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Courses - Fall 2020


Professor Title School Course Number Time
Le Gall History of the Modern Middle East Graduate Center MES 73000 GC: Th, 6:30-8:30
Fishman Rethinking Israeli History with the Context of (Anti) Nationalist Narratives Graduate Center MES 74900 GC: T, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Hélie Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Societies Graduate Center MES 73900 GC: W, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Yesil Islam, Media and Politics in the Middle East Graduate Center MES 74900 GC: M, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Haj Religion and Society Graduate Center MES 78000 GC: M, 4:15-6:15
Akasoy Renaissance Culture: Global Renaissance  Graduate Center MES 78600 GC: W, 4:15-6:15
Akasoy Violence in Islamic History Graduate Center MES 73500 GC: W, 6:30-8:30
Ivison Great Digs: Important Sites of the Ancient, Late Antique, and Islamic Worlds  Graduate Center MES 78500 GC: M, 4:15-6:15
MAMES Fall 2020 Courses Descriptions
MES 73000: History of the Modern Middle East (Prof. Dina Le Gall) (TH 6:30-8:30)
Seeking to nurture critical historical thinking about the modern and contemporary Middle East, this course introduces students to some of the major dynamics and problems in the history of the region in the past two centuries, and to a sample of critical historical literature about them. Topics to be examined include paradigmatic approaches to modern Middle Eastern history; Western encroachment and colonialism; bureaucratic reforms and reforming elites; the carving up of new states following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire; Mandatory regimes and colonial modernity; the politics and culture of nationalism; post-colonial states and authoritarian regimes; and contending understandings of Islamist politics. We proceed in a roughly chronological order, weaving thematic discussions concerning women and gender, environmental history, urban history etc. into that framework. Class discussions will be guided by reading questions, one of which students will answer in writing in preparation for each class. The final assignment is a 6-8 pages argument-based analytical essay on a selected question from a list I will provide.
MES 74500: Rethinking Israeli History within the Context of (Anti) Nationalist Narratives (Prof. Louis Fishman) (T 6:30-8:30)
What are the limitations of the nationalist histories? Can post-nationalist histories be written within an ongoing nationalist conflict? What voices are included and excluded in mainstream histories? How do nation-states dictate memory and the parameters of history and which groups within a society resist hegemonic nationalist narratives? Can Israeli history provide a model for understanding these questions and what can we learn from other histories that will help us understand Israeli history? In addition to working to answer these questions, the class will have an overarching theme asking if Israeli history can be written without encompassing Palestinians as an integral part and not just as a focus of the “other” in conflict?
Through a selection of books, examination of primary sources, and class discussions this class will parallel the statist vision of Israeli history with counter narratives, covering the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine during the late Ottoman era, the British Mandate years, and then onward to the foundation of the Israeli state in 1948 (and the Nakba). Finally, we will finish this section by focusing on Israeli history from 1948-to the early 2000s. Following this, will focus on how a narrative of conflict, also proves a challenge to understanding the society at large.
The last part of the class will be focus on four case studies: the first one will focus on how the different histories within Israel include—or exclude—the plight of the Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries). Then, we will examine how Israeli history needs a new approach to include such issues of gender and sexuality, in addition to the emergence of new spaces within—and without—of the parameters of (anti) nationalist narratives. Then special attention will be directed to the Palestinian citizens of the Israeli state. Lastly, in this section, and a conclusion for the class, we will examine how the post-Oslo neo-liberal state has transformed existing historical narratives, many which are erasing past attempts to embrace a multiplicity of histories within the state.

MES 73900: Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Societies (Prof. Anissa Hélie) (W 6:30-8:30)
This course examines constructions of gender roles and gender norms in various past and present Muslim contexts – including how notions of sexual morality have evolved, and how tensions between advocates and opponents of gender equality continue to manifest in community life, the legal arena or international relations. Focusing on groups with traditionally less access to power and decision-making (specifically, women and sexual minorities) the course explores obstacles faced by gender and sexual rights advocates, as well as some of the strategies designed by both state-actors and non-state actors to further gender equality claims.
While grounded in the MENA region, the course also stresses the interconnectivity of issues across boundaries, and seeks to incorporate recent case-studies drawn from South East Asia and Muslim diaspora communities in Europe or North America. The course explores a range of issues, and may include: efforts deployed across time and space to curtail women’s public participation; the status of women in early 20th century anti-colonial movements and as citizens in newly independent nations; resistance to discriminatory provisions in family law; the ‘freedom of religion/religious accommodation’ debates in Western liberal democracies; efforts to legitimize women as religious community leaders; or the promotion of LGBT people’s human rights.
MES 74900: Islam, Media and Politics in the Middle East (Prof. Bilge Yesil) (M 6:30-8:30)
This course examines politics, religion and culture in the Middle East through the lens of media forms and practices. It analyzes how Middle Eastern media shape (and are shaped by) global cultural flows and national and inter-regional politics. Topics include but are not limited to political activism and democratization; consumerism and modernity; youth, media and civic participation; women, media use and female empowerment. Taking into consideration the heterogeneity of media and political systems across the region, the course pays special attention to the articulation of national identity, modernization and Islam in various countries. The course also covers Islamophobia in the United States and Europe, and examines its historical roots, its connections with colonialism and Orientalism, and media representations of Arabs and Muslims in Western media. Special attention is paid to September 11 and the War on Terror, and the “migrant crisis” in Europe and rise of right-wing nationalism. The course is based on mini lectures, class discussions and presentations, occasional guest speakers and screenings (documentaries, films, reality TV shows, music videos, etc.). Students do not need to have prior knowledge of media history, theories or methods.
MES 78000: Religion and Society (Prof. Samira Haj) (M 4:15-6:15) (Cross-listed with History)
In this class, religion is approached as a social and historical fact with political, legal and economic attributes and ramifications. As a historical social fact, religion (in general and Islam in particular) is compelled to undergo continuous redefinitions to accommodate change in circumstance and social setting. The objective of this seminar is to explore some of these changes in light of the dramatic changes and concerns engendered by modern structures, institutions and power. These changes are drawn out through familiar oppositional yet problematic categories like the secular and the religious, state sovereignty vs. religious authority, modern law vs. divine prescriptions among others. The course is comparative and interdisciplinary; it draws on different areas of study and bodies of knowledge including anthropology, political theory, philosophy and religious studies.
Cross-listed Courses
MES 73500/HIST 78110: Violence in Islamic History (Prof. Anna Akasoy) (W 6:30-8:30)
In this course, we will consider a wide range of examples of violence in Islamic history, primarily in premodern times. Our main focus will be on religious dimensions of violence. Throughout the class, we will be discussing a range of methodological issues such as violence as an analytical concept and violence as an ethical challenge for historians. Recent public debates and much scholarship concentrate on religiously validated public violence in Islamic contexts, especially the ‘inter-state’ violence of conquests and wars. Such violence is widely associated with the concept of jihad and sometimes described as ‘holy war’. While we will be exploring these high-profile subjects, this class will expand its perspective on violence by considering cases that unfold in the context of war, but are not part of combat. We will be discussing enslavement, especially with regard to its gendered dimension. While some enslaved men became soldiers and took on a new role in the exercise of violence, women often became concubines and were subjected to sexual violence. Furthermore, we will be discussing public violence in the context of riots, executions and public corporeal punishments such as flogging. A second set of topics is derived from what may be considered the private sphere. In this context, we will mostly be looking at Islamic law and the way legal scholars understood and approached domestic violence. Apart from violence against wives we will be considering violence against enslaved individuals in private households. To expand our discussion of Islamic law, we will be considering other examples of interpersonal violence, in particular homicide. While most of our material will be textual, a small number of visual sources will be discussed as well, especially with regard to an aestheticization of violence. Depending on student interest, other cases of violence such as violence against the self and violence against non-human animals can be taken into account as well. This course is suitable for students without prior knowledge of Islamic history.

Courses - Spring 2020


Professor Title School Course Number Time
Salamandra Approaches to Middle Eastern Studies Graduate Center MES 71000 GC: Th, 6:30-8:30
Göner Nationalism and Outsiders in the Middle East Graduate Center MES 75900 GC: W, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Taleghani Dissent, Exile, and Revolution in Literature and Film of the Middle East and North Africa Graduate Center MES 76900 GC: M, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Alessandrini Capstone Seminar Graduate Center MES 79001 GC: T, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Akasoy Speical Topics in Archaeology: Alexander to Mohammed Graduate Center MES 73500 GC: W, 4:15-6:15
Davis Palestine under the Mandate Graduate Center MES 73900 GC: M, 6:30-8:30
Akasoy Arabian Nights Graduate Center MES 78000 GC: W, 2:00-4:00

MES 71000: Approaches to Middle Eastern Studies (Salamandra)

This masters-level seminar introduces students to major themes, concepts, and methods in modern Middle East Studies. It covers a range of disciplines, including anthropology, comparative literature, ethnomusicology, film and media studies, sociology, and urban studies. It traces the development of the field, its changing concerns, and often contentious politics. Through sessions guided by CUNY faculty, students discover the sources, methods, and debates that inform contemporary academic expertise on the Middle East. Students are encouraged to hone their disciplinary, thematic, and geographic interests—and meet potential professors and advisors—in preparation for course selection and thesis direction.


MES 75900: Nationalism and Outsiders in the Middle East (Prof. Göner)

This course provides a historical and conceptual overview of nationalism in the Middle East with a focus on the experiences of outsiders, as well as global economic and political relations that shape different nationalism(s) in the region. It aims to provide students with both an overview of the development of nationalism in the Middle East in general and a more detailed knowledge of the construction of the nation-states within several countries in particular. We will start the course with an exploration of the theoretical literature on nationalism and nation-states. We will then critically examine these concepts through an in-depth focus on case studies from the Middle East. Throughout we will keep our focus on the central role of outsiders in defining the nation and nationalism, as well as the global actors and processes that shape the constructions of nationalism in the region. Doing so we will develop a conceptual framework that can account for the complex relations between key local, national, and international actors, as well as political, economic and cultural processes that can account for the complex constructions of nationalisms in the region.​

MES 76900: Dissent, Exile and Revolution in Literature and Film of the Middle East and North Africa (Prof. Taleghani)

While mainstream US media outlets tended to treat the Arab Uprisings as isolated and ahistorical events, fueled solely by youth and social media culture, citizens and scholars of the region are well aware of the long history of people’s resistance and dissent against colonial and authoritarian regimes. This course examines literature and other forms of cultural production as complex sites of aesthetic and creative contestation against the politics of imperialism, authoritarianism, and exile. Framing our discussion of works of literature and films from Syria, Egypt, Libya, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, and other countries of the region, we will consider and debate theoretical writings on dissent, resistance, and exile including Ranciere, Ivie, Said, Harlow, Abu Lughod, Abani among others). Primary texts may include Abdelaziz’s The Queue, Habibi’s The Pessoptimist, Sirees’ The Silence and the Roar,  Antoon’s The Book of Collateral Damage among  others.​

MES 79001: Capstone Seminar (Prof. Alessandrini)

This capstone seminar is intended to enable students to integrate and synthesize the knowledge of the Middle East and North Africa that they have developed during their previous study into a culminating applied final project. Projects to be developed in the course of the seminar may include, but are not limited to: artistic and/or documentary videos; source or archival directories; annotated bibliographies; academic papers synthesizing secondary sources; artistic performances, whether live or recorded (or both); exhibitions/installations; literary or cultural criticism; feature-length journalism; reports on services; websites or computer applications. In pursuing their final projects, students will be encouraged to interact with the rich Middle Eastern and diasporic resources in and around New York City, including museums, collections, archives, research and policy institutes, neighborhood cultural programs and centers, religious institutions, political organizations, and media organizations and projects, as well as related cultural and intellectual events. Each student will present her/his project to the class, and students in the seminar will be responsible for providing feedback and suggestions for each project.

MES 73500: Special Topics in Archeology: Alexander to Mohammed (Prof. Akasoy)

Classical Greek culture is often seen as an exclusively Western European heritage, its legacy as one of the West’s defining features. This course, taught in English translation, offers an introduction to the profound impact of Greek civilization in the Middle East and Asia and the cultural, political and economic dynamics behind this development, focusing on Alexander the Great as a historical figure and as a legend. We will begin with the conquests of Alexander the Great and his successor states and explore Hellenistic settlements in Central Asia and the Graeco-Buddhist art of Gandhara as an early example. We will then focus on examples from the medieval Middle East such as Greek art in the Umayyad ‘desert castles’, the translation of Greek philosophy and science into Arabic and subsequent development in both areas, the Alexander legend in the Qur’an and in Arabic and Persian biographies. Primary sources include visual as well as textual material. Recurrent themes in the scholarship we will be discussing include connected history, cultural exchanges and encounters, the transmission of knowledge, and issues of cultural heritage. One of the aims of this class is to explore possibilities for alternative narratives beyond the binaries of East and West.

MES 73900: Palestine Under the Mandate (Prof. Davis)

This course examines how and with what consequences British interests at the time of the First World War identified and pursued control over Palestine as an imperial objective, the subsequent forms such projections took, the crises which followed and their eventual consequences. Particular themes will be explored through analytical discussions of assigned historiographic materials, chiefly recent primary research-based journal literature.

MES 78000: Arabian Nights (Prof. Akasoy)

This course offers an introduction to the history and literary features of the Arabian Nights as well as to its literary, visual and cinematic adaptations. For the purposes of this course, the Arabian Nights will be treated as an open corpus which continues to expand and transform in a variety of cultural contexts and formats. We will be reading stories from the Arabian Nights in different English translations and discuss a variety of academic publications, but also take into consideration modern creative interpretations, including examples from literature, the visual and cinematic arts, and theater. These comparative exercises will shed light on the continuing appeal of the Arabian Nights and assist us in contextualizing specific developments of the Nights within their respective historical environments. We will start by tracking the development of the text, beginning with the earliest stories and compilations in India and Persia, continuing with the first Arabic compilation in Iraq and expansions in Syria in the medieval period, proceeding with the introduction to western Europe by way of Galland’s early eighteenth-century French translation in the context of Orientalism, and concluding with the Arabian Nights as a global phenomenon. We will discuss the institutional, intellectual and cultural circumstances which allowed for this transmission as well as account for different interpretations as well as literary works inspired by the Nights. After exploring formal elements of the Arabian Nights (such as the relationship between frame tale and embedded story, the significance of poetry, the classification of the Arabian Nights as fairy tales, and the element of performance and story-telling), we will focus on major themes in the Arabian Nights and their adaptations in modern literature (such as morality, religion, magic, and power). We will discuss the appeal of the character of Shahrazad, paying attention to psychoanalytical and feminist interpretations and conclude with a discussion of the Arabian Nights in illustrations, in film and on stage and the impact of different media on the manner the stories are told.