Middle East Mixup in NYU History Course Offerings
For those New York University undergraduates interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a great course offered by the history department is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:00 am: Zachary Lockman‘s “Palestine, Zionism, and Israel.”
Of course, if you’re really interested, you can stick around until 2:00 pm, and then attend David Engel‘s “Zionism and the State of Israel,” offered by the very same history department.
That’s a bit strange, don’t you think? Two courses on almost the same topic, offered only a few hours apart by the same department?
I’m sure both courses will be excellent. I’ve never studied with Lockman but I saw him speak and I was very impressed. I took Engel’s superb graduate level class, “History of the Jews of Russia and Poland,” and his undergraduate course on the Holocaust regularly gets rave reviews. Undoubtedly the professors will offer different and interesting perspectives, and probably use some different material. Still, it seems absurd to offer two history courses on roughly the same topic during the same year or semester, let alone the same day.
I don’t blame either professor. From what I’ve heard, neither one even knew the other one was going to offer the course. I blame the terrible lack of communication between the NYU History Department, which I belong to, and the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies (the co-sponsor of Engel’s course) which I also belong to. For all I know, there may also be a lack of communication between NYU’s Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies department (MEIS, the co-sponsor of Lockman’s course) and the History department as well.
I know that the uneasy relationship between Skirball and History has been an on-going problem, in terms of arranging qualifying/comprehensive exams, prospectus defenses, course requirements and other bureaucratic issues.
There’s also a problem, though, concerning the lack of communication between Skirball, where David Engel has a chair, and MEIS, to which Lockman is affiliated. The problem is apparent in the very names of the departments. MEIS has Lockman, who is an expert on Israel-Palestine, but it doesn’t really have any Israel Studies. Those belong in the Taub Center, which is affiliated with Skirball. In fact, Skirball has several students, some historians, others not, who are getting their PhDs in Israel Studies. At the same time, the Skirball department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies does not have any faculty who know Arabic or who has any training about the larger Middle East from a non-Jewish perspective.
Israel is part of the Middle East. Islam is not the only religion in the region. To understand Israeli history, some knowledge of Arabic language, Arab culture, Islam and the larger Middle East is essential. The divisions between the two departments, Skirball and MEIS, which often seem to operate within isolation of each other, hampers NYU students’ education.
It also speaks to larger issues more important than two similar courses being offered in the same day. If NYU can’t coordinate these two departments to work together, getting the people of the Middle East to live together peacefully seems even more out of reach. You never know though. Netanyahu and Abbas are talking. Maybe academics are more divided than those outside the Ivory Tower. In any case, talking is an important first step, for politicians and professors.