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Bringing Arabic to Carleton

May 16, 2007 at 1:45 pm
By Marla Holt

Stacy Beckwith’s scholarship focuses on nationalism and collective memory in Israeli literature and literature from the Spanish peninsula of Iberia. She teaches Hebrew language and literature courses and has played an integral role in bringing the teaching of Arabic to Carleton. “When I came here in 1999, the College chose to focus on modern Hebrew,” she says. “We were thinking globally. We wanted to broaden student interest beyond history, religion, and literature to tap into political science, economics, international relations, and women’s studies. Certainly that is where the Arabic initiative is going, too.”

Is teaching Arabic a first step to a broader Middle Eastern studies program?

“When Rob Oden became president, we began to have productive talks about how Carleton could best satisfy the need for a comprehensive program in this region. Those talks involved faculty members who are connected to the Middle East, whether through art and art history, political science, history or language, Judaic studies, or Islamic studies. Teaching Arabic is the first step, but we also have to have some complements, where students can add to their linguistic knowledge training that will allow them to move into various careers in the Middle East, satisfy their interests in the region, or both.”

How is Carleton currently providing those complements?

“We’ve had a Middle East historian here for the past two years, as a postdoctoral scholar. We have another postdoc in Islamic art and art history coming for the next two years. We are working on bringing guests with a Middle East focus to the Headley House program [an initiative to bring distinguished scholars to campus for two- or three-day visits, encouraging intensive interactions with students and faculty members]. We are locating an off-campus studies program in the Middle East in 2008. All of these initiatives broaden the scope of students’ experience, but down the road we will need to add the proper faculty.”

Why are you passionate about bringing Arabic to Carleton?

“You can’t contemplate anything to do with the Middle East without it. Arabic language training will help our students move into careers in international relations and diplomacy. There are obvious connections to business, trade, development, health, computer science, and engineering, to say nothing of scholarship in Islamic studies, literature, and cultural studies.”