New Director Announced at University of Pennsylvania Middle East Center

By Will Becker

Last month, the University of Pennsylvania recently announced its newest director, Dr. Harun Küçük, a current Associate Professor in the Department of History and Social Science.  

Dr. Küçük is a historian of early modern Ottoman science, whose ground-breaking scholarship draws on a wide range of sources and registers, from the Ottoman medical marketplace to minting practices, and from natural philosophy to gunpowder recipes. 

His fascinating 2019 book, Science without Leisure: Practical Naturalism in Istanbul, 1660-1732, outlined the process of professionalization and bureaucratization of science in the early modern Ottoman Empire, exploring the relationship between monetary inflation and natural knowledge. He is currently working on a book about the long-term relationship between science and monetary capital. 

He is also part of the ERC-funded project “Geographies and Histories of the Ottoman Supernatural Tradition Exploring Magic, the Marvelous, and the Strange in Ottoman Mentalities.” Together with Oscar Aguirre-Mandujano, he is co-editing a primary source reader on Ottoman science.

Originally developed in 1966 as the Near East Center, its goal was to "examine both individually and regionally the linguistic, historical, political, and socio-economic conditions of the Arab countries and Israel, Turkey, and Iran,” a mission that continues to this day. Prior to this, UPenn was the first university in the United States to offer Arabic language instruction, as early as 1788. By the early 1980s, it was the premier institution for contemporary, as well as ancient and medieval, studies of the Middle East. 

In recent years, the Center has expanded even further its roster of academic programs, public events, and educational resources.  Professor Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet served as Director from 2006 to 2019 and was the first woman to serve in the position. Under her leadership, the Center substantially increased engagement with its existing programs and established new ones focused on often overlooked subjects in Middle East Studies. Those include panels on Islamic health practices to workshops on less commonly taught languages, to essay and photography contests for undergraduates -- and, perhaps most importantly, the creation of a now-thriving major and minor in Modern Middle East Studies. 

The Center continues to maintain its status as a meeting point for national scholarships by sponsoring lectures and panels by leading intellectuals, authors, and political figures, as well as academic conferences.