The MELC Major

The Department offers students the opportunity to choose between two major programs:

The first program, Cultures and Societies of the Middle East and North Africa, is an interdisciplinary major which allows students to explore broadly the cultures, societies, religions, and literary and visual traditions of the greater Middle East. The geographical scope of this major includes: Arabia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran and the Persianate world, Egypt and the Nile Valley, North Africa (including the Maghreb), and Asia Minor (including present-day Turkey). This major encourages students to develop an understanding of deep continuities through time, and close connections among the cultures of the region and adjacent areas. The major also promotes the humanistic study of Middle Eastern societies across ancient, medieval, and modern periods – something that no other majors currently do – while exposing students to the current methodologies and breadth of scholarship in Middle Eastern studies at Penn. Because this concentration does not include language coursework, and does not contribute toward the University’s Language Requirement, the major consists of 12 c.u.

The second program offers the opportunity for students to study one of five concentration areas: Ancient Middle Eastern Civilizations (ANE); Arabic & Islamic Studies (Arab/Islam); Arabic & Hebrew Studies – modern or medieval (Arab/Heb); Hebrew & Judaica (Heb/Jud); or Persian Language & Literature (PLL). In addition to a set of basic requirements, students will complete a set of requirements specific to their chosen concentration. The major includes language coursework and requires the completion of 14 c.u.

All courses taken for the major must be taken for grade. They cannot be taken pass/fail.

Core Requirement: 2 c.u.

Students must complete the Department’s foundational courses: NELC 0001 (Introduction to the Ancient Near East) and NELC 0002 (Introduction to the Middle East) to fulfill the major's core requirement. This requirement provides majors with an overall understanding of Near Eastern cultures which span more than four millennia.

 

Visual and Literary Cultures Requirement: 2 c.u.

To gain grounding in methodology, 2 c.u. must cover visual or literary cultures and the methodologies used to study them. Such courses can include NELC 0102 (Reading Ancient Mesopotamia) or NELC 0700 (Iranian Cinema: Gender, Politics, Religion).

 

Breadth Requirement: 4 c.u.

Students must complete a breadth requirement consisting of one introductory to intermediate level course, numbered between NELC 0003 and NELC 3999, in each of the following areas: the Ancient Middle East; Hebrew and Judaic Studies; Societies and Cultures of the Islamic World; and the Modern Middle East.

 

Advanced Electives: 3 c.u.

Students must take an additional 3 c.u. of intermediate to advanced level coursework, courses numbered between NELC 2000 and NELC 4999, in their area of primary interest, to be chosen in consultation with their major Advisor.

Course offerings vary yearly. The following is a non-exhaustive list of courses that may be used to fulfill this requirement: 

NELC 2040 (Ancient Iranian Empires); NELC 2705 (Media and Culture in Contemporary Iran); NELC 2900 (Who Owns the Past? Archaeology and Politics in the Middle East); NELC 2920 (World Heritage in Global Conflict); NELC 3300 (Jewish Magic); NELC 3400 (Age of Caliphs, 600-1110); NELC 4110 (The Archaeology of Nubia); NELC 4305 (Spirit and Law); HEBR 4000 (Rabbinic Writers on Rabbinic Culture).

 

Students are encouraged to take NELC courses to fulfill this requirement. Any student wishing to use a non-NELC course must discuss the matter with their major Advisor. Any exceptions will be granted at the discretion of the Advisor.

 

Senior Concentration Paper Requirement: 1 c.u.

In order to develop experience in researching and writing substantial analytical essays, every student must write a substantial research paper during their senior year, in conjunction with an appropriate advanced level NELC course (NELC 4000 to NELC 4999) to be chosen in consultation with their major Advisor. In all cases, these courses must be pre-designated by the student, and the paper topic must be pre-approved by the professor teaching the course. A Concentration Paper Requirement Form (available for download here), with the professor's pre-approval, must be filed with the student's record prior to the writing of the paper. Upon completion and acceptance of the concentration paper, the professor must sign the form again and return it to the Department office. Should there be a term in which no appropriate advanced level NELC course is offered, the Advisor may approve a reading and research course (NELC 4999) with an appropriate instructor. All concentration papers should be a minimum of 15 pages, double-spaced, in 12-point font, excluding the bibliography. They must receive a grade of A or A- in order to fulfill the requirement.

Language Requirement: 6 c.u. 

Both basic language courses and advanced courses in literature in the original language count toward this requirement.


Breadth Requirement: 2 c.u.

MELC 0001 (Introduction to the Ancient Middle East) and MELC 0002 (Introduction to the Middle East) fulfill the major's breadth requirement. This requirement provides majors with an overall understanding of Middle Eastern cultures which span more than four millennia, so that they are familiar with other Middle East traditions in addition to the one in which they concentrate.


Electives: 6 c.u.

These will normally be content courses within the chosen concentration, but each concentration imposes certain constraints on the electives to be selected. Electives must be selected for appropriateness with the student's major Advisor


Students may count up to four courses from outside the Department (i.e., not cross-listed in MELC) toward the major electives.


Concentration Paper Requirement:

In order to develop experience in researching and writing substantial analytical essays, every student must write a substantial research paper in conjunction with an appropriate advanced level MELC course (MELC 4000 to MELC 4999) to be chosen in consultation with their major Advisor. In all cases, these courses must be pre-designated by the student, and the paper topic must be pre-approved by the professor teaching the course. A Concentration Paper Requirement Form (available for download here), with the professor's pre-approval, must be filed with the student's record prior to the writing of the paper. Upon completion and acceptance of the concentration paper, the professor must sign the form again and return it to the Department office. Should there be a term in which no appropriate advanced level MELC course is offered, the Advisor may approve a reading and research course (MELC 4999) with an appropriate instructor. All concentration papers should be a minimum of 15 pages, double-spaced, in 12-point font, excluding the bibliography. They must receive a grade of A or A- in order to fulfill the requirement.

Double-majors who have placed out of elementary language courses may apply to have the major requirement reduced to 12 c.u. For further information, consult the Concentration Advisor.

MELC offers concentrations in one of five areas:

  • Ancient Middle Eastern Civilizations (ANE)

  • Arabic & Islamic Studies (Arab/Islam)

  • Arabic & Hebrew Studies - modern or medieval (Arab/Heb)

  • Hebrew & Judaica (Heb/Jud)

  • Persian Language & Literature (PLL)

 

Ancient Middle East (ANE):

This concentration explores the cultures of the broader ancient Middle East and the Nile Valley, including civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Nubia, Syria, the Levant, Israel, Anatolia, and Persia. Students normally choose a particular culture area within the ancient Middle East, but culture and history courses must include course offerings from at least two ancient civilizations. Courses in history and archaeology may include courses such as: MELC 0100 (Archaeology and the Bible); MELC 0200 (Land of the Pharaohs); MELC 0905 (Middle East and Water in History); MELC 1000 (Iraq: Ancient Cities and Empires); MELC 1010 (Early Mesopotamia); MELC 1900 (Digital Exploration of the Past); MELC 2010 (Mesopotamian Artifacts); MELC 0210 (Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt); MELC 0225 (The World of Cleopatra); MELC 1100 (History of Ancient Egypt); and MELC 4110 (Archaeology of Nubia).

Language study must include at least 6 c.u. and will depend on the student’s specialization. Language courses will normally consist of two years of Akkadian (AMEL 4000, 4100, 4250, 4300, 4350); Egyptian (AMEL 4500, 4600, 4700, 4750); Biblical Hebrew (HEBR 0150/0250 and 0350/0450); or other relevant ancient languages such as Sumerian (AMEL 4200, 4400), in combination with advanced language and text courses as determined in consultation with the Advisor. Of the 6 c.u. that count toward the language requirement, 2 c.u. may be fulfilled by appropriate courses in literature in translation such as MELC 0102 (Reading Ancient Mesopotamia) and MELC 0205 (The Literary Legacy of Ancient Egypt). Concentration paper courses should be courses above the introductory level determined in consultation with the student’s major Advisor.

 

Arabic & Islamic Studies (Arab/Islam):

This concentration explores Arabic culture in the context of Islamic civilization. The Arabic language requirement is 7 c.u. and may only be fulfilled with ARAB 0300 (Intermediate Arabic III) and above. In addition, the 7 c.u. in Arabic language must include three advanced reading courses such as ARAB 4040 (Readings in Qur’an and Tafsir); ARAB 4050 (Arabic Belles-Lettres); ARAB 4060 (Media Arabic); ARAB 4070 (Readings in Arabic Literature); ARAB 4080 (Introduction to Premodern Arabic Texts); ARAB 4090 (History and Fiction in Arabic); or others chosen in consultation with the student's Advisor. Electives, to be chosen in consultation with the student’s Advisor, may be focused on either the medieval or modern period, but must include a minimum of one course each in history, religion, and literature (in the original language or translation). In general, the history requirement will be satisfied by courses such as MELC 0400 (Getting Crusaded), MELC 0600 (The Middle East through Many Lenses), MELC 0620 (Food in the Islamic Middle East: History, Memory, Identity), MELC 1600 (North Africa: History, Culture Society), MELC 1615 (Migration and the Middle East), MELC 2000 (Aleppo), MELC 2500 (The Age of Sultans: 1100-1500), or MELC 2910 (The University, the Museum, and the Middle East); the religion requirement by MELC 0500 (Introduction to the Qur’an), MELC 0505 (Introduction to Islamic Law), MELC 1605 (Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East: Historical Perspectives), or MELC 4505 (The Islamic Intellectual Tradition); and the literature requirement by MELC 0610 (Modern Middle Eastern Literature in Translation), MELC 0615 (Modern Arabic Literature), or MELC 4500 (Arabic Literature and Literary Theory).

Concentration paper courses should be courses above the introductory level but should be arranged with the instructor and in consultation with the student’s Advisor. Students may also fulfill the Arabic and Islamic Studies major with a concentration in Turkish language instead of Arabic. This concentration requires 6 c.u. in Turkish language (courses rostered under TURK). The electives in history, religion, and literature may, in consultation with the student’s Advisor, be chosen from among those listed for Arabic and Islamic Studies or Persian Language and Literature.

 

Arabic & Hebrew Studies (Arab/Heb):

This concentration explores the inter-relationships between Arabic and Hebrew cultures within the modern and/or medieval periods. The language requirement (6 c.u.) may be split between two years (4 c.u.) of one language (Arabic or Hebrew) and one year (2 c.u.) of the other language. Students are encouraged, however, to study the second of the two languages for two years also, by using two of the elective courses for that purpose. The electives, to be chosen in conjunction with the major Advisor, as well as the concentration paper, should promote the combined study of Arabic and Hebrew cultures. Examples of concentration paper courses include: MELC 0610 (Modern Middle East Literature in Translation), MELC 4500 (Arabic Literature and Literary Theory), MELC 4505 (Methods in Medieval Islamic Studies), and HEBR 4300 (Studies in Modern Hebrew Literature).

 

Hebrew & Judaica (Heb/Jud):

This concentration explores Hebrew and Jewish literature, cultures, histories, and religion from the Hebrew Bible through modern times. It consists of 14 c.u., divided among language (6 c.u.) and elective (8 c.u.) requirements. For the language requirement, at least 4 of the 6 c.u are to be fulfilled with Hebrew instruction in Modern (HEBR 0100-0400) or Biblical (HEBR 0150-0450) Hebrew. 2 of the 6 c.u. may be fulfilled by courses in Modern or Biblical Hebrew, advanced language study (HEBR 1000), or advanced courses in Hebrew texts. For students placing out of introductory Hebrew language courses, the corresponding number of c.u. is converted to electives. For all students, 3 c.u. from the electives must be advanced courses in Hebrew texts in the original, and must be taken from three of the four areas: Hebrew Bible, Ancient (6th BCE-7th CE), Medieval-Early Modern (7th-18th Centuries), or Modern (18th-21st Centuries). It is recommended that a student take more than one text course in the area they will focus on for the concentration paper. A concentration paper must be submitted, to be determined in consultation with a student’s major Advisor. (NOTE: For students who already have fulfilled the language requirement in Hebrew when they first matriculate at the University, the major requirement is reduced to 12 c.u.).

 

Persian Language & Literature (PLL):

This concentration explores Persian culture in the context of Islamic civilization. The Persian language requirement is 6 c.u. Normally, this requirement includes coursework in the sequence PERS 0100-2100 (Introductory through Advanced Persian). For students already advanced in Persian, the language requirement may be fulfilled by taking 6 c.u. in advanced readings courses, to be chosen in consultation with the student’s Advisor. Electives, to be chosen in consultation with the student’s Advisor, may be focused on either the medieval or modern period, but must include a minimum of one course each in history, religion, and literature (in the original language or translation). In general, the history requirement will be satisfied by courses such as MELC 0400 (Getting Crusaded), MELC 0620 (Food in the Islamic Middle East), MELC 1615 (Migration and the Middle East), MELC 1605 (Muslims, Christians and Jews), and MELC 1610 (Nationalism in the Middle East); the religion requirement by MELC 0500 (Introduction to the Quran), MELC 0505 (Introduction to Islamic Law), or MELC 4505 (Islamic Intellectual Tradition); and the literature requirement by MELC 0700 (Iranian Cinema: Gender, Politics and Religion); MELC 1700 (Introduction to the Persian Poetic Tradition); MELC 1705 (Media and Culture in Contemporary Iran); and MELC 1710 (Modern Iran and the West through Fiction). Concentration paper courses should be courses above the introductory level and must be arranged with the instructor and in consultation with the student’s Advisor.

Talented students may wish to consider entering NELC’s Honors Program. Students in the NELC Concentration Based Major must consult with the Concentration Advisor about admission to NELC's Honors Program. Students in the CASMENA Major must consult with the CASMENA Major Advisor. A student's overall GPA as well as the student's major GPA will be taken into consideration in awarding Honors. A student admitted into the Department's Honors Program will be required to take an additional 2 c.u. in the student's senior year: one course in guided research (NELC 4995) and one course in independent study (NELC 4999), culminating in the writing of an honors thesis. The thesis must earn a grade of A or A- and will be in lieu of the Concentration Paper requirement.

NELC welcomes and encourages students majoring in other departments to opt for a second major in NELC. Prospective double-majors should consult the relevant Concentration Advisor or CASMENA Major Advisor, as appropriate, for help in arranging their program and for coordinating the two majors. 

Students with language proficiency in Hebrew or Arabic may petition to reduce the second major requirement to a minimum of 12 c.u. Note that theses in other majors may not be substituted for NELC’s concentration paper requirement.

An especially talented undergraduate student may wish to undertake an intensified major program leading to the awarding of both the BA and MA degrees. Such a program of study must be approved by the undergraduate Advisor, the undergraduate chair, and the Dean of the student's undergraduate school. This process is known as “submatriculation.”

Undergraduate majors in NELC who wish to sub-matriculate into the NELC Graduate Group may apply to the Graduate Group at pre-registration time in the second semester of the junior year. If there is a question about the student's standing, the faculty may choose to wait until the semester's grades are in before making a final decision. Only graduate courses taken in the senior year will count for both graduate and undergraduate credit. The student must fulfill the graduate requirements in a course and receive a grade of A before that course can be considered for double credit. Courses required for fulfillment of the undergraduate major cannot be counted for graduate credit. Undergraduates who wish to sub-matriculate are required to pursue the Honors Program Major (a total of 16 c.u.) in addition to fulfilling all of the graduate program requirements. Students who sub-matriculate can usually complete the MA degree in one year after receiving the BA degree.