Fall 2020 Welcome from CMES Director William Granara

September 25, 2020
William Granara, Tunis
William Granara in Tunis, Tunisia

Dear Members of Harvard’s CMES Family:

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to a new academic year! Although we continue to practice safe distancing, we are off to a warm, smooth, and enthusiastic semester start. For me, it is most enjoyable to be back at the Center’s helm, having spent the past year on sabbatical leave, part of which was spent in Tunisia and the rest of the time here in Cambridge. Apart from the tragedy and disruption of the pandemic which all of us continue to experience equally, my year was a time of scholarly production and personal reflection.

William Granara, Tunis
William Granara in Tunis, Tunisia


Allow me to take this opportunity to thank my colleague and friend Professor Cemal Kafadar, who filled in as acting director with his intellectual leadership, personal warmth, and unflinching commitment to CMES. I also want to thank, with a standing ovation, my extraordinary staff: Lauren Montague, Karen Daly, Liz Flanagan, Carol Ann Young, Eric Edstam, and Jesse Howell, who, under trying times, have and continue to perform their duties with abundant good cheer, devotion, and efficiency. Because of Lauren and the staff, CMES carried on in keeping CMES the exceptional place that it is, even under nearly impossible circumstances. Additionally, I share the news of our good fortune this new academic year to welcome Professor Derek Penslar as our new Director of Graduate Studies.

I take this occasion to welcome back our continuing doctoral students and our AM students. In addition, we are blessed with two new PhD students as well as a vibrant cohort of thirteen new masters students, who hail from China, Qatar, UK, and all across the USA. With such a robust student population, a distinguished corps of visiting scholars and research associates, and an extensive community of core and affiliated faculty representing the various schools across campus (FAS, GSAS, HKS, GSD, HBS, HLS, HDS, HMS), we at CMES approach this new year with high hopes and great expectations.

In addition to our Director’s Series lectures, we will continue to co-host with the Weatherhead Center (WCFIA) the Middle East Seminar, celebrating this year its 45th anniversary. Our Modern Middle East series will host our own Professor Rosie Bsheer, who will discuss on October 20 her recently published book, Archive Wars: The Politics of History in Saudi Arabia. We will also be sponsoring events in our ongoing Arabian Peninsula Studies series as well as our recently established Armenian Studies series. CMES, in partnership with Northeastern University, will represent this year the New England chapter of MESA Global Scholars 2020-21, and we will co-host with NELC the Ottoman-era Arabic Literature Workshop on October 2 and 3.

Across the sea, our research office in Tunisia continues to function under the efficient and creative management of Sihem Lamine. This past summer, we began a Tunisian Digital Studies project to archive the vast output of cultural and literary activity in early-twentienth-century Tunisia. This academic year we will continue this project with the same three graduate student fellows and project advisor Ari Schriber, PhD student in NELC. We have also put into place for this year Tunisia Newsreel 2020, aimed to inform the Harvard campus of contemporary political, social, and cultural events taking place in Tunisia. The inaugural event for this series will happen on October 7: Sustaining a Democratic Transition in Time of Pandemic: Tunisia’s Challenges and Achievement, presented by Hedi Larbi, Tunisian economist, former Minister of Equipment, Regional Planning, and Sustainable Development, and HKS alumnus. Thirdly, CMES Tunisia will co-sponsor and host After Lockdown, a series of individual stories about living through the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic in different places in the world. Please be sure to find details of our upcoming events on the CMES website, as well as in our Monday morning email.

I close by extending all best wishes for good health, high spirits, and intellectual enrichment during this new school year!

—William Granara, CMES Director

See also: 2020-21, CMES News