Middle East studies in the News
New Spring Courses Offer Exciting Opportunities for Academic Exploration [incl. Marina Rustow]
by Ivy Truong
Over 150 new courses will be offered in the the spring, according to the course offerings released on Nov. 9.
According to the list provided by the Office of the Registrar, some of these new classes include REL 292: Hip Hop, Reggae and Religion, HIS 476/MED 476: The Vikings: History and Archaeology, and ENG 394/GSS 398: Ghosts, Zombies and Liminal Creatures in Film, Literature and Photography.
The following are profiles on some of the new spring courses across various disciplines.
NES 390/HIS 221: Medieval Cairo: A Survival Guide
Professor of Near Eastern Studies and History Marina Rustow will lead the new course "Medieval Cairo: A Survival Guide," which has been designed to medieval Cairo. This exploration will occur on the "micro-level" in an attempt to answer simple questions about daily life in the "burgeoning metropolis" of early Cairo. In a statement to The Daily Princetonian, Rustow wrote that the course will investigate the routines of a medieval Cairene's daily life, involving food, shelter, clothes, and mounts and ships.
Rustow wrote that she had two main inspirations for the course: a hairdresser in Baltimore and take-out food.
The particular hairdresser, Rustow explained, had achieved a Roman hairdo found on many sculptures. Through her experiments, the hairdresser soon figured out that the Latin word "ago," used to describe the hairdo, should really be defined as a sewing needle rather than a hairpin, as most classicists had understood the word. The hairdresser, who did not have any kind of background in classics, wrote an article that Rustow came to read in the Journal of Roman History.
Rustow was inspired by the hairdresser's experiments and discovery. She noted that it's important to try to reproduce material processes rather than to look only at "static" texts and artifacts in order to understand life in historical societies.
As for take-out food, Rustow wrote that Cairo is known today for its food delivery — even shaving cream and aspirin can be delivered! Five years ago, Rustow started noticing that this wasn't just an integral part of modern-day Cairo — this trend even existed in medieval Cairo.
"People in the 11th century owned their own reusable take-out containers, like metal bento boxes," Rustow wrote. "I never would have expected that. It made me want to understand how people managed their daily lives in preindustrial conditions. What did they think of as luxury, and what did they think of as normal amenities that they would expect from any civilized place?"
The course will explore these topics through texts such as letters from the 11th to 15th centuries, legal contracts, archaeological materials, medieval chronicles, and modern studies.
"I thought, if I can get students to think their way into medieval Cairo, maybe they can also strip away their assumptions about modernity," Rustow wrote. "We think modernity is the only possible way to live well. The idea is to defamiliarize the familiar and vice-versa."
...Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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