The Middle East and North Africa abound in languages, cultures and history, from ancient times through the Ottoman Empire and modern nation-states.
Over the years, Binghamton University has invested in raising its profile in studies pertaining to this geographic area, and currently offers programming through its Center of Middle East and North Africa Studies (CMENAS) and degrees and courses pertaining to the region in departments across campus. The center will get a significant boost, thanks to a three-year, nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Title VI National Resource Centers Program.
"As a mid-size public university, this is a big deal because it brings a lot of resources and support for staff here to promote area studies," said Associate Professor of History Kent Schull.
Schull credited the Binghamton University community for its role in obtaining the grant, including research development specialist Kevin Boettcher in the Office of Strategic Initiatives; Bradley Hutchinson, who earned his doctorate in history in 2022; Harpur College Dean Celia Klin; and Associate Dean Carl Lipo.
National Resource Centers (NRC), which promote scholarship and learning related to particular global regions, are most often found in large and fairly wealthy institutions, Schull said. That's particularly true for Middle East studies, since few public universities have the capacity to teach the main Middle Eastern languages: Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew and Farsi.
The funds will support Binghamton's work in Middle East and North Africa studies, including language classes, and curricular content and outreach to K-12 schools, SUNY Broome Community College and SUNY Purchase, which is designated as a Minority Serving Institution (MSI). In addition to cultures in the Middle East and North Africa, the initiative will also engage diaspora communities, refugees and immigrants.
Harpur College already has a robust faculty and student body in Middle Eastern and North Africa Studies (MENA). Drawing on the program's strength and the NRC funds, Binghamton will be able to support area studies at SUNY Broome and SUNY Purchase through faculty development and the creation of learning modules in a range of pertinent areas, from the social sciences and languages to business and environmental studies.
SUNY Broome students, for example, may be able to take Arabic or Turkish language courses at Binghamton. Another option is building pathways that would allow SUNY Broome students to transfer into Binghamton's MENA program after earning their associate degree, Schull said.
"Seed money from this grant will help build partnerships to provide our expertise, and help our partners develop their own initiatives," he explained. "Overall, this grant puts us on the map internationally as a United States National Resource Center for Middle East and North African Studies and raises the profile of Binghamton."