The Middle East Insitute - Columbia University



The Middle East Institute
Columbia University
Phone: 212-854-2584
Fax: 212-854-1413
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In Memoriam
J.C. Hurewitz 1914 - 2008

J.C. Hurewitz, a diplomatic historian and political scientist who was a founder of the American study of the modern Middle East, died on Friday, May 16, in Manhattan. He was 93.

The cause was pneumonia, said Lisa Anderson, the James T. Shotwell Professor at Columbia University, where she was both student and colleague of Dr. Hurewitz.

Dr. Hurewitz taught at Columbia from 1950 until his retirement in 1984 and served as the Director of the University’s Middle East Institute from 1970 until 1984. The current director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute, Rashid Khalidi, whose father Dr. Ismail Khalidi was among Dr. Hurewitz’s first PhD students in 1953, described him as pivotal in the establishment of Middle East studies at Columbia and in this country.

In 1972, Dr. Hurewitz established the influential Columbia University Seminar on the Middle East, which he continued to chair until he was nearly ninety, as the current chair Gary Sick, a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia and a former student of Dr. Hurewitz, recalled.

Dr. Hurewitz was also a founding member of the first scholarly journal devoted to contemporary affairs in the modern Middle East, the Washington-based Middle East Journal, in 1947 and of the field’s leading professional association, the Middle East Studies Association of North America, in 1968.

The youngest of twelve children of an orthodox rabbi, Dr. Hurewitz attended Trinity College in Connecticut before starting his graduate work in history at Columbia in 1936, electing to concentrate in the modern Middle East even though he knew that, as he would later put it, “it was at that time essentially a nonexistent subdiscipline.” Armed with his MA, he went off to the Middle East the next year to pursue doctoral research on “Americans in Ottoman Palestine,” later admitting that “if one of my students had proposed such a topic, I would have refused to sponsor it unless the candidate demonstrated research skills in Arabic and Osmali (Ottoman Turkish) as well as Hebrew.”

His language skills honed in the field, he spent World War II in Washington at the Near East Section of the Office of Strategic Services, before returning to complete his doctoral work at Columbia. His dissertation was published in 1950 as The Struggle for Palestine, and for several decades it constituted the definitive work on the interwar period in Palestine.

Dr. Hurewitz subsequently published several other influential works, including Middle East Politics, the Military Dimension, which was an outgrowth of an innovative project sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations on the growing power of the military in politics in the 1960s. Perhaps his best known work, however, was a multivolume collection of annotated documents, The Middle East and North Africa in World Politics, which remains the standard reference work on the international politics of the Ottoman Empire and its successors.

Jacob Coleman Hurewitz was born in Hartford, Connecticut on November 11, 1914. In addition to Columbia, he also taught at Cornell University, the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and he held research fellowships at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Social Science Research Council and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Dr. Hurewitz is survived by his wife of 62 years, Miriam, of Manhattan, his daughters, Barbara Aronson of Ferney-Voltaire, France, and Anne Rosenbloom of Forest Hills, Queens, a granddaughter and a great-grandson.

The meticulous attention to language skills and utilization of primary documents that Dr. Hurewitz exhibited in his own research made him one of the most influential teachers of his generation. Dr. Anderson wrote in a festschrift published in his honor in 1990 that he was one of “the earliest and strongest proponents of equal opportunity” in the field—nearly all of the first generation of women studying the politics of the Middle East were his students—but “having barred no one on the basis of sex, creed, color or national origin, Professor Hurewitz set exacting—and sometimes exasperating—standards for his students.”

A demanding instructor, he took great satisfaction in the accomplishments of his students. Daniel C. Kurtzer, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel and then to Egypt between 1998 and 2005, remembers that “after I entered the Foreign Service and began moving up through the ranks, it became clearer to me that Hurewitz regretted somewhat that his own service in the State Department had been so short. While he never showed emotions, surely not to former students, I got the distinct sense that he was enjoying my career vicariously -- he expressed pride in what I was doing and called periodically to consult.”

His students reciprocated his dedication and commitment. Dr. Hurewitz was the inaugural recipient of the Middle East Studies Association’s Mentoring Award in 1996; Ann Mosely Lesch, now the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University in Cairo, introduced him at that year’s annual meeting. “I asked everyone who had been mentored by Jay to stand up,” she recalls, “and a huge number did so. It was a very fitting tribute.”

Former Directors of the Middle East Institute from left to right:
Richard W. Bulliet, Lisa Anderson, Rashid I Khalidi, J.C. Hurewitz and Gary Sick

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