Course: NES 369/HIS 251/JDS 351
Instructor: Marina Rustow
F 2019

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

This course aims to overview the community of medieval Cairo, most specifically the minority Jewish community, through documents that have been preserved in the Cairo Geniza of the Ben Ezra Synagogue. The goal is to develop an appreciation for and ability to use historical methods of research, including reading and understanding primary and secondary source material and engaging in historical academic discourse, by deep-diving into this hyper-specific historical period. The course begins by reading about the discovery and study of the documents of the Cairo Geniza, and ends with writing a final paper about your own set of documents you choose and analyze on your own.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

Seminars are once a week for nearly 3 hours each. Dr. Rustow generally asks questions about the reading done the previous week, or will display assignments for students to discuss and critique. Discussion often ranged from critique of scholarly author’s methods and style to contextualizing events in a larger history or offering ideas and facts learned from individual research. As long as one has done the reading and is not super shy, it is relatively easy to keep up with class discussion. However, if you have any questions about assignments, requests for an extension, etc., this should be brought up in or right after class as Dr. Rustow is often difficult to contact outside of class. The upside is that Dr. Rustow is fairly lenient and does not appear to be upset for occasional/understandable late assignments, etc.

Learning For and From Assignments

There were a variety of graded assignments and none weighted too heavily, including four short papers (30%), other small assignments (20%), an oral presentation (10%), participation (10%), and final paper (30%). The small assignments generally consist of tasks geared to prepare for the next paper, such as creating or contributing to a spreadsheet of documents you will be using/analyzing. These are brief but important assignments in order to write a successful paper (similar to pre-drafts before drafts in Writing Seminar). The oral presentation was likewise similarly low-key, it is more of an opportunity to discuss what you have found most interesting in the class so far than a stressful presentation. Although the final 10-page paper is the most difficult and longest of the assignments by quite a bit, if you have kept up with other assignments and give yourself a reasonable amount of time to work on it (i.e., not doing it all the day before Dean’s Date) it is not so bad.

External Resources

As this is a rather niche topic, there are not many online resources to help with the material. The reading was very key to the course, although it is quite a bit of reading and can be dense at times it is the most important to understanding what is going on in the course. Trust me, you do not want to show up to a three hour seminar with only a few students not knowing what the discussion is about. This is generally a small class so you will not just blend into the background!! We also used an online database that offered scans and translations of the Cairo Geniza documents. The website was not particularly difficult to use, but if you have trouble with it for any reason make sure you ask Dr. Rustow during class and figure it out as soon as possible, because it is used throughout and you cannot do the assignments without it. I did not use office hours for this course as I believe the office hours were by appointment and Dr. Rustow generally took some time to answer her emails, but all of my questions were answered in-class and/or through the class GroupMe. If you expect trouble with assignments, start them immediately to give plenty of time for emails with Dr. Rustow.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Dr. Rustow is an excellent professor and passionate and talented in her field of study. It is impossible to take this course and come out without some of that passion rubbing off on you. You need no background in history, medieval history, historical writing, Judaic Studies, Near Eastern studies, etc. in order to take this course. I would highly recommend it for students interested in history (any kind), concentrators in any of the departments (Near Eastern Studies, Judaic Studies, or History), or someone looking to fulfill the HA requirement who does not mind the final paper. The course load of this class is much less than it sounds like, unless reading academic texts makes you fall asleep, in which case I would not recommend this course as highly (but would still gently recommend). Overall, take this course if you get the chance!
The World of the Cairo Geniza

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