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Viewing: NELC 111 O: Mid East Water in Hist

Last approved: Mon, 25 Feb 2019 21:16:42 GMT

Last edit: Mon, 25 Feb 2019 15:01:51 GMT

First Name Last Name Userid Title Home School Org Short Name
Emily Hammer ehammer ASST PROFESSOR A School of Arts and Sciences Near Eastern Languages and Culture
Fall 2019 (Deactivations ONLY)
Spring 2019
Mid East Water in Hist
The role of water in the Middle East cannot be overstated. The Middle East is an arid region, but human and natural systems have interacted to determine relative water scarcity and abundance at different times and places. The location, accessibility, yield, and quality of natural and managed water resources significantly influenced the location and longevity of ancient and modern settlements. Control of water has always affected the economic, political, social life of the communities inhabiting these settlements. This course examines the distribution of water resources throughout the Middle East and the archaeology and anthropology of water exploitation and management over the last 9000 years. It will consider water in river valleys, deserts, highland zones, steppes, and coastal areas of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant, and Arabia from environmental, political, social, cultural, and technical perspectives. We will engage with a variety of media, including academic readings, popular journalism, films, satellite imagery, and digital maps. We will examine irrigation, water supply, sanitation, and water-driven power systems known from ethnographic studies and archaeological excavations. These data will allow us to engage with debates in Middle Eastern anthropology, including those concerning the relationship between water and political power, the environment in which the earliest cities arose, and present and potential future water crises and "water wars." In our final weeks, we will discuss archaeology and historical anthropology's contribution to conceptions of water "sustainability" and examine attempts to revive traditional and ancient technologies in an effort to better manage modern water resources.
ANTH 110 - Water in the Middle East Throughout History

Sector Requirements

Your department or program fields a variety of courses to meet distinct educational needs. Please explain how this course fits into your department's plan for participating in the general education curriculum of the College. The sector panel will want to know what is distinctive about this course along with the other courses your department lists in the sector that makes them suitable for the sector requirement.
This course is a unique, broad perspective, multidisciplinary course that introduces students to evolving methodologies in the study of water in the Middle East from ancient through modern periods. It provides perspective on the long term impacts of the technological and social choices that have structured water use and management. The topic is one that enhances NELCs course offerings in the Humanities and Social Sciences sector (IV), and fits well with the priorities of that sector by examining the interwoven relationships of cultural, social, economic and environmental factors through time. It will enhance NELCs contribution to the Sector IV of the General Requirement through a topic that should appeal to many students beyond those interested in more standard approaches to cultural and social history.
Course not offered every year
Humanities & Social Science Sector
Emily Hammer
Standing Faculty
Standing Faculty
NELC is an interdisciplinary area studies department, and the “Water in the Middle East Throughout History” course reflects this by incorporating content and methodologies from anthropology, archaeology, political science, environmental studies, geography, history, and other fields. The thematic perspective of the course encourages students to see how data drawn from various disciplines can be integrated to provide a fuller understanding of the Middle East in the past and present. There are no pre-requisites for the course. The content and methodologies that students encounter in the course will provide important background regardless of whether they pursue modern Middle Eastern studies, language/literature, history, or archaeology tracks within the major.

Please note: The course description shown in curriculum manager is an old one; the current description is included in the attached syllabus. I have taught this course at Penn in Fall 2017 and Fall 2018 and intend to keep offering it every Fall semester. I submitted the course to be sectored in January 2018, but the committee did not process my application by the end of Spring 2018, and the College Office listed it as a freshman seminar instead. I really hope that the committee will have the time to review my application in Spring 2019. I have submitted the course to the Curriculum Committee at the same time as I am making this application; I am new to Penn and did not know this step should be taken.
Water scarcity is one of most important problems—if not the biggest problem—facing much of the Middle East and North Africa today. However, water scarcity is not merely a product of the arid climate that prevails in large parts of the region; it is equally (if not more) a product of policy decisions by modern nation-states and international aid programs as well as changes to “traditional” technologies and social modes of organizing water management. The course provides the students with a nuanced understanding of water issues in these geopolitically important regions and their historical roots, including: how and why water problems arise from technological and sociopolitical standpoints; how water control has shaped modern and historical social and political events; and how current water use is continuous/discontinuous in various ways with water management practices of historical and ancient societies of the region, many of which survived “sustainably” for thousands of years.

The core intellectual skills developed in this course are 1) the ability to synthesize evidence generated by multiple disciplines and methodologies in order to forge an understanding of the complex interaction between society, technology and the environment and 2) the ability to use digital mapping tools to represent Middle Eastern geopolitics as well as historical changes in the natural and constructed environment.

Throughout the course, paired discussions of modern communities, ethnographically-documented 20th century communities, and archaeologically-documented ancient communities provide an opportunity to reflect on water technology and sociopolitical organization related to water through time. These paired discussions allow students to assess the extent to which modern technologies and practices represent a “break” with the past. This historical lens also provides an opportunity to reflect, beyond the Middle East, on whether or not the past provides useful lessons for the present and future, and how our understanding of the concept of “sustainability” shifts depending on the time scale of our information.

In addition to the core anthropological, historical, and archaeological readings for the course, satellite imagery analysis is another important source of empirical information on water availability and water management technology in the modern and pre-modern Middle East. Students gain basic skills in visual interpretation of satellite imagery throughout the semester. Through digital mapping assignments using satellite imagery, the course aims to make students familiar with the environmental characteristics and political landscape of the Middle East region. These digital mapping assignments also help students to visualize environmental and social aspects of water problems and technology described in the readings.

Methods of Assessment

1-6-8 paged paper
One comprehensive final with term/concept identifications, essay questions, and a map exam.
Annotated digital map of sites, regions, and environmental features discussed during the course (made with Google Earth). Final presentation to class in groups (10-15 minutes). Participation in class.

Sector I - Society


Sector II - History and Tradition


Sector III - Arts & Letters


Sector IV - Humanities and Social Science

Throughout the course, students read anthropological, historical, and archaeological studies concerning the role of water in Middle Eastern societies through time, some of which are more theoretical and others of which are more empirical. The satellite imagery/digital mapping exercises help students to think practically about the environmental and social effects of various water management systems. Just as engineers have begun turning to nature for lessons in designing stronger and better materials, students in the course will learn the value of turning to ancient and historical civilizations for technological and organizational lessons about how to manage our use of a vital but increasingly scarce resource.
“Sustainability” is a theoretically complex idea that is frequently employed in an uncritical and unspecific way in public and official debates regarding the management of scarce natural resources. By looking at changes in water use and changes in the social contexts that sustain particular technologies and attitudes towards water over long time periods, students in the course develop a critical definition of “water sustainability” and how the temporal and spatial scale of investigation, as well as cultural priorities, can change our understanding of what we might consider “sustainable water use.” Archaeology and historical anthropology are the only disciplines capable of providing information on long-term sustainability at the temporal scale of centuries and millennia, and the course devotes considerable time to thinking about the relevance of data provided by these disciplines for present and future water problems.
Students integrate arguments and evidence from anthropology, history, and archaeology through paired readings that address past and present technologies of water management and sociopolitical organization of water use in particular areas of the Middle East. They also integrate a geographic understanding of environmental changes through their examination of satellite imagery and digital mapping exercises. For example, in the “Marshes” section of the course, students read ethnographies and watch documentary films discussing culture, ways of life, and forms of water management within mid-20th century Marsh Arab communities in southern Iraq. We then discuss attitudes of the modern Iraqi state towards these same marshes. In particular, we discuss why and how Saddam Hussein drained these marshes in the 1990s and the environmental, agricultural, and cultural effects of this decision. We also read analyses and watch films explaining why these marshes were already drying up before Saddam, due to huge hydroelectric dams built upstream by Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Finally, we take a look at the environmental and economic archaeology of the earliest cities in southern Iraq, which are now believed to have developed within and at the edge of ancient marshes that extended much further northwest than they do today because of dramatically different sea levels, rather than in an irrigated desert. At each stage of this anthropological, historical, and archaeological discussion, students examine historical and recent satellite imagery to make direct observations about changes in the marsh environment through the last several decades with the construction of massive water management features, and they look at clues that modern satellite images give about the ancient environment of this same area. Throughout this unit, students draw on diverse data sources to compare and contrast technologies and lifeways in the Iraqi marshes, as well as attitudes towards marsh environments, through time.

Sector V - Living World


Sector VI - Physical World


Sector VII - Natural Sciences and Mathematics


Administrative Field

College Humanities and Social Science Panel
Josef Wegner (jwegner) (Wed, 23 Jan 2019 15:56:28 GMT): Rollback: Additional edits requested by E. Hammer
Molly Mcglone (mmcglone) (Wed, 23 Jan 2019 21:44:42 GMT): Rollback: Joe- we need "endorser justification" filled out by you. You have to actually "edit" the course to do so. The committee will want to know why this course and not others in your department or what this course does that is unique compared to others you could have supported.
Stephanie Jones (stephanr) (Mon, 25 Feb 2019 15:01:51 GMT): Approved with enthusiasm - very well developed, interdisciplinary in nature.
Key: 556