teaching careers.

The MEC has developed training workshops for the Colleges of Education at both Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University, which build on the success of the MEC’s Bridging Cultures project. Facilitated by MEC Affiliate Faculty David Fenner, the Bridging Cultures project aims to introduce educators to the challenges faced by students (and their parents) from Muslim-majority countries as they navigate the American public school system. Based on the MEC’s highly successful K-12 workshops, in which 782 in-service teachers and administrators have participated in academic year 2016-17, Fenner created training sessions for pre-service teachers at Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University. For most of these pre-service teachers, it is the first training of this kind they have received. One workshop attendee from Seattle University wrote, “This session was very, very helpful—I will be using your strategies in my future classroom.”

In addition to training workshops, the MEC also supports coursework at the UW-Seattle’s College of Education and the UW-Bothell’s School of Educational Studies. This summer, in partnership with the South Asia Center, the Middle East Center is funding a course for pre-service teachers in the UW College of Education entitled, “Teaching about Wars and Conflicts,” which will be taught by MEC Affiliate Faculty, Khodadad Kaviani. The course examines selected conflicts that have shaped the Middle East and India/Pakistan, providing effective teaching techniques for handling volatile subjects in the classroom. Last spring, Professor Kaviani offered a similar course at UW-Bothell titled, “Teaching Controversial Topics.” In evaluating the learning experience, one student from the class wrote, “The instructor established an inquiry process through which to approach critical thinking.” Another student noted, “It was incredibly intellectually stimulating as we examined controversial topics and considered how to teach them.” And finally, “The instructor created a wonderfully respectful and intellectually stimulating learning environment with subject matter that I knew little about.” Dr. Kaviani, who is also an Associate Professor in the College of Education, Central Washington University, specializes in Multicultural Education, Civics and Democratic Education, and Curriculum and Ideology.


Spring 2017 Graduate Student Conference in Middle East Studies

From left, back row: Ayda Pomeshikov (NMES, organizer), Mindy Cohoon (MES), Nick Polizzi (MES, organizer), Lina Wang (JSIS), William Bamber (NMES); from left, front row: Minju Kang (NELC), Dylan Vernon (NELC, organizer), Christopher Facer (NELC).

On May 18, 2017, Graduate students in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilization; the Middle East Studies Program, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies; and students from the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies presented their research in this year-end conference. The conference was sponsored by the Middle East Center, the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilization, and the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near & Middle Eastern Studies.

The students who presented were:

    Fez and Sherwani: Consumption, Self-fashioning, and Ottoman Influence in South Asia, 1876-1908
    The Imperial Meets the Tribal Frontier: The Bakhtiyari Tribe of the Khuzestan Province, and the D’Arcy Oil Concession
    Perspectives on Nationalisms, Insights from an Ethnic Albanian Ottoman
    French Colonial Policy in Algeria
    Uyghur Diaspora and Turkey-China Relations


Undergraduate Awardees

Elizabeth Bernbaum (Arabic) is a double major in Political Science and Physics. She plans to become active in both American and international politics, where she hopes to work to protect human rights and the lives of the most marginalized. She is particularly interested in the Middle East, and she aspires to become an ambassador or to work in the White House where she can build ties through diplomacy and open minds to cultural understanding.

Hannah Jolibois (Arabic) is pursuing a dual degree in International Studies, Jackson School and Public Health, School of Public Health. Her career goals are aimed at improving global healthcare policy by integrating science, technology, and healthcare within an interconnected and politically driven world. She is particularly interested in the Middle East and how needed healthcare can be distributed without the aid of formal governments or institutions. Her professional goal is to work with both governmental agencies and NGOs to address the Syrian migration crises.

Geordie MacLearnsberry (Hebrew) is majoring in Linguistics. He will be increasing his mastery of Hebrew as part of his broader studies as a linguistics major. He plans summer study in Israel where the diversity of languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, Ladino, Russian, and Amharic provides a unique setting for encountering the interface of cultures and languages in close proximity and provides an ideal arena for linguistic and language study. He is considering possible career paths that include computational linguistics or the recently developing field of NanoSyntax to design an Advanced Language Machine that can interpret human language; as well as the possibility of working in a government agency such as the State Department.

Graduate Awardees

Natalie HogeNatalie Hoge (Arabic) is pursuing her Masters in Health Services/Community Oriented Public Health Practice. Her goal is to become an effective advocate and promoter of health for refugee, asylum-seeking, and displaced populations. Natalie lived in Germany, where she conducted research examining asylum-seeker and refugee health care experiences in order to help them navigate the German health care system and provide them with improved access to health care services. By learning Arabic and increasing her understanding of Arab culture, she expects to be equipped to more thoroughly and directly assess health status, needs, wants, and resources—an essential step in community health development. This will position her to more effectively convey policy and public health program priorities as initiated by community members.

Sara Molaie (Hebrew) is pursuing her Masters in Comparative Religion in the Jackson School. As a member of the minority Baha’i community in Iran where she grew up, Molaie has had to overcome many challenges. After she immigrated to the United States in 2009, she focused her post-secondary education on religious studies in an effort to contribute to raising awareness of the possibilities for multi-cultural coexistence. Her career goal is to work for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in order to increase of public knowledge and awareness of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Menosh Zalmai-Appl (Arabic) is pursuing a Masters in Social Work in the School of Social Work. She plans to support Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugees and immigrants from Arabic-speaking nations as they arrive in the United States and seek social services to integrate into society. She first visited Syria in 2010, before the war, to work with Syrian and Iraqi youth and improve her Arabic. Now, as refugees are arriving in US neighborhoods, she feels the responsibility to ensure that they are respected and provided with quality services so that they can thrive in their new homeland. As a refugee herself from Afghanistan, she understands clearly the support and advocacy that refugee populations need and the lack of social workers available who can communicate in Arabic and are able to provide culturally sensitive resources.