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The Columbia University Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (also known as "MESAAS") is a leading center for the study of the politics, history, culture, societies and languages of the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. With more than forty faculty members, core and adjunct, MESAAS houses a large number of world-renowned scholars, some of whom have had important contributions as public intellectuals in addition to their scholarly productions.
Columbia University, founded in 1754, appointed its first Professor of Oriental Languages in 1784. In the later nineteenth-century the study of Hebrew, Sanskrit, and other Oriental languages became part of the graduate program. By 1890, Oriental Languages became one of the six departments in the Faculty of Philosophy. In 1891 a chair of Indo-Iranian Languages was established. A. V. Williams Jackson, a Columbia Ph.D., was appointed to the chair in 1895. "The scholars of Indo-Iranian philology subsequently broke away to join the anthropologist Franz Boas in the new Department of General and Comparative Linguistics. Oriental Languages, under the leadership of Richard Gottheil, narrowed its name to the Department of Semitic Languages. Gottheil trained several scholars who went on to organize and lead other departments, including William Popper (later chair of the Department of Near East Languages at Berkeley) and Philip Hitti (founder of the Near Eastern Studies program at Princeton)."
In the mid 1960s the department expanded to include scholars from the departments of history and international affairs. "Reflecting the expansion into modern history and politics, the name was revised once more, in 1965, from Near and Middle East Languages, to Middle East Languages and Cultures, or MELAC." In 1992 the name of the department was changed to Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures. "Using the term Asian rather than South Asian made the name scarcely more accurate, but ensured that the department’s new acronym, MEALAC, sounded the same as its previous one." "In 2005, the Department began the most rapid expansion in its history, recruiting a number of faculty in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and in 2007 it extended its geographical and intellectual scope to include African studies. After doubling in size over the previous decade, the department had outgrown its home in Kent Hall and in 2009 moved to new offices in Knox Hall. To coincide with the move and the expanded focus, the faculty decided to change the department’s name to MESAAS, the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies."
The graduate program offers both Ph.D. and M.A. degrees.
Ph.D. students are required to train in three languages in addition to English, including two MESAAS languages,\
- Partha Chatterjee is a professor in MESAAS and Anthropology, specializing in political theory, history, postcolonial studies, and nationalism.
- Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature specializing in history of Iran, Islamic Studies, Shi'ism, aesthetics and cultural and literary theory.
- Souleymane Bachir Diagne is a Professor of African Literature and Philosophy, affiliated with the Institute of African Studies (IAS) and head of the School of International and Public Affairs' African Studies Program. His work is focused on the history of logic and mathematics, epistemology, the tradition of philosophy in the Islamic world, identity formation, and African literatures and philosophies.
- Mamadou Diouf is a professor of Western African history and director of the Institute of African Studies at School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.
- Wael Hallaq is the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities. He specializes in Islamic law and Islamic intellectual history.
- Sudipta Kaviraj specializes in intellectual history and South Asian politics.
- Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. He also serves as the director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.
- Mahmood Mamdani is the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government in MESAAS, International Affairs, and Anthropology. He specializes in the study of African history and politics.
- Joseph Massad is a professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History. He specializes in theories of identity and culture.
- Timothy Mitchell is the chair of MESAAS and a political theorist and historian. He specializes in colonialism and its place in the formation of modernity.
- Sheldon Pollock is the William B. Ransford Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies.
- George Saliba is a professor of Arabic and Islamic Science. He specializes in the development of scientific ideas from Late Antiquity till early modern times within the Islamic civilization context.