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Political Scientist Gregory Nowell: An Eye on the Middle East

May 11, 2009

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Associate Professor Gregory Nowell, Department of Political Science

Associate Professor Gregory Nowell will be traveling to Israel as an academic fellow, examining terrorism. (Photo Mark Schmidt)

UAlbany Associate Professor Gregory Nowell, Department of Political Science, recently began teaching an undergraduate course on the political development of the Middle East because of the significance of the region's history and effects worldwide. But to prepare the course curriculum, Nowell used an unusual tactic -- he didn't study the Middle East at all.

First, he began examining the tribal system in France at the time of Caesar, Britain's conquest of Ireland and the conflict of the Northeastern U.S. in the 17th and 18th centuries. Those periods in history look similar to the present-day Middle East with its violent conflict between rival social systems, many of which are heavily tribalized.

"There's a general deficit in the knowledge base of the Middle East and how its history led to the rise of someone like Saddam Hussein, for example," said Nowell. "What makes it so uncomfortable to study the Middle East today is that we are confronted with the role of violence in history. But our own social system and our own language are the direct artifacts of the violent resolution of conflicts similar to those in the contemporary Middle East.”

Nowell will join a group of U.S.-based professors and researchers for a 10-day intensive course in Israel after being named a 2009-2010 Academic Fellow by The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan policy institute in Washington D.C. The group will examine terrorism, terrorist groups and their activities.

The program, which will be conducted at Tel Aviv University from May 30th to June 10th, includes lectures by academics, and military and intelligence officials, as well as diplomats from Israel, Jordan, India, Turkey and the United States. It also includes “hands on” experience through visits to police, customs, and immigration facilities, military bases, and border zones.

"This program was put together with the idea of getting academics, like myself, out of the theoretical literature and provide a direct perspective for teaching," said Nowell, who teaches at UAlbany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. "A lot of pedagogy occurs without being there. That notwithstanding, after this experience when I stand in front of my class, I can lend a view from what I've seen for myself."

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