The University Record, September 18, 2000

Dearborn creating sourcebook on Middle Eastern history

By Jennifer Sroka

The Dearborn campus has received a $222,396 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop and organize a sourcebook for the study of modern Middle Eastern history at the college and university level. The grant will last for two years and fund project activities at U-M-Dearborn, the University of Cincinnati, and the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.

“The Modern Middle East Sourcebook Project (MMESP) will answer a real need in the teaching of humanities,” according to lead project director Camron Amin, assistant professor of history at Dearborn. “The reaction we’ve had so far is ‘it’s about time someone did a project like this’ because it is a weakness in Middle East studies. We don’t have very much primary material that’s in print for students to look at, discuss and debate in the classroom.”

The MMESP will include texts from 1700 to the present and cover key regions of the Middle East, organized along six themes: government and society, gender and socio-cultural change, identity formation, views of the world, cultural adaptation and economic change. Each document, section and the sourcebook itself will be prefaced with useful introductions, and each document will contain annotations as needed.

“The goal is to have documents that are coming right off of people’s current research,” Amin says. “We’re asking our colleagues throughout the field of Middle East studies to contribute a document or an item that they think will be great in the classroom setting.”

Current plans are for a print version of the MMESP to be published worldwide, with an enhanced electronic version, or E-MMESP, to follow on CD-ROM or, perhaps, made available over the Internet. The E-MMESP will include many extras not available in print, such as more graphics, film clips, audio files and possibly even a copy of the original texts in their original languages “so a more advanced student could check the translation,” Amin notes.

The MMESP will include its share of such standard texts as treaties, constitutions and other legal documents, but “there are going to be documents that, as much as possible, will give a student a sense of how ideas and policies were put into practice and how life was lived,” Amin explains. “Rather than putting in a copy of a press law, we would prefer to have a transcript of the trial of someone being prosecuted under that press law in order to see how that law was applied and challenged.”

Amin stresses that the sourcebook will not serve any political agendas. “It’s about getting as complete and as complicated a picture as we can of all aspects of these societies, not just their political issues,” he says. “Those things are part of their history, but the sourcebook is not organized around resolving political issues or picking sides.”

Amin will serve as MMESP project director and edit all Persian texts, yet he stresses that it’s a collaborative effort with Profs. Benjamin Fortna of SOAS and Elizabeth Frierson of the University of Cincinnati. Fortna will handle negotiations with publishers and edit Arabic documents, and Frierson will work on the E-MMESP and share the editing of Turkish (Ottoman and Modern) documents with Fortna. “When it’s all said and done, I’m hoping we’ll have documents contributed by scholars from around the world and from a variety of academic disciplines.”

While working on the project, Amin, Fortna and Frierson will receive support from an advisory board of five senior scholars in modern Middle Eastern history, as well as various language consultants and experts in the field of education technology.

“Sometimes I feel that the only thing people understand about the Middle East is that there’s political conflict there,” Amin says. “And that’s just a small part of what’s important and what’s interesting about the Middle East. If we want students to develop a sense of critical inquiry, to really understand the complexity of things and to move beyond both their general positive and negative assumptions about the Middle East, then the MMESP will be an ideal resource.”