In Spring 2007 the Center or Near Eastern Studies celebrated its establishment 50 years ago by the renowned scholar Gustave E. von Grunebaum who came to UCLA from the University of Chicago with a mission to build a Middle East and Islamic Studies program with its grounding in history and the humanities, languages and the social sciences. While von Grunebaum has been characterized as the stereotypical Orientalist, he saw himself as a gentle rebel against an even older tradition then dominant at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. Like Gibb at Harvard, he sought to refocus Arabic and Islamic Studies on contemporary culture and society. Both of those leading scholars of the day readily cooperated with the relevant committees of the Social Science Research Council and participated in the allocation of research funds to a rising generation of scholars.
From the start, the Center for Near Eastern Studies sought to encourage interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary cooperation in teaching and research on both ancient and modern Islamic civilization. But von Grunebaum insisted that this effort be concentrated around a corps of accomplished Orientalists, specializing in the languages, cultures, and history of all of the peoples of the region. A native of Vienna and MESA's first president von Grunebaum is the author of seminal works on classical and medieval Islam and as a visionary leader his first appointments reflected this orientation and included scholars who were destined to become leaders in their fields: historians Stanford Shaw, Afaf Marsot, Nikki Keddie, Speros Vryonis, and Richard Hovannisian; sociologist Georges Sabagh, and political scientist Malcolm Kerr. At this formative period the Center's designation as Organized Research Unit was confirmed by the University of California, the Giorgio Levi Della Vida prize and conference in Islamic Studies was instituted, and funding from the University and the Ford Foundation ushered an era of unprecedented growth and diversification, including the establishment of a graduate degree in Islamic Studies.
Historically CNES has emerged from the Departments of Classics and Oriental Languages (presently Near Eastern Languages and Cultures) and with the impetus of Wolf Leslau (Semitics), von Grunebaum, and Chancellor Franklin Murphy the faculty corps grew to include the pioneering scholars Andreas Tietze (Turkic), Moshe Perlmann (Arabic, Polemics), Arnold Band (Hebrew Literature), Stanislav Segert (NW Semitics), Seegert Bonebakker (Islamic Philosophy), Hans Peter Schmidt (Indo-European linguistics), Amin Banani (Persian), Herbert Davidson (Jewish and Islamic Philosophy), Miriam Lichtstein (Egyptology), and Avedis Sanjian (Armenian), who collectively transformed the course of Middle Eastern Studies in the United States. A publication program with UC Press produced more than 100 books and manuscripts, including the seminal five-volume Mediterranean Societies by S.D. Goitein published, along with many others works, under the auspices of CNES and its capable editors Teresa Joseph, Marina Preussner, and currently Diane James.
Befitting a program of international repute the University has invested significantly to the building of a world-class Middle East library collection headed at the outset by Shimeon Brisman and then Dunning Wilson with David Hirsch presently at the helm as the trove of xxxxx volumes continues to grow and support teaching and research at UCLA and beyond.
By the end of the 1970s the program was already well established and flourishing with faculty and students across the disciplines: Ali Jihad Racy in ethno- musicology and Susan Downey and Irene Bierman in art history. Ismail Poonawala in Islamics, Yona Sabar and Lev Hakak in Hebrew and Andreas Bodrogligeti in Turkic languages, Michael Morony in early Middle Eastern and Islamic history, Gerry Hale in geography and Steve Spiegel in political science. Funding from the U.S. Department of Education and CNES' designation as a National Resource Center made it possible for the Center to attract outstanding students and visiting scholars to UCLA, and to usher outreach programs to precollegiate educators, business community, and the media.
Concurrently on the rise were specializations in Women's Studies (with Sondra Hale, Keddie, Marsot collaborating with a group of regional scholars), archaeology (Giorgio Buccellati, Liz Carter), and immigration studies prompted by demographic changes which saw the settlement of a large and diverse community of Middle Eastern Americans in cosmopolitan Los Angeles.
Emphasis on the social sciences brought the distinguished political scientist and past CNES director Leonard Binder from the University of Chicago, adding to the critical mass of scholars studying the contemporary Middle East and Islam. And the appointment of Osman Galal and Gail Harrison in Middle Eastern public health and later Khaled Abou Al Fadl in Islamic Law paved way to degree specializations in the corresponding professional schools.
In the wake of faculty retirement and with an eye for growth the University continued its steadfast commitment to Middle Eastern Studies with the appointment of Michael Cooperson (Arabic), Hossein Ziai and Rahim Sheygan (Persian), Peter Cowe (Armenian), Caro Bakhos (Jewish Studies) Bill Schneidewin (Biblical Studies), Robert Hoyland (Islamics), as well as a host of outstanding language instructors; historians James Gelvin (Modern Middle East) and Gabriel Piterberg (Ottoman) David Myers (Jewish), Claudia Rapp (Byzantine), and Ra'anan Boustan (late antiquity). The appointment of Ali Behdad and Dominic Thomas as chairs of the Comparative Literature and French and Francophone studies departments as well as Gil Horcheberg, Aamir Mufti, Saree Makdisi, Samy Alim, and Nouri Gana underscores the budding specializations in North African, Mediterranean, critical studies, and popular culture.
The advent of multimedia and information technology brings to the forefront the work of a team of scholars including NELC Chair Liz Carter, Robert Englund, Willeke Wendrich and Jaco Dieleman, and anthroplogist Susan Slyomovics-all recipients of special recognition in digital innovation.
Emphasizing the contemporary, the Center advances research by organizing thematic symposia and research workshops (with publication as the outcome, title) and graduate seminars with visiting lecturers; supporting faculty research projects, conference presentations, and short-term field research trips; funding small-scale research assistance employing graduate student researchers; holding recurrent national and international meetings of scholars with common interests; granting affiliate status to visiting fellows who have their own funding; administering the Title VI Foreign Language and Area Studies program; providing partial support for graduate student research conferences; and emphasizing original research in our selection of visiting lecturers for our public speaker series.
Institutional votes of confidence have acknowledged the achievements of CNES as an Organized Research Unit and reaffirmed the interdisciplinary graduate degree program in Islamic Studies. A new program of Maghreb Studies has been planned. An invigorated program of Israel Studies has experienced a spectacular year of achievement. We have welcomed the arrival of the editorial headquarters of the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies at UCLA. New faculty members have been hired in Anthropology, Comparative Literature, History, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, and Professor Susan Slyomovics has accepted a five-year appointment as Center Director.
As a government-designated comprehensive National Resource Center, CNES is committed to the integration of multiple fields of inquiry so as to produce understanding and appreciation of the variety of cultures, religions, and social organizations comprising Middle East and Islamic civilization. As an integral component of a leading research university, CNES has a responsibility to subject such understandings to the transcultural critique of disciplined theories and methodologies.
At the same time, CNES has striven to meet and excel in fulfilling Title VI goals for language instruction (including the acclaimed online tutorials for Turkish, Azebaijani, and Iraqi Arabic developed by Jonathan Friedlander and Rahul Bhushan), graduate training, and outreach. CNES is proud of its outreach to the Los Angeles Middle Eastern American community and to K-12 constituencies. We are pleased to provide expanded and consistent support to the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures for instruction in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian. We are gratified by the growth and vigor of the interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in Middle Eastern and North African Studies. And we take some credit for helping to revise and improve the interdisciplinary graduate degree program in Islamic Studies.
Visitors to the CNES website will perceive the Center's efforts to respond to the growing demand for information, analysis, education about, and direct contact with the peoples, cultures, and institutions of the Middle East and the Islamic world. They may also recognize the increasingly rapid growth and diversification of our programs and the increasing demand from a variety of public interest groups for association or affiliation with UCLA because of its reputation for academic excellence and collegial civility.