Demystifying the Middle East
Between oil prices, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans hear news reports about the Middle East on an almost daily basis. Few, however, possess a concrete understanding of the region’s history and culture. That’s where Assistant Professor of Political Science Samer Abboud comes in.
Abboud’s classes on the Middle East provide Susquehanna students with insight into the politics and people in this volatile part of the world. His most popular class is Middle East Politics and Society. The class is offered each fall, and it fills to capacity every year. Although the content of the course doesn’t change much, Abboud says each time he teaches the class, he learns something new about the way students learn.
“It’s changed more, I think, in response to student demand and student capacity,” he says of the 200-level political science elective. “It’s a huge part of the world, and it’s extremely difficult to cover in 14 weeks.”
Abboud combats this difficulty by assigning students several presentations and a final paper, rather than giving midterm and final exams. This approach allows Abboud to more effectively gauge how well students can research the Middle East and present information about it.
“I absolutely feel as though I better understand the Middle East,” says Katherine Messler ’11, an international studies major who took the course in the fall of 2008.
The class attracts students with a number of majors, from political science and history to public relations and information systems. Abboud is mindful that he not only is teaching a number of non-political science majors, but he is speaking on a topic that is unfamiliar to most students. That’s why he encourages students to read blogs and news articles about the Middle East and discuss what’s in the news at the beginning of each class.
“Middle East Politics and Society stood out from other political science courses, because we were learning about the past while also discussing current events arising from the history of the region,” says Shannon Dewees ’11, a political science major who took the course in the fall.
Abboud explores a different theme with students each week. For instance, when the class examines youth culture, popular culture, and technology and media, the readings focus on everything from Al Jazeera and Arab reality shows to cell phone usage in Morocco.
“It challenged every single person in the class to see the Middle East in a way that is unconventional and typically not taught in America,” says Caroline Campbell ’11, an international studies major who also took the class in the fall.
Contributing writers to The ‘Grove are Heather Cobun ’10 and Billie Tadros ’10.