Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Day at Harvard

Yesterday I lectured at a Harvard class, Music  in Cross-Cultural Perspective, on 'Dance in the Middle East'. Imagine covering that vast topic and teaching students ten minutes of folk dance steps, in only 50 minutes, like PDQ Bach, or One-Minute Shakespeare. I took on the challenge, and with my powerpoint and video clips cued up and ready to go, I was off and running. While the students were very quiet during the lecture, they perked up for the dance part. I taught them a simple dabke line dance, a Kuwaiti bedouin cane dance, then a few minutes of Egyptian sha'abi popular dancing.

The Music Department gave me a free parking pass for the day, so I visited Widener Library, one of the world's great repositories of the written word, a modern day Library of Alexandria. Its Middle East collection is beyond dazzling. As a Harvard alum, I am allowed the privilege of visiting its stacks six times per year. With my updated annual pass in hand, I stepped into the massive Widener Stacks, one of my favorite places on earth, a true temple of wisdom. Each time I ride the elevators and pace its hallways, the wealth of the stacks overwhelms me. The sight and smell of its thousands of books (there's a particular smell to the stacks) calls to mind the effort and thought that went into producing them, as well as the many voices and ideas from so many ages held in its volumes.

I was looking for a particular book about Moroccan Sufi's and their relationship to the state. Happily, it was there, and many shelves of books on Sufism surrounded it. I pulled down several unexpected volumes and took notes for a couple of hours at a desk at the end of the Sufism aisle. Serendipitous library browsing is one of the most delightful aspects of novel research.

My research done for the afternoon, I bundled up and went out into Harvard Yard, where the leaves were blowing around at my feet. The weak November sun outlined the branches of its towering oaks.

I walked through Harvard Square to the Kennedy School to hear Prince Turki al-Faisal speak as part of the Harvard Arab Weekend sponsored by the Harvard Arab Alumni Association. He gave a thoughtful lecture on the various foreign policy issues facing the Kingdom. Then students lined up at the mikes and put him through his paces with their questions.

In all, it was a stimulating day, and it made me nostalgic for graduate school. I'm sure it's the only day in my life in which I give a lecture at Harvard in the morning and hear a prince speak in the afternoon!


  1. hello KHC - thanx for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I still like the story about Henry and Augusta, I think it's important not only to write about buildings in a New york History Blog. The people who lived there or only passed the city are as important as the buildings.
    Schaedel from the New York History Blog.

  2. It's so nice to read a pen portrait of the Widener Library! I'm a cataloguer and am responsible for all the Arabic language materials. I regularly refer to the work of the Harvard cataloguers when I need a hint. It was nice to have a virtual visit!