Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations—composed of four subfields: the Middle East in Antiquity, Jewish Studies, Islamic Studies, and Modern Middle Eastern Studies—is a very comprehensive concentration while allowing students to focus on their major interest within the subject. Houghton can provide research material for students in these four tracks, besides containing a wealth of manuscripts in many of the languages offered by the concentration. In fact, the library owns almost 900 Arabic, 140 Hebrew, 112 Persian, 90 Turkish, and eleven Armenian manuscripts, as well as almost 60 manuscripts classified as Judaica in HOLLIS.

One of the most consequential manuscripts is actually a collection of portraits of Jews from around the globe executed by Lionel S. Reiss (MS Judaica 48, 007483067). With a 1938 preface by anthropologist Franz Boas debunking the myth that the Jews are a race, it is a stark reminder of the tragedy that would fall upon the Jews of Europe only a year later and a warning against prejudice in general. Students researching about the Holocaust can also peruse the “My life in Germany” contest papers (MS Ger 91, 000602078), which include autobiographical accounts of life in Nazi Germany, many of them by exiled Jews.

Personal, private history is also the focus of the Iranian Oral History Project, whose recordings and transcripts are also housed at Houghton (MS Persian 39, 008755156). The accounts recorded by the project, sponsored by Harvard like the “My Life in Germany Contest,” cover five decades and come from people at the epicenter of key events in Iranian history. Students pursuing the Modern Middle Eastern Studies track of the concentration are highly encouraged to use this material to gain better insight into Iranian historical and political processes during the twentieth century. Houghton’s collection concerning Iran, however, also covers the country’s more distant past, and includes Zoroastrian liturgical texts from the nineteenth century (MS Persian 58, 009037822) and a collection of Persian manuscripts covering the years 1210-1841 that used to be in Widener Library’s Treasure Room and includes, for instance, a treatise on Persian ethics based on elements of Islamic theology (MS Pers 2 F, 010093663).

Studying a culture or a set of cultures involves learning and analyzing other societies’ views on those cultures. Houghton has a variety of items that include accounts of civilizations by outsiders, and those accounts can be helpful for students researching the observed and the observing culture. Many of those materials are related to NELC. They include, for instance, Itinerario da Terra Santa, e Suas Particularidades (Asia 1417.32, 004039016), an eighteenth-century Portuguese treatise describing the Holy Land, and an essay by Abiel Holmes about a Tamil Pentateuch (MS Am 852, 009891412). Another document containing a multicultural perspective is a ninth-century account of India and China by two Arabic travelers, which places Middle Easterners in the position of observers (Ch 181.6*, 003855270). Finally, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions archives (ABC 1-91, 000602481) contain materials about Christian missionary ventures in the Near and Middle East—including Armenia, Syria, and Turkey—and can be a valuable source of information about the role of religion in intercultural exchanges in the area.