About the Site
The Arab Culture and Civilization website was originally sponsored by the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE) as a collaborative effort between many scholars, technologists, and institutions, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. When funding was no longer available, the site was mothballed and no new content has been added to the site since 2007.
The Middle East Policy Council has agreed to assume management of the Arab Culture and Civilization site and to keep the excellent resources it contains available to the extent that copyright permissions for the material can be obtained. The site will remain in its current format for the near future, while, at the same time, much of it will be migrated into an updated format on MEPC's K-12 educational website, TeachMideast.org.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States the NITLE leadership, recognizing that Americans tend to know little about the region and culture from which the attacks emerged, sought to identify and assist in the creation of learning resources for our liberal arts campuses. Reflecting on the distributed nature of Arab, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies among the NITLE member colleges and universities, we also determined to facilitate a collaborative effort across campuses and disciplines that would expand and coordinate learning opportunities in this area.
In the fall of 2001, NITLE commenced two simultaneous projects, destined to intersect. First, we planned a seminar in July 2002, to bring together faculty from liberal arts colleges across the United States. This group's purpose was to assess curricular needs for Arab and Islamic cultural studies in NITLE member schools and lay a foundation for the development of inter-institutional learning experiences and the creation of learning objects. This seminar led to the creation of Al-Musharaka (the collaborative) -- a loosely structured, interdisciplinary group of faculty, technologists and librarians from NITLE colleges who determined to work together to develop various forms of inter-institutional collaboration in teaching and in facilitating access to multimedia materials of high quality. A group of librarians met in the spring of 2003 to organize a collective effort to develop resource guides on Arab and Islamic culture, and a second Al-Musharaka seminar for faculty took place in July of 2003, resulting in plans for a trio of inter-institutional courses to be offered in 2004.
As plans for Al-Musharaka were unfolding, NITLE contacted scholars in Arab studies to help create a Web-based learning resource. We organized a design team including several scholars, a group of advisors, new media designers, instructional technologists, and experts in computer-mediated collaboration. Members of this team designed a framework for the organization and delivery of materials online; selected texts, images, and films; sought permissions from IP holders to digitize and use their work online; produced audio and video interviews with scholars; and assembled these diverse materials into a multimedia mosaic. This site was launched in the fall of 2002, and has continued to grow with frequent additions of new material. It serves as a resource not only for the NITLE liberal arts colleges, but for teachers and learners at a wide variety of colleges and universities around the world.
One of our earliest decisions in the development of this project was to open the site to the public, to facilitate a constructive understanding of the cultural context within which events of vital importance to all of us are unfolding. We expect that people may want to use this site in a variety of ways. Interested learners can interact with the materials at varying levels and to varying degrees of intensity, at their own pace, depending on their interests. We also hope that teachers will feel free to build these materials into their curricula to whatever extent seems useful.
About the scope of this site:
This site focuses on the culture and civilization of the Arab World. Of course, in such an endeavor, it is important for us to define precisely what we mean by the Arab World. There are 22 countries recognized by the League of Arab States, but we have not dealt with some of those, except in passing. Although the scope of some of our resources is broader, the bulk of the material focuses on the inhabitants those countries in which Arabic is clearly the everyday language of a majority of population, and on the Arab American community in the United States. We recognize that this focus is not without problems, however, and encourage those visitors who want to find out more to explore the unit on 'Ethnicity and Identity', in which the issue of defining who the Arabs are is discussed in some detail, as are minority communities within the region and, to a lesser degree, the influence of Arabs beyond the region itself.
Having said that, however, it should also be noted that most of the textual materials in this site are selected from existing sources of varied scope. Some of the readings focus more broadly on the Islamic World as a whole, while others focus regionally on just the Middle East or North Africa. Thus you will find texts such as the readings from Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East, that define the term Middle East very broadly, indeed, including central European republics, and Southeast Asia, whereas others are limited to a more traditional definition, that generally includes the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and sometimes the Sudan and Turkey. While North Africa is sometimes included when academics refer to the Middle East, scholars are equally likely to refer to "The Middle East and North Africa" (MENA). Where this is an issue, it will be indicated in the introductions to the readings. All of the materials in this site are relevant to the Arab World or some portion of it, but they may not be limited to the region.
It should also be noted that the focus of the site is on culture and civilization, as the title indicates. It is not our objective to assess U.S. (or any other country's) policies with respect to the region, or to engage in a debate on such topics. Furthermore, issues such as economics, demographics, and resource management are only discussed in so far as is necessary to understand their impact on culture. Our goal in this effort is to make a small contribution toward building bridges of understanding across the gap between civilizations, a gap that many feel only exists because certain interests on each side of it seem so intent on making it wider and deeper.
We hope that this web site will be a small initial contribution to a project that may take on a much wider scope as it progresses. It is intended to be a base to build on, even as refinements are being made to the foundation itself. Assembling the resources herein has been a collaborative effort, and we are excited by the potential expansion of that collaboration, as well as the new directions it may take.
How to use this site:
The site contains a basic set of resources that can be used by independent learners as an overall introduction to various aspects of Arab Culture (see the Main Menu for a list), or by teachers and students to constitute or supplement materials for a course. Each unit in the course contains a set of readings - texts that we have been able to bring to the site for public access. These have been selected from some of the best print resources available, but they are far from comprehensive. Those looking for additional resources are invited to consult the bibliographies for each unit, as well as the links list to other internet resources.
Each unit also contains an audio/video section, in which you will find extended interviews with and presentations by prominent scholars and cultural and community leaders. These interviews are all new material developed exclusively for this project. In addition, you will find video clips that have been taken from some of the most important films in Arab Cinema, excerpts from award winning documentaries, samples of Arabic music and even music videos of contemporary popular songs, a series of readings by Arab American poets, and several other interesting items.
In some units you will find galleries of relevant images to enhance your understanding of the texts, such as galleries of Arab architecture and calligraphy. You will also find lists of links and bibliographies that will be of assistance if you wish to go into more detail on topics introduced in this project. Particular units also have special features, such as the timeline in the history unit or the maps in the geography unit.
You can navigate your way through all the components of a unit by using the menu bar at the top of each page, or through all the resources of a particular type by using the menus on the left hand side. But the best way to approach this site is to simply jump in and explore - so ahlan wa sahlan wa marhaba, welcome!
Just as the Arab World is diverse, richly textured and constantly changing, so we hope this site will grow in scope and depth, as new scholarship leads to greater understanding.
About the technology:
In keeping with NITLE's commitment to open standards, this site was designed and built to be accessible across the widest possible range of browsers and operating systems. The site is compliant with the World Wide Web consortium's XHTML 1.0 standard, a set of guidelines designed to insure interoperability, and has been tested to work with Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Mozilla on Windows, Macintosh and Unix platforms.
The site itself was built using open source tools and technologies. All of the site content is stored in a MySQL relational database, and served to the web using the Apache web server and the PHP web scripting language. The readings and articles shown on the site are stored as XML ( extensible markup language ), and encoded as UTF-8 ( a variant of Unicode ). The site is maintained using the CVS revision control system, and a small suite of Perl programs helps automate site administration.
This website lives on a PC server running a version of RedHat Linux.