The Growing Popularity of Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation

Al-Fanar, a news site that focuses on higher education, ran an op-ed on teaching with Arabic literature in translation, written by ArabLit editor M. Lynx Qualey, inspired by the series that has run on ArabLit Mondays this year. The op-ed begins:

Two decades ago, scarcely enough material existed to teach a course on Arabic literature in translation. Most comparative literature departments lacked a focus on Arabic, and most Arabists focused on teaching literature in the original. Perhaps most importantly, far fewer students in the United States were enrolled in Arabic-language programs.

This changed after the al-Qaeda attacks of September 2001: The Modern Language Association reported a doubling in Arabic enrollments between 1998 and 2002, although that steep rise did not continue. And although Arabic enrollments fell slightly between 2013 and 2016, according to MLA’s 2018 report, Arabic was still on an upward trend in the previous decade over all, and has maintained its spot as the eighth-most taught language in the United States.

No numbers exist for courses in Arabic literature in translation. However, the swelling base of students with some Arabic seems to have been followed by a surge in courses on Arabic culture. The traffic reports of the website ArabLit: Arabic Literature and Translation (which I help to run) show a growing number of educational institutions regularly using the site. During the spring 2018 semester, at least sixteen different university systems linked to the site from course software.

This growing interest has been followed by more discussion of how to teach Arabic literature in the English-language classroom. In 2017 Routledge published Arabic Literature for the Classroom: Teaching Methods, Theories, Themes and Texts, edited by Muhsin al-Musawi. And this spring, the MLA brought out Teaching Modern Arabic Literature in Translation, edited by Michelle Hartman.

Arabic literature in translation courses are also enabled by a new, fast-growing body of Arabic literature in English translation that can trace its rapid upswing to September 2001. Over the last six months, I’ve been conducting a series of twenty-one interviews with twenty-four professors in the United States, United Kingdom, Lebanon and Egypt who teach with Arabic literature in translation. The works they teach range from classical Arabic texts published in facing-page bilingual editions by the New York University Press’s Library of Arabic Literature series to contemporary graphic novels. The interviews highlight the extent to which professors in English, Arabic, and comparative literature departments are engaged in teaching literary translations in novel, intriguing ways.

You can keep reading on Al-Fanar.

Find all the Q&As in the “Teaching with Arabic Literature in Translation” series on ArabLit.