ABOUT OUR DEPARTMENT
Who We Are
MELC at Berkeley was founded in 1894, only two years after NELC at the University of Chicago. Our department, despite being far smaller than NELC at the University of Chicago, rivals Chicago in the range of fields and languages taught. Here in MELC we teach or have taught an impressive range of languages used in the Middle Eastern region from antiquity to modern times: Ancient—Ancient Egyptian (hieroglyphic, hieratic, demotic texts), Akkadian, Sumerian, Urartian, Old and Middle Persian, Hittite, Eblaite, Ugaritic (all cuneiform texts), Biblical Aramaic, extra-biblical Aramaic and Syriac, Biblical Hebrew, inscriptional Hebrew, Moabite/Phoenician/Ammonite. Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Modern dialects--Modern Egyptian Colloquial, Levantine Arabic, modern Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish.
We have traditionally organized our department around three “pillars”: Ancient Studies, Hebrew Studies, and Islamicate Studies. The languages and cultures that form the central focus for the research and teaching of the MELC faculty are many and various, but in certain methodological and thematic respects we cohere around a number of research areas worth noting as something of an intellectual signature for the MELC faculty. These are intellectual history/history of knowledge and the literatures of the modern Middle East (Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian). Among the modern literature faculty there is also a shared interest in the interrelationship between Hebrew and Arabic literature and how themes resonate between them. The comparative study of Hebrew and Arabic literature is a signature feature of MELC Berkeley.
The MELC faculty deal primarily in textual evidence, be it historical, literary, or philosophical, but also in material evidence. All our faculty share something of a core value, the methods of philology and close reading/analysis. This is perhaps not surprising as our unit concerns itself with classical languages. Although standard definitions would count only Arabic and Hebrew as classical languages, Akkadian, Sumerian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian should also qualify as classical languages for the mere fact of having “classical” literatures, and “classical grammars.” These languages are therefore classical with respect to the histories of their own cultures, not, obviously, in terms of Euro-American culture. Philology was long associated with the classical languages of Greek and Latin, but is now more inclusive of other languages, especially those whose place in scholarship involves knowledge of paleography, orthography, papyrology, epigraphy, and text editing and commentary, such as the cuneiform languages and ancient Egyptian languages. Common to philological concerns, however, including those of Classical Studies in Greco-Roman antiquity, are textual criticism and interpretation, which is why so many of our faculty identify as philologists.
Our concern for languages, literatures, and histories of the Middle East, ancient and modern, is what gives our unit coherence and distinction among other units of the University also interested in the Middle Eastern region.