With events in the Middle East capturing the attention of Americans as never before, demand for courses that shed light on this region has grown. The University of Florida has thus sought to provide students with more opportunities to learn about the history, languages, and cultures of the Middle East. One manifestation of this directive was the hire in 2006 of Michelle Campos, Assistant Professor of the Modern Middle East. Prior to her arrival, there was no scholar in this area of specialization in the history department. Consequently, as she began teaching undergraduate classes, especially senior seminars, she found that the University of Florida libraries did not have many of the materials needed by her students. While the library had a comprehensive collection in Israeli history, its resources on other Middle Eastern nations were far scarcer; there were gaps in the primary and secondary sources necessary for student research. With the assistance of a Library Enhancement Grant from the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere with the support of the Rothman Endowment, she was able to request that the UF libraries purchase films, sourcebooks, and translated primary sources to bolster their collection relevant to Arab, Persian, and Turkic societies.
Campos’ grant benefitted the library’s film collection most substantially since she has always used multimedia sources to get her undergraduate students engaged in Middle Eastern history and culture. “Films help de-exoticize and de-otherize the Middle East. And they provide insight into historical moments and actors. Reading about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s Westernizing reforms is one thing, but there is an undeniable visual power in seeing Ataturk standing at a chalkboard in an Anatolian village teaching the villagers the Roman alphabet.” Because the library’s collection of films about the Middle East, especially documentaries, was incomplete, Campos usually had to rely on a patchwork of resources: “I used materials from UF’s library collection, supplemented with videos from my personal collection, from Netflix, or from Youtube, but many important films were not available from those sources.” Campos thus harnessed the grant money to purchase several documentaries, on historical subjects ranging the life of Saladin to the history of Baghdad. However, she also brought films to the UF libraries on more current themes like Middle-Eastern folk religion, Sufi brotherhoods, and daily life in the Middle East. “All the students usually see about the Middle East is via CNN or Fox News. They just see decontextualized stories about terrorism. I want to show them things outside a political context.”
In addition to films, Campos’ grant allowed the UF libraries to purchase a number of important books. Her biggest priorities were works that would be used in the classroom. For example, she purchased a comprehensive sourcebook that covered twentieth-century social and cultural topics throughout the Middle East, but one that was prohibitively expensive for most students. Now they have access to this book at Library West, and she can assign readings from it in her classes. Another important 20th century primary source brought to the UF libraries with the grant was a translation of Taj al-Saltana, a Persian Princess whose memoirs chronicled the modernization movement of Iran and criticized the inferior status of women in Persian society. Likewise, Campos requested the purchase of an assortment of secondary source texts, on topics as diverse as the life of Suleiman the Magnificent to Turkish Shadow Theater. Ultimately, Campos hopes that her partnership with the Center for the Humanities and Public Sphere will give UF students greater access to resources that will allow them to see the Middle East in context and in a more nuanced light.
Center for the Humanities
and the Public Sphere
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
200 Walker Hall
P.O. Box 118030
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611