University of Michigan focusing on Cultural Treasures of Middle East
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—As post Sept.11 enrollment in Middle East programs doubles, the University of Michigan is sponsoring a comprehensive semester-long focus on Middle Eastern people, cultures and languages.
With involvement from the University Musical Society, three U-M museums and community institutions, the theme semester will include special courses, concerts, exhibits, lectures and other events while highlighting international experts from U-M and around the world during winter term beginning in January.
"With so much politicized media attention on the Middle East, we wanted to highlight all the other things going on there, including the music, the arts and all the other cultural areas that aren't getting as much attention," said Marcia Inhorn, director of U-M's Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies. "We tried to make this very inclusive and broader than just the Arab world to include Iran, Turkey and Israel as well."
Centerpieces of the theme semester include exhibitions at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the U-M Museum of Art. The semester will also feature musical performances by Middle Eastern guest artists, a public lecture and reading by renowned Israeli author David Grossman and many events focusing on Middle Eastern architecture, cinema, literature, and music as well as contemporary and ancient cultural traditions.
More than 40 courses will look at topics like current social issues, popular culture, Egyptian cinema, trans-national communities, arts, language and history as well as literature courses looking at issues throughout the region.
The attention to the Middle East in the larger community will include Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Reads, which will promote reading and discussion of the historic novel "Leo Africanus." The novel focuses on 15th Century Spain when Christians, Jews and Muslims faced the imminent collapse of a political and social order while living together peacefully and showing tolerance for each other.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for the U-M and Ann Arbor communities to gain a fuller appreciation of the Middle East's rich and diverse heritage," said Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs and director of the U-M International Institute. "Past theme semesters have been extremely rewarding. I'm delighted the International Institute and its Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies are joining with many others at U-M to make possible a theme semester devoted to this important world region.''
Theme semesters are organized each year by U-M's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA). Among the events and activities:
• Jan. 3-Sept. 30: "Treasures Looted, Treasures Saved," in the Rotunda lobby of the U-M Museum of Natural History, contrasts the devastation that can occur when looters ransack sites in search of "treasure'' with the wealth of information gained by careful archaeological excavation.
• Jan. 5-June 5: The U-M Museum of Art hosts "The Art of the Written Word in the Middle East." The art of writing traditionally has been regarded as the highest form of art in the Islamic world, so this exhibit draws on the collections of the Museum, the Near Eastern Collections of the U-M Library, and private holdings to explore the variety of forms and functions of writing inscribed on manuscripts, pottery, metalwork, and wood from North Africa to Afghanistan. Objects date from the 10th century to the present.
• Jan. 12: Sam Shalabi, who combines Middle Eastern folk textures with punk, jazz and rock, explores tensions between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East in his latest musical project.
• Feb. 4 through 2005. The Kelsey hosts "This Fertile Land: Signs & Symbols in the Early Arts of Iran." The exhibit examines the period immediately before the invention of writing, displaying major material from the Kelsey's own permanent collections alongside major international loans.
• Feb. 12: U-M architecture graduate students are organizing a colloquium called "Homelands in Question: Relocating 'Europe' in the Spaces of Cultural Negotiation,'' tackling some of the greatest cultural conflicts in the Middle East.
• March 24. Lisa Anderson, dean of public policy at Columbia University, discusses challenges to democracy in the Middle East.
• April 4: Popular Israeli author David Grossman will discuss his work during a campus appearance.
Contact: Joe Serwach