• 100 Open Courses to Learn More About the Middle East

    Jun 9th, 2009

    With conflicts between Israel and Palestine as well as concerns about oil and war in Iraq, the Middle East is a constant presence in the news. The reality is, however, that few actually know about the history, culture and political realities of the region outside of these media reports. These free courses will help you gain a more well-rounded perspective on the countries that make up the Middle East, from learning about ancient Mesopotamia to picking up a few words in Arabic.


    Check out the materials offered by these courses and lectures to learn about the history of the region from the time of primitive man all the way up to the present day.

    1. The Middle East in the 20th Century: Look through the notes and readings for this class that focuses on Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula. [MIT]
    2. Jewish History from Biblical to Modern Times: Here you’ll find information on Jewish history that ranges from biblical accounts to the effects of the Holocaust. [MIT]
    3. The Emergence of Europe: 500-1300: The Crusades had a big impact on Europe and the Middle East alike. Learn more about these and other important events of the Middle Ages here. [MIT]
    4. The Ancient Mediterranean World: This course addresses the ancient history of Egypt, Mesopotamia and more. [UC Berkeley]
    5. The Dark Ages: While much of the West was undergoing a period of stagnation, this course will teach you about the contributions Arab scholars were making to mathematics, science and philosophy. [UMass Boston]
    6. Islamic Middle East: Check out this complete course to learn about the history, politics, culture, language, art and architecture, and literature of the Islamic Middle East. [Northfield Mount Herman]
    7. Modern Middle East History: The outline for this course also provides links to many of the important readings as well. You’ll get a chance to learn more about the Middle East from the 18th century to the present day. [UMich]
    8. The Near East: 8000 BC to 1900 AD: Want a comprehensive history of the Middle East? This course will detail thousands of years of history so you can get a truly in-depth understanding of the region. [Connexions]
    9. History of Islamic Civilization: From the days of Muhammad to current events in the Near East, this site will make for great reading material to learn more about the history of Islam. [WikiBooks]

    Religion: Islam

    As the birthplace of three of the largest world religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, religion plays a major role in both the past and present of the region. These courses focus on improving your understanding of Islam in the region.

    1. Islamic Societies of the Middle East and North Africa: Religion, History and Culture: Learn about the history and expansion of Islam in both the Middle East and areas of Africa in this course. [Notre Dame]
    2. Women in Islamic Societies: Many people have a very narrow conception of the role of women in Islamic societies. This course will help you learn more about the reality of the lives of women in these countries. [Notre Dame]
    3. What Is Islam?: Get an inside perspective on what Islam is and what Muslims believe through this short course. [Islam Always]
    4. Anthropology of Religion: Not focusing just on Islam but on all other religions as well, this course explores the reasons people seek out religion and the impact it has on a larger society. [Utah State]
    5. Prohibition and Permission: This course examines the prohibitions that religion puts on everyday life from marriage to food consumption. [MIT]
    6. The Qur’an and Makkah: Learn about the city of Makkah and the history of the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad through this link. [BBC Learning]
    7. The History of Islam: In this course you’ll learn about the origins of Islam all the way up to the present day. [WikiBooks]
    8. God and War: The Odd Appeal of War: Listen to this lecture to learn about the motivations for a religious war in Islam and in Christianity. [Princeton]
    9. God, Nature, or Man: Whose Law for a Free People? The Experience of Islam: This lecture examines the conflicts between religious and secular law in Islamic countries. [Princeton]

    Religion: Christianity and Judaism

    These courses will help you to learn more about the history of Judaism and Christianity in the Middle East.

    1. Jesus, Paul, and the Origins of Christianity: Check out this lecture from Paula Fredriksen to learn about where Christianity has its beginnings.[Princeton]
    2. The Bible: If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the basics of the Bible this class is a good place to start. [MIT]
    3. History of the Christian Church: This free course will teach you about the beginnings of the Christian church from the earliest days to the present. [ChristianCourses]
    4. Old Testament Survey: Read the materials for this course to learn about the stories of the Old Testament. [ChristianCourses]
    5. New Testament Survey: This course picks up with the stories in the Bible of the New Testament. [ChristianCourses]
    6. Jews and Christians Throughout History: Through this course you’ll explain the interactions through history, both positive and negative, between Christianity and Judaism. [Notre Dame]
    7. Foundations of Theology: Biblical and Historical: This course aims to give students a better understanding of both Biblical stories and the history of the early Christian church. [Notre Dame]
    8. Introduction to the Old Testament: Here you’ll approach the Old Testament from a variety of critical viewpoints and gain a better understanding of how the Bible fits into the society of the Near East. [Yale]


    Learn about the music, writing and everyday life of the Middle East from these courses.

    1. Anthropology of the Middle East: In this course you’ll learn about the performance traditions of Arabic speaking people from the Middle East and North Africa. [MIT]
    2. The Architecture of Cairo: Explore the Islamic architecture of Cairo through the lessons and readings of this course. [MIT]
    3. Popular Musics of the World: Here you’ll learn all about popular music from the Middle East and around the world. [MIT]
    4. Universe of Music: This course examines the history of music from ancient times to the present and focuses on building an understanding of the role of music in a wide range of cultures around the world. [UMass Boston]
    5. International Women’s Voices: In this course, students will read materials from women in counties all over the world, including those in the Middle East. Authors will include Alifa Rifaat, Nawal El Saadawi and Leila Ahmed. [MIT]
    6. The impact of the Arab/Israeli conflict on Palestinian and Israeli children: This short course will help you to understand the social and cultural impact of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. [BBC Learning]
    7. Islamic Law and Feminism: Opening a Dialogue: Can a woman be a feminist and an Muslim? This lecture addresses some of the issues that arise when Western ideas about feminism meet up with traditional Sharia law. [Princeton]
    8. Religious Architecture and Islamic Cultures: If you’re interested in architecture, this course is a great place to start learning about the types of buildings that have been produced historically and today in Islamic cultures. [MIT]


    Read up on the materials offered through this course to gain a better understanding of the political issues involving the Middle East.

    1. Islam, the Middle East and the West: This course addresses the history of interactions between Western cultures and those in the Middle East providing a great foundation for those who’d like to learn more. [MIT]
    2. Seminar on Politics and Conflict in the Middle East: The readings and lectures in this course focus on four majors themes: context, continuity, complexity and convergence and their relationship to conflicts in the Middle East. [MIT]
    3. The Politics of Reconstructing Iraq: Here you’ll learn about the major issues that are involved with reconstructing a country torn apart by war and the political aspects of determining the country’s future. [MIT]
    4. Terrorism, Peace, and Other Inconsistencies: Through this course, you’ll get to examine questions related to contemporary terrorism, Al-Qaeda, and the relationship between the West and Islam. [Notre Dame]
    5. Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Is reporting on this decades long conflict unbiased? Arab affairs reporter Marda Dunsky shares her experience and reflects on the history of reporting in this lecture. [U of Chicago]
    6. Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq: Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist reporting from Iraq, shares his experiences working outside of the mainstream media in Iraq through this lecture. [U of Chicago]
    7. Who are the Leaders of the Iraqi Shi’ites?: If you’re unsure what the different groups in Islam are, why they oppose one another and just who is leading them, this lecture can shed a great deal of light on the topic for you. [Princeton]
    8. Defending Human Rights in Times of Terror: Dorit Beinisch, President of the Supreme Court of Israel, gives this lecture on how it is important to ensure that human rights are protected by the law, even when reacting against terrorism. [Princeton]


    These courses address the economics of the region, an important factor as it stands as one of the largest oil producers in the world.

    1. Economic Geography of the Industrial World: Through this course you’ll learn about the basics of economics around the world and how modern states, factories, baking and more have developed. [UC Berkeley]
    2. Energy Economics: Relevant to the oil production of the Middle East, this course will address issues of the demand for energy, energy supply, energy markets, and public policies affecting energy markets. [MIT]
    3. The Economic History of Work and Family: In many places in the Middle East, women are restricted in their activities outside of the home. What does this mean for the economics of the family unit? This course will offer you the theoretical background to answer this and other questions that can be posed about life in these regions. [MIT]
    4. Economics and World Civilizations: Learn about the economic outlook of places around the world through this introductory course. [WGU]
    5. Democracy, Governance, and War in Oil Exporting Nations: This open symposium allowed students and professors alike to address the many issues surrounding major oil producing nations like those in the Middle East. [U of Chicago]
    6. The Tyranny of Oil: Antonia Juhasz, author, policy expert, and activist, gives this talk about U.S. foreign policy with regard to oil and the power of the oil industry. [U of Chicago]
    7. The Geopolitics and Geoeconomics of Global Energy: This course examines the world’s oil producing regions with regard to foreign policy, economics and more. [MIT]

    Conflict and War

    Much of the attention focused on the Middle East in recent years has been about the conflicts and war that have affected the region. Expand your understanding of the origins and effects of these through these courses.

    1. A World in Conflict: Panel Discussion: This panel discussion focuses on the effects of September 11th. [Harvard@Home]
    2. The Roots and Causes of Terrorism in Afghanistan and the Region: Who better to learn about the Middle East from than Hamid Karzai, President of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan. Here he shares his perspectives on the conflict in the region. [Princeton]
    3. Beyond the Siege: Arab Israeli Relations at Century’s End: Israeli scholar Itamar Rabinovich shares his thoughts on the relationship between Israel and Palestine back in 2000. [Princeton]
    4. The War in Iraq: Bush’s Democracy and the Real Thing: This lecture addresses the ultimate effect of the war in Iraq and the process of establishing a new government. [Princeton]
    5. The Ethics of Nation-Building: What We Owe Iraq: Noah Feldman, New York University offers his insights into the nation building going on in Iraq in this lecture. [Princeton]
    6. What Happens After Iraq?: Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine, gives his thoughts on where America’s politics and economy will stand after the war in Iraq. [Princeton]
    7. After Iraq: What’s Ahead for America: With so much attention focused on the conflict in the Middle East, what happens when it’s actually over? This lecture addresses that and more. [Princeton]
    8. Israel: Peace and War: Here, students will get a chance to learn more about the history and present-day events in Israel, especially those involving war. [Princeton]
    9. Light at the End of the Tunnel? Costs and Benefits of Mideast Peace for the International Community: Ambassador Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Ambassador Yehuda Lancry give this thoughtful lecture on the possible reality of peace in the Middle East and what it would mean for the rest of the world. [Princeton]
    10. Misunderestimating TERRORISM, Economics and the Roots of Terrorism: Alan Krueger gives this lecture that will help students to better understanding the beginnings of terrorism and how it shouldn’t be disregarded as a powerful force. [Princeton]
    11. Ottoman Thought and Practice Concerning War: Bernard Lewis, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, shares his knowledge of the Ottoman Empire and its engagement in war and conquest through this lecture. [Princeton]


    These courses will help you learn more about some of the major languages used in the region, from reading basic Arabic script to learning how to greet someone in Turkish.

    1. Learn to Read Arabic: For most monolingual English speakers, learning to read Arabic is a bit of a challenge. This course will help you learn the basics from which direction to read to how words are put together. [Ukindia]
    2. Learn Arabic: Visitors to this site can purchase a comprehensive collection of Arabic language resources or make use of the numerous lessons, vocab lists and more offered for free. [Speak 7]
    3. Arabic Online: This helpful site aims to offer as much information and instruction as possible on the Arabic language at no cost to the user. [Arabic Online]
    4. Syrian Colloquial Arabic: Learn the basics of everyday Arabic as it is spoken in Syria through this online resource. [Syrian Arabic]
    5. Standard Classical Arabic: While more advanced resources on this site are commercial, users can take advantage of several beginner-level courses for free. [Dalilusa]
    6. Arabic Language Course: From reading to speaking, this online collection of courses is designed to help you learn the basics of Arabic. [Madinah Arabic]
    7. Easy Persian: Sometimes also known as Farsi, the Persian language is at your fingertips with the collection of lessons on this site. [EasyPersian.com]
    8. Hebrew Lessons: Learn this ancient Biblical language for free with this collection of lessons, complete with audio. [Milingua]
    9. Learn Hebrew: Download this program to get access to a huge number of free resources for improving your Hebrew. [FoundationStone]
    10. Turkish Lessons: If you’d like to learn a bit of Turkish, these courses from the U of Arizona are a great fun and free way to do so. [U of Arizona]
    11. Learn Syriac-Aramaic: Teach yourself this historic language with the games, lessons and tools provided by this site. [Learn Assyrian]

    Views from the West

    These courses will address views of the Middle East from a Western perspective, including the impact of Islamic scholarship, recent terrorist attacks and foreign policy.

    1. Depiction of Terrorism in Film and Television: Are you consciously aware of how terrorism is depicted in fictional works? This lecture asks you to think more critically about what you’re seeing and to seek out the reality behind the fiction. [U of Nottingham]
    2. Europe’s Awakening: Learn about the role Islamic scholarship and leaders had in the development of Renaissance ideas. [OpenLearn]
    3. Issues in Foreign Policy After 9/11: Through this course you’ll learn about the impact of the September, 11th bombings on U.S. foreign policy. [UC Berkeley]
    4. Building up One Empire while Tearing Down Another: Scholars, Missionaries and Spies in the Ottoman Middle East: Archaeology isn’t usually seen as a competitive sport, but this course examines the relationship between a British and Czech pair and how each strive to perpetuate imperialism. [Connexions]
    5. War and American Society: From the Civil War onward, this course will address the impact of war on the culture and experience of average Americans.[MIT]
    6. Just War: Ancient influence on Islam and on the Spanish Conquistadors: Through this lecture and other materials you’ll learn about the impact of Genesis, of Aristotle, the Stoics, Cicero and the Roman jurists on Islamic and Spanish conquests. [Gresham]
    7. After Iraq – Shall we ever intervene again?:This lecture examines the effect of British involvement in the Iraq War and the possibility of a repeat endeavor in the future. [Gresham]
    8. Great Britain and the Middle East: Professor Kathleen Burk gives this lecture that details the history of British interest in the Middle East from early excursions into Egypt to later attempts to influence the Fertile Crescent. [Gresham]
    9. Obama’s War: Why We Are Stuck in Iraq: Tom Ricks, Pentagon reporter for the Washington Post, gives his take on why America still can’t withdraw from Iraq. [Princeton]
    10. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy: Here you’ll get a chance to hear a discussion between three scholars over the relationship between Israel and the United States and its affect on foreign policy for better or worse. [Princeton]
    11. Challenges for U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Most are familiar with Hillary Rodham Clinton and here you can hear her give a lecture on some of the obstacles and challenges for the U.S. when it comes to engaging with the Middle East. [Princeton]
    12. Islam and America: Islamic Scholars Respond: After 9/11, many Americans reacted harshly towards those of the Islamic faith. Here, you’ll be able to listen to an active discussion between Islamic scholars on Islamic thought, foreign relations, and interactions with the Middle East. [Harvard@Home]


    These courses do not focus on the Middle East specifically, but address it in addition to other areas of the world providing a well-rounded education on world events.

    1. American Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future: This course covers a broad spectrum of ideas, but many of the themes will address terrorism, war in Iraq, Saddam Hussein and other issues centered on the Middle East. [MIT]
    2. Civil War: Through this course students will be asked to examine the reasons why Civil Wars take place using case studies of Iraq, Bosnia and Sudan as examples. [MIT]
    3. Great Power Military Intervention: This course deals with the military interventions of great powers like the United States and Russia during the 1990’s, including operations in Northern Iraq. [MIT]
    4. Introduction to Comparative Politics: Why do some countries become democratic and others dictatorships? This course examines the governments of areas around the world to help students better understand how to analyze political situations. [MIT]
    5. Intelligence: Practice, Problems and Prospects: Explore the potential and problems that arise with technology-based intelligence, in the Middle East and beyond, through this course. [MIT]
    6. Reading Seminar in Social Science: Intelligence and National Security: With the errors made in intelligence that led to the current war in Iraq, getting reliable information is more important than ever. This course will fill you in on what this means for national security. [MIT]
    7. Communicating Across Cultures: Whether you’re working with someone in your own office or in a workplace halfway around the world, this course will help you learn cultural sensitivity and how to better interact with those from all over. [MIT]
    8. World Regions, Peoples and States: This survey course will give students a chance to learn about the larger geographic regions of the world, including the Middle East, and the people who choose to call them home. [UC Berkeley]
    9. Global Issues in Information Technology: Those in computer-related fields can gain a better understanding of how IT may be adapted and changed depending on the values and needs of where it is being utilized. [Weber State U]
    10. The World Since 1492: This world history course will give you a great survey of events since the discovery of the New World. [MIT]
    11. World Geography: THrough this course you can learn about geography the world over or just focus on learning about the Middle East. [William Rainey Harper College]


    These courses address a wide variety of topics that are related to the Middle East, both in ancient and modern times.

    1. Babylonian Mathematics: Go back the ancient MIddle East through this course that looks at the mathematics and learning of the ancient Babylonian empire, existing in what is present day Iraq. [OpenLearn]
    2. Geographical Presentation of the Near East: If you’re unsure just what countries comprise the Middle East, this course will help fill you in on the basics. [Connexions]
    3. Travelers in the Middle East: Here you can learn more about English and European visitors to the Middle East in the 18th and 19th centuries. [Connexions]
    4. Photography and Truth: Whether you see them on billboards on in the newspaper, photographs and other visual imagery form a large part of your everyday experience. This course examines the relationship between photography and truth, something viewers often take for granted when seeing news images. [MIT]
    5. Introduction to Spanish Culture: Many people are unaware that Spain was ruled by the Moors, a North African group of Arab and Islamic descent, for hundreds of years. This course will examine the impact of their rule, knowledge and eventual expulsion from Spain. [MIT]
    6. Israeli/Palestinian conflict through eyes of a young Israeli soldier: If you’re looking for a more personalized view of the Middle East, check out this informative lecture. You’ll get a chance to see what being on the front lines of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is really like. [BBC Learning]

    5 Realms of University Rankings

    May 1st, 2009

    By Ashley Brooks

    College rankings have increasingly become a part of the decision of which school to attend.  Many books have been published based on the ranking system, and parents strive to get their child into the highest academically ranked school, whether that be Ivy League or public.  However, rankings exist in order to assist students in deciding which school would be most suited to their needs, whether they need a school that has an extensive extracurricular program or impressive academic program, or even the opposite end of the spectrum.


    The ranking of academics falls into a slew of sub categories, ranging from professor’s teaching methods, to students’ grade point averages, even to the amount of class discussion.  So keeping all this in mind, what makes a school have a higher academic rating?  Smaller private schools are found to have a higher percentage of classroom discussions, as the student to professor ratio is much smaller than public schools, which focus mostly on lectures.  Another academic ranking tool is based on the quality of the school’s library, which mostly goes once again towards private schools with heavy endowments.  In the end, on an academia scale, private schools jump ahead of public schools on many of the academic categories.


    Demographic rankings are a higher indicator of the appeal of the school to a vast spectrum of people, as well as the location.  Demographics can be calculated by the day to day interactions among students of different races, or the diversity of the student body as a whole.  This ranking system is more difficult to ascertain, as many schools work to become more diverse through many “minority” scholarships that are based on small percentiles.  However, public state schools are found to attract more foreigners and diverse student populations because of their extensive undergraduate and graduate programs.  


    Extracurricular endeavors are based mostly on the school’s outside activities, such as intramural sports.  In this specific case, mostly public schools are a part of the higher percentage of extracurricular activities do to larger programs overall.  Additionally, sports are a larger part of life in public schools, especially state schools which have outstanding programs, and therefore make it to playoff games.


    The social rankings have more to do with the town the college is situated within.  For some schools, this means a smaller, country-type of town where the university is the main pull of the social scene.  However, for larger public schools, the university is located within a thriving metropolis and the chances for more culture and entertainment are vastly greater.  Nearly every school which is ranked as a “great college town” is located within many of the top largest cities in the country. 


    Should students be interested in the reputation of a school as a “party” school, there are also rankings for this, although most of the top schools tend to be public schools, contrary to the academic and demographic standings of private schools. 

    In addition to informing students over the highest ranked schools, many ranking systems additionally tell them what’s at the opposite end of the spectrum: the school with the lowest ranked academic standing, the school which never has any parties, etc.  When debating on a university to attend, or even a graduate school to apply to, ranking systems have become a new method to ease your search and find the school with the perfect fit.


    Procrastination as a Healthy Study Method

    May 1st, 2009


    By Ashley Brooks

    It’s that time of year again, the dreaded finals season where you learn to live off of an hour of sleep a night (if that), and massive amounts of caffeine, with little interaction with the outside world.  Every college student goes through it, although depending on your schedule, some years may be easier than others.  The hours of writing paper after paper are almost a rite of passage that you have to go through in order to make that next step towards adulthood.  It’s during this particular amount of time that you realize you have about a million other things you would rather be doing, and partake in anything that will distract you from your work in front of you. 

    Everyone realizes at this point that they are all procrastinators and vie for the title of the one who procrastinates the most frequently.  While this is not a noble accomplishment, it is a welcome release from the painful hours of studying and writing that go into finals week.  If you are lucky enough to attend a university that has dead days, then there should be no complaining about a lack of time.  It is those schools that go directly to finals after the last class ends that have it the worst.  This results in a lack of time to procrastinate, since you are forced to jump directly into your first final only a weekend after your last class, sometimes earlier than that. 

    Every college student needs an ample amount of time to study for finals, wherein they have allotted time chunks to procrastinate within.  Finals simply would not be finals without the distraction of a roommate, or TV show, or articles within articles on Wikipedia.  It is during this time that you realize how handy Wikipedia truly is, and how you did not know the exact location of Tajikistan, or the 28th president of the United States.  It is also during this time that you realize you have not seen every episode of Beverly Hills 90210 in years and are subsequently forced to watch the marathon which is currently airing.  This type of marathon could never again be repeated, so of course you need to stop what you are doing to watch at least half of it!

    However, it finally gets to be that time where you need to shut every distraction out of your life for a few hours in order to fully concentrate on acing that exam.  Procrastination is just a welcome occurrence of finals week that will never be completely shaken off.  It is almost a necessity of studying; a tool that encourages increased concentration later.  Most students have found that with this momentary distraction from studying, they can be encouraged to truly put forth the effort; the only problem is to determine the limitations between too much procrastination and a healthy amount. 


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