AMES and AMELL to restructure and refocus

by Autumn Dinh | 2/8/18 7:22pm

Coming July 1, the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies program and the Asian and Middle Eastern Language and Literature department will be restructured into two separate programs: the Asian Societies, Cultures and Languages program and the Middle Eastern Studies program.

According to Dennis Washburn, the former AMES chair and an Asian studies, comparative literature and film and media professor, the restructure is a response to governance issues within AMES and AMELL, as the new programs will be able to appoint more of their own professors rather than relying on those from other departments to teach their courses. In the past, because AMES was interdisciplinary, many professors who taught the courses belonged to different departments. The new programs will be able to hire more professors directly, he said.

The fact that there are enough faculty to launch an independent MES program is an opportunity for the restructure, Washburn said. This restructure will help MES focus more on social sciences and ASCL focus more on South and Southeast Asia, he added.

Art history professor Allen Hockley, the current chair of AMES, said that as the new ASCL program comes into function, it will start making more requests to the deans to hire more faculty whose expertise is in South and Southeast Asia.

Both Hockley and Washburn said that one way of expanding the focus of the ASCL program to South and Southeast Asia is to expand the number of study abroad programs. Hockley said that instead of fixing foreign studies program to one country, ASCL will consider creating cross-national programs.

Washburn said that the new ASCL program will give students more opportunities to explore more complex aspects of Asian studies, such as Asia as a concept and critical race studies.

“The new program will help us think of Asia not just as Asia, but as a global phenomenon,” he said.

According to Washburn, the requirements for the new ASCL major are at least two second-year level language courses; ASCL 1, “Thinking Through Asia”; two intermediate courses focusing on national, social or linguistic traditions and transnational studies; three elective courses; and a seminar. He added that on students’ transcripts, the major will appear as ASCL along with the student’s concentration.

Hockley said that ASCL will focus more on interdisciplinary studies while keeping a balance with disciplinary studies. He said that while the current practice of interdisciplinary studies is to take different courses in different fields, the new ASCL program will use the co-teaching model with multiple professors teaching one class. Hockley said that he will co-teach the “Introduction to China” course with a literature professor next term.

“That way, we can help students see how both art history and literature form the current urban environment in one course,” he said.

Washburn said that the new ASCL program will help students look at Asia as a whole picture.

“I’d like to look at it as Asian diaspora studies,” he said. “Asia is very complex — it’s all interconnected. I’m pretty confident that the new program will work.”

AMELL chair and Asian and Middle Eastern languages and literatures professor Jonathan Smolin said that the new MES program will offer new social science courses starting next year. He added that the program is thinking of expanding the language study abroad and foreign study programs offered for students, but the College’s small size and security concerns in the Middle East currently limit those plans.

The restructuring of AMES and AMELL into ASCL and MES are important opportunities to further students’ academic experience at Dartmouth, Smolin said.

“We believe fundamentally that this is not just improving the cover of Middle Eastern studies at Dartmouth, but that we are enriching the educational landscape for students,” he said.

Both the ASCL and MES programs will make sure that students will have a smooth transition to the new majors and minors, Smolin said.

“We will be very flexible with students who are already in the system,” he said. “All the courses they have taken in the old majors and minors will still be counted in the new programs.”

Mary Clemens-Sewall ’20, who is taking Arabic and will declare the new MES minor, and Alex Kim ’19, an AMELL major, said that they were concerned that the new programs will shift the focus away from the language program.

“I’ll be quite apprehensive if I have to take other courses for my major,” Kim said.

Clemens-Sewall said that she believes the restructure will have a negative impact on literature professors, as she believes they will subsequently work more with the social sciences instead of in a literature department. In a Feb. 10 email statement, Smolin wrote that "the new MES program will not be a social sciences department."

Smolin says this restructuring will provide more flexibility.

“In the old program, students minoring or majoring in AMELL are forced to take literature and language courses,” he said. “In the new programs, the students can either focus on just language and literature or take other social sciences courses as well. There will be more options.”

Kim said he thought that the two programs are “heading to the right direction.” Clemens-Sewall said that even though she understands the reasoning behind the restructuring, she is frustrated that her minor will appear as Middle Eastern Studies instead of Arabic. In the later email statement, Smolin also wrote that under the current program, there are not specific Arabic major or minors, but rather AMELL majors and minors with focuses in Arabic or other languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew.

“I’m disappointed with the inherent association with the idea of studying the Middle East, like Orientalism,” Clemens-Sewall said.

Correction Appended (Feb. 12, 2018): 

The Feb. 8 article "AMES and AMELL to restructure and refocus" has been updated to reflect that the two new entities — Middle Eastern Studies and Asian Societies, Cultures and Languages — are programs, not departments, and that the proper title of the ASCL program contains plural noun forms. The article has also been corrected to reflect that only AMES is interdisciplinary, not AMELL, and to correct Smolin's title as well as add clarifying information from a later email statement. A reference to MES focusing on "social studies" was corrected to "social sciences" and a reference to language study abroad programs was clarified to indicate that only the study abroad programs were considered for expansion and not the the language programs themselves.