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The Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, a partnership between the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the Duke University Middle East Studies Center, hosted a five-day, virtual seminar for K-12 teachers across the country from August 3-7. The seminar, “Diversities of the Middle East,” was funded by a Title VI grant from the United States Department of Education. This professional development program introduced teachers to the region, countering reductive narratives about the Middle East and North Africa.  

Including both synchronous and asynchronous sessions, the program highlighted the religious, geographic, ethnolinguistic, economic and cultural diversity found across the Middle East and North Africa. “I was looking to find a conference to learn more about the Middle East as part of an effort to make my courses less Eurocentric,” shared a world history teacher from Pennsylvania. “Each session that I attended related very well with topics that I cover in my courses.” 

The seminar featured a variety of digital teaching and learning tools, ranging from audio-visual materials to the use of Zoom breakout rooms. “Though the pandemic has caused much uncertainty and loss, it has also inspired new kinds of programming that have broader geographic scope,” stated Emma Harver, director of outreach for the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies. More than one hundred educators from across the country participated in the seminar throughout the week. 

The seminar was designed to allow teachers flexibility based on their schedules and interests. Registrants selected from a wide range of sessions. Synchronous sessions included presentations such as “Using Non-traditional Media to Teach about the Middle East” by Rustin Zarkar, librarian for Middle East and Islamic studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, and “Minorities in the Middle East” by Sarah Shields, professor and director of graduate studies in the UNC Department of History.  

Asynchronous sessions included engagement with selected poems from the Middle East and North Africa region and a screening of Wadjda, the first feature length film created by a female Saudi director, filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia. The seminar concluded with a synchronous discussion that featured director of WadjdaHaifaa al-Mansourand was moderated by Miriam Cook, professor emerita of Arab cultures at Duke University.  

A high school teacher from New York City reflected that the week’s presentations and seminars offered “a variety of learning experiences and provided useful information and resources to take back into my classroom as well as for my own learning.”  

This semester, the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East aims to connect teachers with relevant, digital resources and professional learning on the region in response to teachers’ needs caused by the pandemic. This includes the launch of an online course, the Modern Middle East, for teachers and the coordination of a virtual exchange program between teachers in the United States and in the Middle East and North Africa. For additional information on programming, please visit the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies website. 


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