Interdisciplinary, and committed to the undergraduate experience

About Us

In its coverage of the full sweep of Near Eastern/Middle Eastern literature and history, its interdisciplinary and comparative research, and its commitment to the undergraduate experience, the department is unique among its peers.

About the department

Arts Quad in winter


The department was founded by Isaac Rabinowitz, a professor of Biblical literature and an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, in 1965 as the Department of Semitic Languages and Literatures (now Near Eastern Studies). The department has grown enormously in recent decades, thanks to institutional and alumni support.

The department offers undergraduates and graduate students the opportunity to study the languages, literatures, cultures, religions and Near Eastern history from ancient Sumer to the modern Middle East; and educates students and the wider academic community in cross-cultural, trans-historical and inter-religious understanding. The department enrolls over 1000 students each semester, mentoring over 20 majors, and operates a small and dynamic graduate program.

The Near East is an older term for the Middle East. As defined by the department, the “Near East” extends from Morocco (and medieval Spain), through Egypt, the Levant (Israel and Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan), Turkey, Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA).

White Hall exterior in Autumn

White Hall

The department is located in White Hall on Cornell's Ithaca campus. Originally known as North University until 1883 when it was renamed, White Hall was constructed in 1866 and in style, external finish, and appearance is a duplicate of Morrill Hall. White Hall, located on the Arts Quadrangle and part of "Stone Row" (Morrill, McGraw and White Hall), was the second structure to be built on campus and is constructed of Ithaca stone. The interior of White Hall was renovated in 2003, while the exterior remains the same as when it was originally constructed. 

Cuneiform tablet

Faculty statement on cuneiform tablet repatriation:

In July 2021, Cornell officials worked with the Ambassador from the Republic of Iraq to transfer a collection of over 5,000 cuneiform tablets back to their country of origin. These tablets were the subject of conservation and research at Cornell since 1999. The faculty in the Department of Near Eastern Studies welcome this decision, as we stand against the illicit trafficking of cultural property and support the return of cultural artifacts to their home countries.

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Aerial view of the Cornell Arts Quad

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We send out e-newsletters semimonthly during the academic school year. 

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Arts Quad in Fall

Give to the department

Your support enables the department to enhance the experience for undergraduate and graduate students and contribute to faculty excellence. Gifts can help fund lectures and conferences, faculty and student research, distinguished speakers, and other department priorities. We will greatly appreciate and immediately put into use any gift, no matter the amount.

Give to Near Eastern Studies

We place gifts made to this fund into an endowment account where they are invested in perpetuity. Income from the endowment is provided each year to the department for priorities.

NES across campus

Students cross Ho Plaza between classes.

Affiliated programs at Cornell

We are connected through joint faculty members, cross-listed courses and collaborative events and projects to programs and departments across the college like: archaeology (CIAMS), classics, history, history of art & visual studies, Jewish studies, medieval studies, music, performing & media arts, and religious studies.

Students laying on a blanket enjoying the sunshine

Student Organizations

Cornell has a wonderfully varied number of student organizations, many of which relate to the Near/Middle East like the Arab Student Association or the Persian Students Organization.

See all student groups on campus.

Cornell student groups looking for department support for academic events should fill out a co-sponsorship request form