Conventional wisdom has it that area studies is a result of federal efforts to promote scholarship that might help the U.S. in the Cold War. But a new book argues that this isn't close to the full story. The book, Field Notes: The Making of Middle East Studies in the United States (Stanford University Press), highlights the role of foundations (with a range of motivations) and focuses on Middle East studies to illustrate the evolution of area studies. The author is Zachary Lockman, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and of history at New York University. He responded via email to questions about the book.
Q: How did area studies (broadly, not just Middle East studies) evolve in the United States?
A: The conventional story is that area studies, as a new academic field as well as a new set of institutions and funding flows in American higher education, was essentially a product of the Cold War. As the story goes, the United States emerged from the Second World War as a global power increasingly engaged around the world, and thus the government had an urgent need to know more about the rest of the world, especially what would somewhat later come to be called the Third World -- a key battleground of the Cold War. Hence the emergence of area studies, supposedly established to provide the state with expertise about parts of the world that few Americans knew much about.
[Ed. Note: To read more of this article, please click here.]