Sunday, June 23
My flight landed in Durham at 4:20 pm and then I pretty much had enough time to get to the hotel only to leave immediately for our welcome dinner at Parizade.
Monday, June 24
This morning was your typical welcome breakfast with a quick lowdown of the week’s activities. After a break we had our first academic session: Mapping the Middle East by Professor Akram Khater. This topic sounds totally boring but it was a fascinating discussion about the bias of a map, who dictates what a map actually shows and how our worldview is shaped by variety of geographic, political, environmental, and cultural maps.
After lunch there were a few more sessions:
- A New Middle East? What’s Happening and Where it’s Heading by Professor James Gelvin
- The Politics of Water: Water and Conflict in the Middle East by Professor Sarah Shields
- Panel Discussion: Daily Life in the Middle East with Mohammed Eid, Samia Touati, & Sepideh Saeedi
Our of these three sessions, the one about water was my favorite, probably because it was interactive. Also, as an art/history teacher I don’t often think about other environmental elements that act upon political choices. Water is one of those those things necessary for life to occur and not only is it scarce in the Middle East but, due to climate change, it is becoming even more valuable worldwide.
P.S. if you have not watched Mad Max: Fury Road yet do yourself a favor and watch it. Now. You’ll see why.
That evening the group went to The Cookery for a Middle Eastern Cooking Experience with Kirk’s Traveling Kitchen. :)))) We were split up into teams and each table made two meal items. My group was in charge of beef and mushroom kebabs. The two experience was a fun (& yummy!) bonding experience for the group of 40 teachers from around the country.
Read more: When you can’t travel cook…Mujadara Bowl
Tuesday, June 25
Today our morning sessions focused more on conflict in the Middle East, a topic I can certainly use more research on considering AP World History is taking more time for the 20th century this year. Today’s topics were:
- An End—Or a Beginning? The 2011 Arab Uprisings as History by Professor James Gelvin
- A Discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Shai Tamari
After lunch it was a bit of a different pace with a tour of Duke University & then some more lessons. We got to choose between a few sessions for the afternoon:
- Syrian Refugees by Michelle Dromgold-Sermen
- Women’s Activism in the Middle East by Professor miriam cooke (not a typo, she spells her name with all lowercase)
These two topics are both very dear to my heart because the topics of refugees seems to be a uniquitos conversation in American media. Ranging from what is a refugee versus an immigrant, what causes people to flee their homes, how much ownership do we take over refugees, and what to do with them when they reach our country, etc. However, I chose the second topic because students are fascinated (& woefully misinformed) about feminism & the modern Arab World. Honestly the second session wasn’t exactly what I was hoping it was going to be about but I was able to gain knowledge and write down some books to read in the future.
Read more: Student Series! Women and Islam
We could also choose between two late afternoon sessions:
- Contemporary Turkey from Ataturk to the Present by Professor Erdağ Göknar (I picked this one!)
- Conflict and Peacebuilding in the Middle East by Associate Professor Anna Bigelow
After our lectors we had a group discussion titled Where is the Middle East Headed?. I personally find listening & participating in group discussions the way I grow in my education the most, but my brain was literally as full as it could be after the day and I chose to listen to others instead.
Wednesday, June 26
This is the day I am probably most informed on after attending two NEH Summer Institutes on religion (Religious Worlds of New York & A Reverence for Words: Understanding Muslim Culture through the Arts), but thankfully this institute focused on other elements than the religious information I already knew.
We started off with a lecture that I thought was going to be a basic overview of Islam (the title was: Qur’an, Prophets, and Muhammad’s Life by Professor Omid Safi) but it wasn’t at all. That was nice for me, because I know a lot about that topic, but I don’t know how many other people in the crowd could have benefitted from a basic rundown on Islam.
After this morning lecture we went to the Islamic Center of Raleigh for a site visit (aka adult field trip). They served us a delicious lunch and we got to tour the school and mosque. It was also a wonderful experience to pray in the mosque for the afternoon prayers. I find great comfort in the ritual and rhythm of Islamic prayers (I imagine this is what part of a Catholic mass looks like to outsiders).
In the afternoon we had a panel discussion the current challenges to understanding Islam and Islamophobia with Iyman Ahmed, Program Manager at UNC Center for Global Initiatives, Mehdi Hazari, Shia Imam with the Islamic Ahlulbayt Association of the Triangle, and Lily Herbert, PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography at UNC Chapel Hill (a Muslim convert).
Afterwards we had another lecture on the Religious Traditions of the Middle East by Associate Professor Anna Bigelow. Little do people know the whole Middle East is not all Muslim, and there is even a ton of diversity within those Muslim populations! Although we talked about Islamic the most (not surprising), we got to discuss how there is so much diversity in belief and practice between the peoples of the Middle East, but also where they overlap!
Read more: The Diversity of the Islamic World
Thursday, June 27
Like the previous day, today I was able to bring forth my wealth of background knowledge on the artistic traditions found in the Middle East from my previous NEH and my degree in Art History. I just love it when my PDs overlap yet still deepen my knowledge. 🙂
Our sessions today included:
- Islamic Art and Architecture by Professor Omid Safi
- Muslim Women, Performance, and Hijabi Monologues by Sahar Ullar, Executive Producer of Hijabi Monologues
- Contemporary Visual Culture of the Middle East by Associate Professor Ellen McLarney
- A Conversation with the Author of The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar
- SyrianamericanA: A Nation-State of Mind by rapper & poet Omar Offendum
They were all incredible lessons and eye-opening but my absolute favorite was SyrianamericanA. Music and poetry (let’s me honest, rap is poetry) just has a way of reaching the soul. It was especially touching because Omar Offendum’s music hits upon many of the atrocities we’ve been talking about all week.
Friday, June 28
This was our last morning with the institute. We spent the morning brainstorming in small groups to create lesson plans that corresponded with a topic from the program that we (& hopefully others) can use in the classroom. My topic is going to relate to AP World History but can be applied to other world history classes too. I am fascinated by the 20th century global feminist movements and how they relate to suffrage movements, access to medical technologies like birth control and hospital births, and increasing access to education. And because I am an art historian and love Shirin Neshat, I am going to include images from her Women of Allah series in my lesson too (adding in AP Art History for the win)!
My flight home was at 3pm, so after lunch home I went!