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The College of Arts Sciences
View of Middle East from space

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.

In this section

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Established during the mid-1960s as a small language and literature department with a focus on “Semitic 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.

Marble engraving of Nimrod

Ancient Near East Studies

Faculty specializing in the earliest millennia of the region’s history bring a range of disciplines, methods and theoretical orientations to bear on the study of what is conventionally called the ancient Near East. Geographically, our vision is wide, extending from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the lowlands of Mesopotamia, from the highlands of Anatolia and the Caucasus to the plains of southwestern Iran. Areas of shared interest among our faculty include an abiding commitment to studying past social worlds, from the lived experience of communities and how they came to cohere (be they religious, political, scribal, economic, etc.), to the overarching structures and institutions that ordered ancient societies. We are linked by a concern for the technologies and materialities that shaped the ancient Near East, from the craft of writing and the scribal arts to ceramics, sailing ships and soundscapes. Our shared perspective on the region is also attuned to the different uses of the past, both in the past and the present, and the ways in which tangible and intangible heritage has for millennia been put in the service of the region’s social and political projects. As archaeologists, philologists and experts in ancient religious texts, we share an interest in exploring the opportunities for meaningful interdisciplinary engagement – within and beyond the humanities – that the rich material and written records of this important world region provide.


In my opinion, the NES major combines all of the best aspects of a liberal arts education, giving students the opportunity to study literature, cultures, languages, history and many other fields.

— Elena Wicker, Class of 2016