The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


Known as the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures since 1930, the department over the years has accumulated numbers of valuable Babylonian, Aramaic, Coptic, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Ethiopic manuscripts, tablets, papyri and artifacts, still today the basis for research, teaching, and museum exhibits.

World War II saw the permanent addition of Chinese and Japanese to the department's offerings. With the retirement of Chairman Leroy W. Waterman in 1945 and of Chairman William H. Worrell in 1948, the department underwent a major restructuring resulting in its transformation into two new departments: Far Eastern Languages and Literatures, with Associate Professor Joseph K. Yamagiwa as chairman, and Near Page  188Eastern Studies, under George G. Cameron, a scholar of ancient Near Eastern history and languages who was brought from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago to serve as its head. When Dr. Cameron arrived in February 1949, he alone was the entire faculty of the department. He had been granted leave for the Fall 1948 term to be Annual Professor of the Baghdad School of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and to do his famous archaeological research on the inscriptions on Darius' Bisitun Monument in Iran. When he retired as Department Head twenty-one years later there were eighteen faculty members in the department and another fourteen Near Eastern specialists in other departments, constituting one of the premier programs in the nation dealing with the Near East and North Africa.

The department's goals were to cover Biblical Studies and the ancient, medieval, and modern languages and civilizations of the present-day Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew (Israeli) lands, with at least a linguistics and a literature specialist for each of these fields. Between 1948 and 1956 Cameron was able to recruit both established and budding scholars to cover most of the basic needs of the department: Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Studies, medieval and modern Near Eastern History, and Arabic, Persian, and Turkish Studies. He was able as well to bring distinguished visitors during the academic year and in extensive summer programs in 1950 and in 1953 (co-sponsored with the Linguistic Society of America).

This initial period, during which basic department programs were established, included the beginnings of the second phase in the development of Near Eastern Studies at Michigan: the broadening of coverage of the area on an ambitious interdisciplinary basis. In the 1950s permanent faculty were brought in to deal with the area of the Near East in anthropology, economics, geography, history, history of art, political science, and the Graduate Library. Because of the increasing complexity of interdisciplinary coordination and funding in 1961 the University established the Center for Near Eastern and North African Studies under the directorship of William D. Schorger. After that date the Center was responsible for all interdepartmental aspects of Near Eastern Studies. Departmental programs were also greatly strengthened and Modern Hebrew Studies were added.

Page  189The growth of Near Eastern Studies at Michigan during this period was greatly aided by outside funding from a variety of sources in support of faculty expansion, student fellowships, instructional programs, and research projects. In 1951 George Cameron led an interdisciplinary expedition to Iraq and Iran supported by Carnegie, Rockefeller, and University of Michigan funds. The Carnegie Corporation funded three summer sessions devoted to the Near East (1951-53), staffed with outstanding scholars from across the nation. In 1952 Ford Foundation gave a five-year grant of $100,000 for faculty and research development, the first to an "area program" on the Near East at any institution. This and additional Ford Foundation support enabled the University to make several important permanent staff additions, to begin building a Near Eastern library collection second only to those of Harvard and Princeton, and to conduct research and training in the field, including the innovative year-long interdisciplinary field session in Aleppo, Syria, 1953-54. In 1960-62 the department received a National Defense Education Act (NDEA) grant totaling over $500,000 from the U.S. Office of Education for the development of instructional materials for Arabic, Persian, Kurdish, and Pashto; sixteen textbooks resulted from this effort. Additional instructional materials for Arabic, Modern Hebrew, and Turkish were later produced under department and Center auspices.

With George Cameron's retirement as Head of Department in 1969 Ernest McCarus was appointed chairman. The major addition between 1969 and 1975 was that of David Noel Freedman as Director of the new Program on Studies in Religion. With George Cameron's retirement in 1975, Matthew W. Stolper was appointed as Assyriologist and, as in the case of his predecessor, Stolper spent his first official term at Michigan on leave at an archeological dig at Tepe Malyan in Iran.

This period also saw continued concern with effective language teaching. Courses in language pedagogy and practice teaching were instituted for prospective language teachers, as enrollments in Near Eastern language courses rose to all-time highs. In 1974 the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA), the prestigious federally-funded program for intensive advanced-level training in Arabic language at the American University in Cairo, was transferred from the University of Page  190California at Berkeley to Michigan under the directorship of Ernest McCarus.

The department has distinguished itself not only in teaching but also in scholarship. Recognition has come to members of the faculty in the form of honorary degrees, election as officials of professional societies and of national research and training institutes and centers, research grants from the federal government and prestigious foundations, invitations to participate in national and international conferences and committees, mention in biographical references such as Who's Who, journal editorships, and others.

The Department of Near Eastern Studies has built for itself solid programs in Ancient and Biblical Studies and in Arabic, Hebrew, Iranian and Turkish Studies. Not the least of its achievements has been its success in maintaining a spirit of mutual respect and harmonious cooperation and strictly professional attitudes toward the study of the Near and Middle East without yielding to the emotions of the political conditions in the area.