Reflecting the growing turmoil in the Middle East, the Yale History Department recently hired Laila Parsons, a Harvard scholar on twentieth-century Middle Eastern studies.
Parsons, the associate director for academic affairs at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, will come to Yale next fall as a junior professor. A specialist in Jewish-Arab relations in the first half of the twentieth century, Parsons has published a book and several articles on Druze-Jewish relations between 1936 and 1948. Her future research project involves a biographical study of the Fawzi al-Qawuqji — an Arab nationalist and military figure — paying special attention to his encounters with British imperialism and Jewish nationalism between 1914 and 1948.
Parsons said she is enthusiastic about her appointment to the Yale faculty.
“Although I have enjoyed my work at Harvard very much, I am excited to be moving to a full-time teaching and research position in such a prestigious history department,” Parsons said in an e-mail. “I know that I will learn a great deal from my colleagues and students at Yale in the years ahead.”
Current events helped motivate Yale’s search for a professor who could specialize in the Arab-Israeli conflict, history department chairman Jon Butler said.
“This is an area of direct international and world concern, in which there needs to be serious and intellectual scholarship,” he said.
Yale’s search for a Middle Eastern studies professor began last year, but Butler said Yale was looking for a professor who would specialize in the Middle East after World War II.
After last year’s effort, the History Department renewed its search and got three scholars, including Parsons, to visit the campus.
“They were all excellent,” Butler said. “Professor Parsons is quite wonderful. We’re very happy to have her here. The search went wonderfully.”
E. Roger Owen, Harvard’s director of graduate studies in Middle Eastern Studies, said Parson’s appointment reflects both national interest and an academic trend at universities across the country.
“The field is certainly growing via more interest and more government money,” Owen said in an e-mail. “Enrollments seem to be up just about everywhere — in anything connected with Islam, the modern Middle East and the languages, particularly Arabic.”
Parsons said she also has noticed an increased interest in the twentieth-century Middle East, citing a significant spike in applications to Harvard’s Masters Program in Middle Eastern Studies.
“Certainly there is more interest in the Middle East since Sept. 11th,” Parsons said in an e-mail. “Enrollments at Harvard have increased, particularly in classes that focus on the modern Middle East.”
Owen said the growth of twentieth-century Middle Eastern studies marks a significant effort by many universities to strengthen Middle Eastern departments. Owen added that Parsons’ appointment will help Yale’s department, which historically has been weak in the subject.
Students also recognized the importance of a Middle East curriculum at Yale.
“On the surface it seems like a great idea. A lot of people on campus feel very strongly about the issue,” Yale Coalition for Peace member Chesa Boudin ’03 said. “The more kinds of classes and the more diversity in those classes that Yale offers, the better.”