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Middle East scholar Slyomovics named to new women's studies chair

Susan Slyomovics, a noted scholar of the Middle East, has joined the anthropology program in the School of Humanities and Social Science (SHSS) as the first holder of the Genevieve McMillan-Reba Stewart Chair in the Study of Women in the Developing World.

Dr. Slyomovics, previously a professor at Brown University, has published widely in gender studies, performance studies and anthropology. In addition to numerous articles and translations of Arabic poetry, she is the author of The Merchant of Art: An Egyptian Hilali Oral Epic Poet in Performance (University of California Press, 1988). Another book, The Object of Memory: Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village (University of Pennsylvania Press) will appear in June. She is presently editing a volume of essays entitled Gender and Transformation in the Middle East and is conducting research on the anthropology and literature of political prisoners in North Africa.

"I have a great opportunity to make what I care about a part of the humanities and social science project at MIT," said Professor Slyomovics. "I look forward to teaching gender studies in the Middle East and North Africa and to bringing feminist scholars on the Middle East here to participate."

In 1998-99, she will teach courses in storytelling; photography and truth (with the Comparative Media Studies program); and the anthropology of the Middle East. She will spend part of this summer in the Middle East, including a return visit to the Palestinian village where she did her field work for The Object of Memory. Professor Slyomovics is sharing royalties from the book with the people she wrote about.

Originally from Montreal, Professor Slyomovics received the BA in philosophy from Barnard College in 1970, the MA in philosophy and Judaic studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1977, and the PhD in Near Eastern studies and folklore from the University of California at Berkeley in 1985. She has also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the American University in Cairo. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards including a Guggenheim Foundation Grant in 1995-96.

"Susan Slyomovics has an extraordinary scholarly range that spans North Africa and the Middle East and a significant international reputation," said Philip S. Khoury, SHSS dean and a professor of Middle Eastern history. "She is a truly interdisciplinary humanist with deep interests in comparative literature, performance studies, anthropology and gender studies. She brings new distinction to women's studies and Middle Eastern studies at MIT."

The McMillan-Stewart chair is the first of its kind in the United States devoted to the study of women in the Middle East and North Africa. Women's issues are of special interest to Genevieve McMillan, a Cambridge intellectual, businesswoman, art patron, and philanthropist who established the chair. She named the chair in honor of her friend, Reba Stewart, a young American painter who died while practicing her art in Africa.

"Genevieve McMillan has a profound understanding of the problems facing women in the developing world and the importance of focusing rigorous scholarly attention on women in the Middle East and North Africa," Dean Khoury said. Her gift to MIT includes resources to establish a new lecture series on women in the developing world at the Graduate Consortium of Women's Studies at Radcliffe College, of which MIT is a founding member. That series is to begin under the direction of Professor Slyomovics.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 13, 1998.

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