Florida States University's growing program in Middle East studies and the university's dozens of undergraduates earning bachelor's degrees in this field have taken a major step in bringing academic programs to and scholars from outside the university to share their research and insights with the FSU community.
The Florida State University Middle East Center, in collaboration with the university's Claude Pepper Center for Inter-cultural Dialogue, hosted its third annual Middle East Center Symposium, focusing on Egypt, this past Friday, Feb. 27 beginning at 9:30 a.m.
"This symposium brought alternate views of Egyptian history to the FSU and Tallahassee communities, emphasizing that Egypt is more than ancient pyramids and modern politics," said Victoria Penziner, Middle East Center assistant.
This year's symposium, which focused on topics mainly related to Egypt, was free to the public and held at the Askew Student Life Center in rooms 101A and 101B.
"The event featured cutting edge research on Egypt's history since 1800 and each of the scholars' presentations challenged the audience to think more deeply about this subject," said Penziner.
The Middle East Center is an interdisciplinary center dedicated to the scholarly study of the Middle East. Its mission is to bridge a variety of disciplines on campus in order to provide a rich academic environment for students who are seeking a greater understanding of the region. This center is allied with the United Nations' program for the Alliance of Civilizations.
"Egypt is the most populous Arab state, and its history is central to the study of the Middle East," said Will Hanley, assistant professor in the department of history. "The symposium brought together a number of leading lights in the new generation of historians of Egypt, who shared their research with each other and FSU's scholarly community. It is rare that Egypt specialists have a chance to gather and focus on Egypt itself."
Two sets of panelists were scheduled at different times. The first ran from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and the second panel was scheduled to run from 2 to 4 p.m.
One panelist, Khaled Fahmy from New York University, discussed "The Essence of Cairo." This presentation suggested that Cairo's growth in the late 19th century had more to do with the desire to make the city smell better via sanitation systems than with a longing for the aesthetics of Paris.
Alan Mikhail from Yale University/Stanford University who presented on "Egyptian Sylvan: A History of Wood, ca. 1700-1850," reminded his listeners that Egypt in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was integrated into the Ottoman system, rather than a backwater of Ottoman administration as has previously been the interpretation.
Samera Esmeir from University of California, Berkley argued in her presentation on the "Archives of Loss: Two Itineraries of Power in Colonial Egypt" that the increasing desire on the part of the Egyptian government to separate legal powers resulted in the unintended consequence of increasingly centralizing legal authority.
Hanley also presented on cosmopolitanism in Egypt in the 19th century as reflected by the different types of currencies in circulation in his presentation.
Hanley argued that the diversity of currencies made counterfeiting possible, which was offset by the severe punishments for counterfeiting coins.
Nancy Reynolds from Washington University in St. Louis presented "Toward a Cultural History of the High Dam at Aswan," an account of the consequences of Egypt's High Dam at Aswan. She discussed the impact of this dam on the Nubians and also explained the negative impact on various antiquities and villages flooded by the creation of the Lake Nasser reservoir.
Each of these scholars challenged the existing narratives of Egypt's history and culture, according to Hanley.
"The symposium gave dozens of students studying Egypt a chance to look at the country's history from a fresh angle," said Hanley.