In 1909 the UW began offering Middle Eastern language courses to students at what later became the Jackson School of International Studies.
Nearly 100 years later in 2006, the UW's Middle East Center was given the largest award to a public institution from the U.S. Department of Education to a National Resource Center on the Middle East. Now the opportunity to study the Middle East is even larger with the option to minor in Middle East studies as of spring quarter.
The Jackson School has spent the last year constructing a 28- to 30-credit minor that provides students with an in-depth study of the Middle East.
"The UW has a very long history of offering courses [about] the Middle East — we are nationally known," said Resat Kasaba, director of the Jackson School. "We have offered them for a very long time; it makes sense for us to do this."
As one of approximately 10 major institutions that are nationally recognized as major hubs for Middle Eastern studies, the UW already offers an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Near and Middle Eastern studies, as well as a graduate program, but has not previously offered such a comprehensive course of study for undergraduates.
"The primary push came from students; it was very clear that there was an interest," Kasaba said. "And given what is happening in the world, I think there will be [continued] interest."
The new minor is made up of courses in international studies as well as anthropology, political science, history, and optional language.
Ph.D. student Yoav Duman is teaching POL S 325 on the Arab-Israeli conflict and is among several offering a course that can now be applied to the new minor.
"Middle East studies can provide students with a basis and understanding of what is actually happening," Duman said. "We need to create workers for NGOs and for policy groups. It's important that this generation has knowledge of what is going on in the Middle East."
According to Duman, the goal of the class is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the conflict, how both sides perceive it, and why certain decisions were made.
"There is a lot of bad information out there about the Arab-Israeli conflict and bias in both directions," Duman said. "I try to provide the students with a good, even account of what happened [by] looking at various alternative explanations."
Professor Michael Vicente Perez is also teaching a course within the Middle East studies minor, ANTH 318, on peoples and cultures of the Islamic Middle East.
"I think that there is value in looking at [the region] through anthropology because we look at it differently; we aren't bound to one question," Perez said.
Perez also seeks to get rid of stereotypes and assumptions by giving students the facts and information they need to understand the conflicts and cultures in the Islamic Middle East.
"I just think it's a valuable place as an anthropologist because it is a place that is readily available in the media but so frequently misunderstood," Perez said. "I think it's a great opportunity for students because it's less a question of what Islam is than [of] how it is lived by people, which helps us understand the diversity of Muslims in the world."
Both Duman and Perez agree that the recent events in the Middle East highlight the importance of the region in international politics.
"Both U.S. involvement and the centrality of the Middle East in world politics make it important for people studying international studies and political science to understand this region of the world, which includes so many complexities," Duman said.
The new minor can be declared by students at any time. Those who have already devoted attention to the study of the Middle East may be able to complete the minor requirements by the end of spring quarter.