This website was created as a project of a curatorial seminar – NELC 133 – at the University of Pennsylvania in Fall 2014. The aim of this project was to explore the historic engagement of the University of Pennsylvania in the Near East and Middle East. It did so while drawing in part on objects and materials in the Penn Museum and across Penn’s campus. This site showcases just a sampling of the interesting objects – and stories – that help to tell the narrative of Penn’s engagement in the Middle East.


Course Description

This seminar explored the historic engagement of the University of Pennsylvania and its faculty, students, and graduates in the Near and Middle East. It did so while drawing on archives, rare books and manuscripts, and artifacts that are now preserved in the University Archives, the Penn Museum, and the Penn Libraries. Together we considered how, beginning in the late nineteenth century, Penn scholars engaged in archaeological expeditions to celebrated sites like Ur (in what is now Iraq) and Memphis (in Egypt) – and how some of these efforts influenced the late Ottoman Empire’s policies towards antiquities and museums. We examined how Penn’s curriculum changed over time to accommodate Semitics, including the study of languages and biblical traditions, in light of – or in spite of – historic tensions at the university between secular and religious learning. We assessed how Penn responded to changing American popular attitudes and U.S. foreign policy concerns relative to the Middle East, including during the Cold War and post-2001 (“post-9/11”) eras. Finally, we traced the stories or “biographies” of some individual objects in Penn collections in order to appreciate the university’s roles in collecting, preserving, analyzing, and disseminating knowledge about the region’s deep cultural heritage. Ultimately, by investigating and writing about what we learn, we produced collaborative research on the history of “here” – the very local context of Penn and its environs – as it has tied into the history of the “over there” in the modern Middle East.


Course Goals

Together in this class, we experimented in devising a website that explores the intersecting history of Penn and the Middle East. Using the web-publishing platform called Omeka, we developed, wrote, and revised materials (which were the course assignments) to post on exhibit pages. At the end of the semester, students had the option of making their materials public (that is, publishing their work) on this website. Throughout the semester we devoted time to discussing practical techniques for structuring, writing, and revising essays; conducting independent research; and working with the Omeka interface.



Penn Museum object information (data, images, and text) are made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws:teaching, scholarship, research, critique, commentary, personal communication, or news reporting. Website users may link to, embed, or download these files for use motivated by private interest only. You are free to copy and adapt the images as long as you credit the Penn Museum: "Object [insert object number(s)]. Courtesy of the Penn Museum." and in no way suggest an endorsement of you or your use of the image or content  (i.e. following the guidelines of a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License).

Penn Museum images may not be used for print publication or commercial purposes without written approval from the Penn Museum. To request licensing of Penn Museum images for print publication or commercial use, or to request publication-quality photography of an object, please email photos@pennmuseum.org.



Course developed and taught by Professor Heather J. Sharkey

Van Pelt Digital Humanities Advisor: Katie Rawson

PURM Student Researcher: Halie Craig C’16

Omeka Class Contact: Jim Moss, Academic Engagement Coordinator at the Penn Museum

Curatorial assistance provided by Katy Blanchard, Near East Section Keeper at the Penn Museum

Course development assistance provided by Anne Tiballi, Mellon Curricular Facilitator at the Penn Museum

Invaluable assistance during the research and development phase of this course provided by the staff at the Penn Museum Archives: Alessandro Pezzati (Senior Archivist) and Eric Schnittke (Assistant Archivist)