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Turkish Studies

A growing field at Binghamton

Binghamton University is expanding its Turkish language and cultural instruction, thanks to funding from the State University of New York.

The University initially received $40,000 for 2014-15 to support the ongoing development of Turkish studies. The grant, which has the backing of the Turkish government, was extended in February to $50,000 per year for the next three years.
"When we said that we wanted to advance Turkish studies by offering language regularly and systematically, from SUNY's point of view it was an extraordinarily good use of the SUNY Global fund," said Katharine Krebs, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Office of International Programs.

The funds enabled the University to hire Gregory Key – a lecturer in Turkish for the Classical and Near Eastern Studies Department. Key is teaching courses such as Elementary Modern Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, Modern Turkish Literature, and Turkish Media and Pop Culture to a mix of American, Turkish and other students.
Binghamton University has had "a long-standing commitment" to Turkey and Ottoman history, Krebs said. The foundation for the Binghamton-Turkey relationship was laid through the 1980s and 1990s by professors such as Donald Quataert and Rifa'at Abou-El-Haj in history; Richard Hofferbert in political science; and Caglar Keyder in sociology.

"These faculty connections brought in high-caliber graduate students from Turkey," Krebs said.

In 2000, SUNY developed a dual-diploma program in which undergraduates spend half of their education at a SUNY campus and half at a Turkish university. The program began at Binghamton University in 2004-05 and thrives today, Krebs said: More than 350 students take part per year.

After Quataert – a pioneer in archival research in Ottoman history – died in 2011, Harpur College hired Kent Schull. The associate professor of history previously taught at Brigham Young University and the University of Memphis.

"Out of all of the universities in the United States, Binghamton has one of the strongest and longest relationships with Turkey in terms of educational exchanges," said Schull, who specializes in Ottoman history. "Turkish academia is full of Binghamton University graduates at the top universities in history, sociology and art history – and the social sciences and humanities in particular.

"Most of our graduate students (specializing in Ottoman history) were recruited from Turkey. So how can we train American students? How do we ensure that it's not just 'come here and go back.' We can have a broader, richer base."

For Schull, that base of Turkish studies should include language.

"There's already a broad interest in the region," said Schull, pointing to faculty expertise and programs/departments such as Arabic, Judiac studies, classical and near eastern studies and the new Center for Israel Studies. "Turkish-related courses have been taught for a long time in history and sociology. This is one of those core, fundamental components needed for people to be able to stay in the region. You need access to the language. Knowing language and culture is critically important for people to feel comfortable to study someplace else."

Schull credited Provost Donald Nieman and Harpur College Dean Anne McCall with stressing the importance of Turkish language/cultural studies and approving Key's hire.
Key, who taught Turkish and Ottoman as a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Arizona, immediately saw the potential in Binghamton's plan.

"I got the impression that Binghamton was looking to develop Turkish and Ottoman studies," Key said. "That was appealing to me. I liked the idea of getting on the 'ground floor' of such an initiative and to be able to set up the language program."

Before receiving his doctorate in Turkish linguistics from the University of Arizona, Key spent nine years in Ankara, Turkey, teaching English and working for the Scientific and Research Technical Council of Turkey.

Key and Schull agreed that Turkey is an important nation to study. Not only is it a "bridge country" between the Middle East and Europe that has a powerful economy, but it influences the culture of the region, as well.

Krebs also praised the Turkish schools that Binghamton University partners with.

"The top-tier Turkish universities are very high-quality institutions," she said. "They rank highly in research in world surveys. They have stature and prestige. Their faculty members have often been educated in more than one country."

Binghamton University also is expanding its Turkish presence in areas other than language and culture, Krebs said. David Campbell, associate professor and chair of the Department of Public Administration, is teaching a philanthropy course in the summer in Istanbul; doctoral nursing students from Istanbul University are visiting the Decker School of Nursing; a joint master's degree in political science is planned with Koç University in Istanbul; a recent hire in the Judiac Studies Department – Assistant Professor Dina Danon – examines Jews in the Ottoman Empire; and the Comparative Literature Department plans to hire a Turkish literature translation specialist.

"Turkish studies are connected to a lot of different disciplines," Schull said.
Schull, meanwhile, will take students from Binghamton University and Göttingen University in Germany to Turkey this summer for three weeks of study and travel. He also is editing the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association on campus.

Key will expand his Turkish selections next year, offering elementary and intermediate courses in modern Turkey. He also hopes to lead a hybrid/online Ottoman class with the goal of it becoming completely online in the future.

"Turkish studies are headed in the right direction here," Key said. "I'd like to see a continued emphasis on Ottoman history and contemporary culture."

"We are at the forefront," Krebs said. "We are the lead (SUNY) campus in terms of scholarly expertise, language learning and the number of projects that we have."

Last Updated: 8/2/16