The Middle East History and Theory Workshop is pleased to present its first workshop and roundtable discussion:
Mapping the Middle East, and other cartographic absurdities
Thursday, October 7
Pick 218, 5828 S. University Av.
The session will be conducted as a free discussion centered around a series of questions, moderated by Professor Orit Bashkin. Light refreshments will be provided, and we encourage you to bring your lunch and make a full meal out of the occasion.
The Middle East is a very powerful concept in our historical and political imagination. It dominates the news, it conjures a myriad of potent symbols and images, it has think tanks and academic departments devoted to its study across the world; it gives focus and purpose to this very workshop. Ironically, this place, despite its importance, cannot be specifically delineated on the map. To be sures, we can gesture dramatically across a large swath of Africa, Europe, and Asia, but where is its center, and where are its borders? What gives it its cohesiveness? Is it defined by language, creed, ethnicity, history, all or none of the above? Are there places in the Middle East that are not “Middle Eastern”? Do certain identities, communal networks, or diversities become forgotten or exaggerated within this rubric? What, and who, are we actually talking about when we use this term?
As problematic as we all know this category to be, it is a particularly difficult term to get away from; call me pessimistic, but I just don’t see the CMES being renamed the “Center for the Nile-to-Oxus Region Studies” anytime soon. This inaugural event of the MEHAT (NORHAT?) workshop will seek to address these questions, featuring the perspectives of a number of scholars whose work takes them beyond the boundaries of the conventional Middle East. While the questions we ask are serious, this is not meant to be a grim staking of intellectual territory and ideological claims; that happy task will begin in November. Rather, all students of the Middle East and its surrounding regions are invited to ask questions, share ideas, have a nice time, and meet colleagues from CMES, NELC, and other departments whose personal maps of the “Middle East” will illustrate the myriad of ways the region can be considered. If you are *not* in NELC or CMES but work in things “Middle Eastern,” I especially hope you can make it—it’s your perspective I’m most excited to hear.