Middle East studies in the News
New Professor, Same Old Anti-Israel Agenda at the Columbia Anthropology Department [on Brian Boyd, refs. Nadia Abu El-Haj]
by Jonathan Schwartz
It has been many years since an archaeologist who actually digs in Israel has taught at Columbia . Surely this was part of the problem with the Nadia Abu El Haj tenure battle - with no archaeologists specializing in the region on the faculty, there was no one on Morningside Heights to point out how flawed her work was. But the tenure battle exposed a faculty ignorance of matters archaeological that left Columbia looking bad. This spring, that problem will be solved by visiting professor, Brian Boyd from the University of Wales, a real, live archaeologist who actually digs in Israel.
Professor Boyd digs the epipaleolithic, the transition to agriculture, the rise and decline of the sedentary-but-non-agricultural Natifian culture, a culture that disappeared from the face of the earth 13,000 years ago - 10,000 years before the rise of the Davidic kingdom.
Can you imagine how extremely difficult it must have been to find an archaeologist working in Israel who digs in such a way that it is inconceivable that he should happen upon an artifact with any Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or even Babylonian or Assyrian connections?
The Natufians are fascinating, no doubt, but most people would see little relationship between Paleolithic artifacts and contemporary politics. Never fear. The Columbia Anthropology Department has hired a scholar of the Paleolithic who manages to use his Natufian expertise to make scholarly statements on Israel and gay identity politics.
Among Professor Boyd's specialies are "queer theory" and "cultural politics in Israel and Palestine."
It's pretty hard to imagine how an archaeologist working on the Natufians could find data about "queer theory." The Natufians were not only pre-agriculture, pre-pottery, and pre-metal-working, they were pre-literate. It wasn't their fault. They lived so long ago that writing had not yet been invented. But any scholarship regarding how a culture that left no written records and the art was pretty abstract (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/eyna/hd_eyna.htm ) thought about sexuality and homosexuality (queer theory) has got to be highly, er... imaginative.
And so we come to, "cultural politics in Israel and Palestine." From an archaeologist whose work is confined strictly to the Stone Age? And who is coming to teach at Columbia? Coincidence? I think not.
The anthropology department at Columbia has a strong agenda, and it is not about discovering the roots of the origins of agriculture. It is about proving that Israel is an illegitimate, colonial-settler project. On this point, Brian Boyd appears to be one of the boys in the MEALAC we-hate-Israel gang.
On Sept. 27th he gave a lecture at Columbia , on "Kathleen Kenyon's excavations at Jerico 1952-1958: a photographic archive." This is a few thousand years outside the professor's field of expertise, but Boyd had an agenda in giving that talk, to place "the excavations in the context of 1950s Palestine shortly following World War II, the establishment of the State of Israel and the Nakba." I would love to know what possible relationship the "nakba" can have to Kathleen Kenyon's excavation.
Boyd also participated in a session on "The Archaeology of Western Asia Today: Exploring the Definition of Archaeological Approaches amid a Climate of Neo-Colonialism, Orientalism and Political Turbulence."
The panelists urged that "the predominantly Western European and North American intellectual basis of 'Near Eastern' archaeology" should be "rigorously deconstructed," while scholars should "discuss in explicit terms the relationship between archaeological research and the complexities of post-colonial and neo-colonial political realities."
In the opinion of the panelists, "The claim of 'Near Eastern', 'Levantine' and 'Middle Eastern' archaeologists to be able to produce verifiable, historical truths…reinforces the underlying Orientalist narrative engrained within the discipline."
"Within the context of the current 'War on Terror,'" the panelists felt "duty-bound" to ask "Is it ethical for western archaeologists to be studying the material culture of the region at all?"
Welcome to Columbia , Professor Boyd. We're sure you'll feel right at home.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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