The Making of Middle Eastern Studies in the United States
Stanford University Press 2016
The dominant narrative in the history of the study of the Middle East has claimed that the Cold War was what pushed Middle East studies to develop, as part of a greater trend in area studies. Drawing on his previous work in 2004's Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism, Zachary Lockman's Field Notes: The Making of Middle Eastern Studies in the United States (Stanford University Press, 2016) looks at the power of institutions, corporations, and foundations in the shaping of Middle East studies in the United States. It's the story of how money changes hands and in the process, attempts to influence academic output; in many ways, this story complements what we already know of what research was being produced and how it was affecting the field at large. However, what we often neglect to mention is that universities themselves cannot found area studies centers alone and often receive the funding from wealthy benefactors. In Middle East studies, as in other fields, this also meant these benefactors had a research agenda; with area studies, there was a desire to break free of the disciplines history, philology, etc and establish unifying theories of area studies. While today's Middle East studies is roughly bound together by a shared geographic interest and not by a unifying theory, this drive influenced how the field was shaped and the various infrastructures that still exist today.
NA Mansour is a graduate student at Princeton University's Department of Near Eastern Studies working on the global intellectual history of the Arabic-language press. She tweets @NAMansour26 and produces another Middle-East and North Africa-related podcast: Reintroducing.