Center News

Iran Graduate Students Workshop

This past weekend (May 4-5) the Middle East Center welcomed graduate students, early career scholars and senior scholars from Princeton, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, New York, Austin, Freiburg (Germany) and Basel (Switzerland) for what turned out to be an intellectually stimulating and productive workshop. The Iranian Graduate Student Workshop is a very exciting patnership that MEC has developed with NYU and Princeton, which gives graduate students from all over the world, working on all aspects of Iranian and Persianate studies, the opportunity to present their work to one another, and to receive feedback from senior scholars, over the course of an intensive, biannual two-day workshop. The idea is that, each time, the cohort from the previous worshop returns and gives feedback to the new cohort of graduate students.

In this picture PhD candidate Maral Sahabjeme from the University of Washington is presenting her research titled, "'A Low-cost marriage': Discourse of Unmarried Cohabitation (White Marriage) in Iran".  She is joined in this picture by the discussants, Penn Professors Jamal Elias and Brian Spooner. The panel was chaired by NYU Professor Arang Keshavarzian.    

Congratulations Katherine Burge! Her photo won this year's Modern Middle East Studies (MMES) Photography Contest. Taken in 2015, her photo depicts the marshes around Basra, Iraq. You can find her photo hanging in the MEC office.

Read more about the photo contest at 

Iran and the USA

On May 3rd, 2018, Raha Rafii delivered a lecture at the George Washington Carver High School in Philadelphia as part of the University of Pennsylvania Speakers' Bureau program. The subject of the lecture was Iran's relationship with the United States. K-12 teachers in the greater Philadelphia area can request a PhD student from Penn to provide a lecture on a Middle Eastern topic. The Middle East Center will organize the lecture and pay a speaker fee to the PhD student. For more information on the Speakers' bureau visit the Resources tab on the Middle East Center website.

Congratulations Kim Pulliam! This FLAS recipient has received a well-earned spotlight on our FLAS page. We wish you all the best.

 Read her bio by going to, where you can also learn about the FLAS fellowship and how to apply.

Congratulations to Madeline Smith! She received Honorable Mention in this year's Middle East Center's Essay Contest.


Read more about the essay contest at

Philadelphia Science Festival

On April 22nd, 2018, the Penn Museum and the Middle East Center participated in the Philadelphia Science Festival, a larger event held by the city that runs from April 20th-April 28th, dedicated to teaching science and STEM skills to K-12 students in a fun, enjoyable way. Participants were able to explore the new Middle East Galleries and learn about how ancient cities were formed. Families tested their engineering skill with games that simulated building ancient structures.

On Monday, April 16th, Alex Weisiger facilitated a panel discussion surrounding the future of the Iran deal. The panel included Jamal Abdi (Vice President for Policy at the NIAC), Jeffrey Prescott (Strategic Consultant, Penn Biden Center), and John Ghazvinian (Associate Director of the Middle East Center).

On April 11th, Cory Boatwright facilitated a panel discussion, titled "The United States Military and The Middle East: A View from Veterans". The panel included Chase Wilke (Wharton MBA Student), Michael Lowhorn (Analyst, Kennedy Wilson), Samuel Helfont (Lecturer, International Relations Program, University of Pennsylvania) and Brent Gerundo (Wharton MBA Student). The discussion covered their various perceptions of the Middle East, both before and after their time in the U.S. Military.  

The United States Military and the Middle East: A View from Veterans

On April 11th, 2018, the University of Pennsylvania hosted a discussion panel highlighting the experiences of U.S. veterans in the Middle East, and how these experiences shaped their perceptions of the area and its people. Each panelist gave a 5-minute presentation, followed by a 30-minute moderated discussion and a 30-minute Q&A.

Cory Boatwright, Senior Program Manager, LinkedIn

Samuel Helfont, Lecturer, UPenn International Relations Program
Chase Wilke, MBA Student, Wharton
Michael Lowhorn, Analyst, Kennedy Wilson
Brent Gerundo, MBA Student, Wharton

Engaging Students in International Issues: The Choices Approach

Sixteen regional teachers received training on contemporary political issues on March 17, 2018, as 3 the Middle East Center and Penn Museum hosted a special professional development opportunity in partnership with Brown University. Brown University’s award-winning Choices curricula offered approaches on the topics “The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy.” This participatory day introduced teachers to resources for approaching contested international issues in their high school classrooms. The day also featured the Penn Museum’s special exhibition, Cultures in the Crossfire: Stories from Syria and Iraq. A guided tour of this gallery highlighted the ongoing destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East, and introduced the international efforts by Penn Cultural Heritage Center for protecting cultural heritage.

Overall satisfaction rate of participating teachers was significantly high (3.9 out of 1-4 scale in the teacher survey). Teachers reported that they would use the unit contents by Applying the framework of deliberation, empowering students with info about argumentation, and critical reasoning. Following quotes from teacher reflections demonstrate the positive outcome of this professional development;

“Looking forward to applying what I learned and loved the interaction with the Penn Museum’s amazing collection!” “The most important information that I gained from this workshop is the ability to apply social studies conventions to current issues and global events – especially in terms of discussions from role play.” “The Syria exhibit helped me see some ways to remember the past as it relates to the present.”