UNH is launching its Middle Eastern Studies minor program this fall for undergraduate students interested in the Middle East's regional culture, history, politics and Arabic languages.
The idea for a Middle Eastern Studies minor program began to circulate last year between the now core faculty of the minor program: assistant professor of political science Jeannie Sowers, professor of geology Alasdair Drysdale, assistant professor of anthropology Svetlana Peshkova, instructor of Arabic Ruwa Pokorny and assistant professor of history Ethel Sara Wolper.
Their idea for the program sprang out of a growing demand from students in their classrooms.
"Students were inquiring about what other courses they can take," Sowers, coordinator of the program, said. "We needed a place they can find a cohesive curriculum."
After many painstaking months of drafting and redrafting, the final program proposal was approved unanimously by the College of Liberal Arts last year.
"We have a group of really motivated students who are interested in Middle Eastern studies," Sowers said. "I'm hoping that it helps them in graduate school and jobs that deal with international affairs."
This interdisciplinary minor will teach a broad spectrum of the anthropological, historical, geographical, political, and linguistic aspects of this region in a global context. Increased attention to the Middle East since 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated significant student interest in the academic study of the Middle East.
According to the UNH Center for International Education, as cited in the minor program's final proposal, fifteen students have studied abroad in the Middle East for credit since 2005. Eight traveled to Egypt, two to Jordan, and five to Morocco.
UNH Study Abroad advisor Jeff Sherman reports that in recent years students have studied abroad in Lebanon, Yemen, and Cyprus on their own initiative. Several students have been awarded scholarships and fellowships to study abroad in Middle Eastern countries.
The minor certifies students' commitment to Middle Eastern studies, and some students hope that the interdisciplinary minor program will eventually expand into a university-wide major.
Senior Ashley Rennebu and other students are now working on constructing a self-designed Middle Eastern Studies major at UNH.
Rennebu said her interest in Middle Eastern studies stems from childhood and 9/11.
"My father and I would discuss politics every day after school when I was growing up," Rennebu said. "After September 11, 2001, the Middle East became the focus of many of our discussions. I have always been extremely intrigued by Middle Eastern culture and the differences between people of the Middle East and the United States."
Rennebu has taken a wide range of courses within the Middle Eastern Studies program, including Comparative Politics of the Middle East, Islamic Cultures and Civilizations, Seminar in Religious/Islamic Text, and all available language courses of Arabic.
Arabic is an academic passion of hers, she said.
"I was required, like all other political science majors, to take a language. I chose Arabic and I immediately fell in love with the language. Learning Arabic has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life."
Her interest in Arabic led to a deeper curiosity about the Middle East as a whole.
"As I learned Arabic, I also learned about the culture of the Middle East," Rennebu said. "I became extremely intrigued by [the Christian-Muslim relationship] and how the relationship has evolved throughout history. I'm also extremely interested in the misconception that the West has of Islam, where the ideas stem from, and how we can all work to make sure people understand the dynamics of the Middle East."
Rennebu completed her second year of Arabic last year. That meant the end of her studies in the language at UNH, since the university does not offer a third year course.
Despite petitioning and devoted study, students were informed in December of last year that there were no funds in COLA for more UNH-supported Arabic instruction. The dozen or so students who committed to Arabic for the past two years were forced to seek Arabic instruction elsewhere.
"Arabic is a very complex language," Ryan Greenwood, a junior, second-year student of the language said. "In your first and second year you are just learning to form sentences so it's frustrating that it ends there."
Greenwood is a declared International Affairs dual major coupled with the self-designed Middle Eastern Studies major. She has compiled a self-made curriculum that will be presented for approval next month.
She originally registered as a declared history major with the intent of transferring her sophomore year to pursue a major in Middle Eastern Studies, until she discovered the option of the self-designed major.
She has completed a wide range of Middle Eastern courses in geography, history, political science, and Arabic, but she hopes to see the minor evolve into a full-fledged major.
"It's frustrating," she said. "I'm paying the full tuition myself. I'm in five classes. I'm working three jobs. It isn't terrible, it's just figuring out what I want to do and graduating on time."
The university has incorporated a pre-approved list of study abroad programs for students looking to travel while simultaneously gaining credit towards their minor. Programs are situated in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Syria and others.
Students will be required to take five courses (20 credits) drawn from a pre-approved selection of classes, including one general introductory course. Course options include Islamic Cultures and Civilizations, Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East, Geography of the Middle East and Comparative Politics of the Middle East. Students in the program are encouraged but not required to complete a foreign language component which would be fulfilled in the study of Hebrew, Turkish, Farsi, Arabic or another Middle Eastern language.
The new minor in Middle Eastern Studies will be added to the university's extensive repertoire of regional minors in Africana and African American Studies, Asian Studies, Canadian Studies, European Cultural Studies and Latin American Studies. Students interested in the Middle Eastern Studies minor should contact program coordinator assistant professor Jeannie Sowers of the Political Science department.