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Updated 11:00 AM January 10, 2005




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Theme semester will spotlight
'Cultural Treasures of the Middle East'

As post-Sept.11 enrollment in Middle East programs has doubled, the University will sponsor 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 "Cultural Treasures of the Middle East" will include special courses, concerts, exhibits, lectures and other events, and highlight international experts from the University and around the world.

"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," says Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs and director of the 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 (CMENAS) 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 LSA.

Centerpieces of the semester will include exhibitions at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the Museum of Art. With events beginning in January, the semester also will 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, music, and contemporary and ancient cultural traditions.

Students in more than 40 courses will study a variety of topics, including current social issues, popular culture, Egyptian cinema, transnational communities, arts, language and history. Several literature courses will look 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.

"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," says Marcia Inhorn, CMENAS director. "We tried to make this very inclusive and broader than just the Arab world to include Iran, Turkey and Israel, as well."

Among the events and activities:

Through Sept. 30: "Treasures Looted, Treasures Saved" in the Rotunda lobby of the Exhibit Museum of Natural History will contrast the devastation that occurs when looters ransack sites in search of "treasure" with the wealth of information gained by careful archaeological excavation

Through June 5: The Museum of Art will host "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. This exhibit will draw on the collections of the museum, the Near Eastern collections of the University 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, will explore tensions between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East in his latest musical project

Feb. 4 through 2005: The Kelsey Museum will host "This Fertile Land: Signs & Symbols in the Early Arts of Iran." This exhibit will examine the period immediately before the invention of writing, displaying major material from the Kelsey's permanent collections alongside major international loans

Feb. 12: Architecture graduate students are organizing a colloquium entitled "Homelands in Question: Relocating 'Europe' in the Spaces of Cultural Negotiation." It will tackle some of the greatest cultural conflicts in the Middle East

March 24: Lisa Anderson, dean of public policy at Columbia University, will discuss challenges to democracy in the Middle East

April 4: Popular Israeli author David Grossman will discuss his work during a campus appearance

April 9-12: A series of concerts by Middle Eastern artists Malouma, the Sufi Brotherhood and Yair Dalal at various campus venues.

For a full schedule of courses and events or for more information, visit or send e-mail to

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