Modern art from the Middle East on view in gallery exhibition

The Yale University Art Gallery will mark the 175th anniversary of the field of Arabic studies at Yale with the exhibition “Modern Art from the Middle East,” a selection of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Middle Eastern artists rarely exhibited in the United States.

The exhibition is part of a campus-wide, yearlong celebration. The field of Arabic studies was inaugurated on campus in 1841 when Edward Elbridge Salisbury, B.A. 1832, became the first professor of Arabic and Sanskrit in the United States.

The 19 artworks on display in the exhibition are on loan from the Barjeel Art Foundation, a collection of modern and contemporary art located in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates. Established by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, the foundation promotes the art of the Middle East through international collaborations.

Studying Environmental History in the Ottoman Empire

Camille Cole (History) published an article this fall in the Journal of Social History titled “Precarious Empires: A Social and Environmental History of Steam Navigation on the Tigris.” ( (link is external))

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, steamships were the main tool of British informal imperialism in what is now southern Iraq,” she says. “Despite that centrality, steam shipping on the Tigris was primarily characterized by environmental and political precariousness.”

Russia Emerges as New Power Broker in Middle East

Russia – striving to prove that it is a superpower that resolves global challenges and not a weak regional power that preys on neighboring states – concluded peace talks with Syria and 14 rebel groups in the Kazakh capital of Astana. The United States sent an observer, and author Dilip Hiro notes, “The conference in Astana saw Turkey, a key member of NATO, abandoning the US and bonding with Russia to end the Syrian conflict – a development with the potential of upgrading Syria’s civil war as a landmark in global history.” Russia took steps to reduce US influence in the Middle East by intervening on the Assad regime’s behalf in Syria since September 2015 and then extending support to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after an attempted coup in July 2016. Turkey is a NATO member, but the president opposes Kurdish fighters who have been among the most effective fighters against the Islamic State terrorists. Russia, Turkey and Iran are forming a commission to monitor the ceasefire with details to be announced at a February 8 UN conference on Syria. Russia has also outlined proposals for a new constitution for Syria and elections.

Digging into Ancient History

In northern Israel, scholars from many disciplines and countries work side by side to survey, excavate, and attempt to understand how people have lived ever since the Stone Age.

One of those researchers is fourth-year graduate student Nicholas Kraus (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations), who joined the Tel Megiddo excavation in 2010 when he was still an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He’s returned almost every summer since then, to work there and on the nearby Jezreel Valley Regional Project (JVRP).

Megiddo is strategically located above the most important land route in the ancient Near East. During the Bronze Age (3500-1200 BCE), it was an important Canaanite city-state, and in the Iron Age it was a royal city in the Kingdom of Israel. It stood on the crossroads of international traffic for more than 6,000 years. As civilizations came and went, succeeding settlements were built on the ruins of their predecessors, creating a multi-layered archaeological mound, or “tel,” containing the ruins of streets, houses, temples, palaces, fortifications – even an engineered water system. Digging there has gone on intermittently since the early 20th century, but beginning 1994, systematic scientific excavation has been carried out under the auspices of Tel Aviv University.

Fall of Eastern Aleppo Marks Turning Point for Syrian Civil War

Defeat is imminent for the Syrian rebels in eastern Aleppo as government forces, supported by Russian airstrikes and Iranian militias, take control. The UN Security Council had been advised by a UN envoy that the city, once Syria’s largest, was at risk of becoming a “giant graveyard.” Rebels and civilians are trapped, and eastern Aleppo lacks food, water and other basic services. “Civil wars are always brutal, but Syria’s stands out for the sheer scale of casualties, refugees and infrastructure destruction,” notes author and journalist Dilip Hiro. Syria’s war became a proxy fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as between the United States and Russia. “War grinds on as long as outside powers maintain sufficient interest.” Russia began military intervention in September 2015 ostensibly to target terrorists – but its definition includes any group raising arms against an established government, no matter how brutal. Victory for the Assad regime strengthens Russian and Iranian influence in the region, a setback for the United States, Saudi Arabia and other allies. – YaleGlobal