Professor Amy Kallander - Department of History


In past three years, you have offered eight courses on different topics related to the Middle East? Do you have a favorite one? If yes, why?


I teach a couple of different types of classes, HST/MES 318 and 319, which offer a survey of the Middle East from roughly 1300 to the end of the 20th century, and a range of thematic and special topics courses about the Middle East. Even in the courses that I’ve taught more than once, I am constantly changing the syllabi, both in response to students’ interest and to incorporate recent scholarship. For instance, in 2011, I started developing a new course about the Arab Spring, parts of which drew upon my own research about the blogosphere and the Internet, as well as conversations with colleagues who work in media studies. The course con- sists of case studies of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and to a lesser extent Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain, combining in-depth engage- ment with their recent histories and prominent debates about the role of social media and the question of foreign intervention. I teach another course on popular culture in the Middle East where we watch movies, talk about sports, and listen to different genres of music from Algerian rai, to Palestinian hip hop, to the Egyptian legend Umm Kulthum, using culture as a way to understand the daily life of people in the region. Students often find similarities in the lives of Middle Eastern youth who play soccer, listen to music, and tweet in the same way as in the US.

Much of the time, I ask for student input about which topics and readings they find particularly appealing. In response to one such conversation, I am now teaching a course on Iraq, where we reconstruct the modern history of Iraq through the lens of Iraqis. The course focuses on issues that are new to most American students, such as the strong labor movement or the role of educated women as a progressive force. 

Overall, I hope to present a picture that suggests regional similarities as well as national particularities that indicates the com- plexity of Middle East history, but also the many similarities with other global regions.

 

Do you think your courses have helped students to develop a better and more informed understanding about the region? How?

The Middle East does not figure prominently in most high school curricula, and as the only faculty member in history who specializes in the region, most students have little prior exposure 

to Middle East history in an academic setting and sometimes think that wide historical and cultural chasms separate Americans from people in the Middle East.

As I mentioned earlier, they are often pleasantly supersized to find commonalities between the life of youths in the Middle East and their own lives. When they watch music videos, read blogs, or learn about Iranians’ love for soccer, they find resonation with their own experiences. Once in class we watched a movie about young Iranian girls who were infatuated by soccer players. For some of the students it was a very familiar scene, similar to American teens and their infatuation with celebrities and athletes.

Of course, many of the sources are scholarly and textual, and we try to bring these into conversation so that hip-hop lyrics or a presidential proclamation are a reflection of political ideologies, socio-economic change, and geopolitical situations.


And finally can you tell our readers a little bit about your own research?

My first book is a social history of women and the family that governed Tunisia when it was a province of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. It tries to situate Tunisia in terms of the scholarship on other Ottoman Arab provinces, the imperial center in Istanbul, and early modern court culture more broadly. Since then I have turned to the modern period, writing about the Internet in Tunisia, and I am currently working on a project on transnational youth culture during the global 1960s, and gender and women in postcolonial Tunisia.


We also asked one of the students to share her thoughts and experience about Professor Kallander and her courses.


Heather Round a senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies, has taken two classes with Professor Kallander. Heather told us the following: “One on the Arab Spring and one on Iraq, and they were two of my favorite classes during my time at SU. I think what Kallander does well is to never reduce an issue or event to something bit sized. She provides a complex, multi- layered, and realistic overview of different actors and developments. . This helps to rationalize all the parties involved so the perspective you cultivate is well rounded and complex, as opposed to constructing an easy bad guy and blaming one person or administration or a set of events. Also, a lot of the readings and sources we use in her classes are produced by people who were or are in the region. For example, in the class on Iraq, we read books written by Iraqis, blogs created by Iraqis, art produced by Iraqis, and documentaries with Iraqis sharing their own narratives and insights. So it doesn’t feel like some abstract, academic surveillance. It is an analysis informed by local opinions and rooted in reality. We have a lot of discussion and there is room in Kallander’s classes to ask fundamental or tangential questions and really grapple with many different factors and events. The purpose doesn’t seem to be feeding you knowledge and information that you are expected to reiterate later perfectly for an exam, but to realize the richness and depth of the region and its history and its issues.