with Professors Erica and Peter Dodd
Professor Peter Dodd, sociologist, and
Professor Erica Dodd, art historian, taught at AUB from the 1960s to
MainGate caught up with the Dodds when
they were in Lebanon for several weeks this summer with three of
their four children and two grandchildren. “We wanted them to come
back to AUB and Lebanon to reconnect with their roots,” said Erica.
The family, all fluent speakers of Arabic, visited their favorite
places in Lebanon and Syria, traveling to Aleppo, Damascus, and Mar
Musa Al-Habashi near Nebek. Highlights in Lebanon included a day with
their old housekeeper in Surat, above Batroun; a visit to their
beloved Chemlan, where they lived for many years; a return to the
Qadisha Valley to again see the medieval frescoes there; and a
performance of Turandot at the Beiteddine Festival.
When did you
first arrive at AUB?
Erica: That’s a tricky
one to answer. We were both born in Beirut—at the AUB hospital, in
fact—and both our fathers taught here, so we can say we arrived at AUB
at birth. My father, Dr. W. Douglas Cruikshank, came out to the
hospital in 1919 to replace Dr. Dorman for one year, but stayed on
until he died in 1950. I grew up in a house my father built over
Archie Crawford’s house on campus, the building to the northwest
behind the Lee Observatory, since then usually occupied by the deans
of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Peter: My family lived
in a house with a garden on the south side of Bliss Street, just
beyond the Edison Cinema. My father, Stuart Dodd, was professor of
sociology. Both our families were evacuated during World War II, but
we returned to Lebanon briefly after the war.
Erica: We went back to
the United States for university; I went to Wellesley and Peter to
Princeton. He then took his PhD from Harvard, while I did mine at the
Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London. I used to
remember Peter as that “little boy, little Peter Dodd” when we were
growing up in Beirut, but things were different when we met in
Washington in 1959 and married a year later.
When did you
start teaching at AUB?
Peter: We came back to
AUB in 1966, I to the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and
Erica to the Cultural Studies Program (now the Civilization Sequence
Program}. Later she was based in the Department of History and
Archaeology, but continued to teach part-time in CS.
What is the
biggest change you noticed at AUB?
Peter: Peace! We left
in ’86. The most striking change is the openness of the campus. The
heavy security of wartime AUB is gone, except for the fortifications
at Marquand House. I hope they can change that soon. It’s really a bad
sign—emphasizes the cleavage between the administration and the rest
of the University. There are still real concerns about security, but
they appear to be much less than in the recent past.
Erica: A tree is gone
from the Marquand House garden—a beautiful jacaranda tree. And most of
the snobars, the beautiful pines, are gone from outside the museum.
And then there are the brand new buildings—College Hall and the new
faculty apartment building.
Peter: As for academic
changes, I feel that AUB is not making the most of its opportunities.
It has come back, and it’s much better—has good leadership and all
those things, but somehow…
Erica: I was impressed
with CS; they’re doing a very good job there. CS was always
outstanding, and although there have been some changes in the
requirements, it still has some of the best courses. I’ve compared it
with similar programs in the West, and as a basic course in the
classics, it remains outstanding.
What do you
think your students remember most about your classes?
Peter: They probably
remember the research we did together. In the summer of 1967, we went
down to Jordan and spent three weeks in the camps and in Amman
interviewing Palestinians recently expelled from Palestine. I
published a monograph and several papers on our studies. We did
another project on the schools here in Lebanon, interviewing the
students on their ideas about the future: vocations and family
Erica: I think my
students probably remember, most of all, the trips we took all over
Syria. We went everywhere: Bosra, the dead cities in northern Syria,
and the early Islamic sites… all the Umayyad palaces, the desert
palaces, and of course all the Crusader castles and places like Anjar,
Palmyra, and Mari. When we had extra space, faculty members from other
departments came along. We ran the trips on a shoestring. Absolutely.
A lot of it was camping.
Are you still in
touch with your former students?
Erica: Oh, yes. And
during these weeks we’ve been here in Beirut, we keep bumping into
them on the streets, in the shops, on campus.
Some of the most able students I had in my sociology courses were the
medical students. They had a very acute sense of society and were
interested in sociology. They were motivated to reach out beyond the
affluent, to do something for their society. I wanted some
understanding of this society at the time, and they gave it to me.
Erica, of course, taught them in Cultural Studies. We’re having dinner
with some of them tonight.
When did you
Peter: I left
twice—once in ’74 to work with ESCWA in Beirut and Baghdad, but I was
back at AUB in ’83. We both left during one of the most difficult
years of the war—in 1986. We had our four children to worry about.
Afterwards I spent ten years as director of the Fulbright Commission
in Pakistan. Later we moved to British Columbia, where Erica joined
the University of Victoria.
What are you
working on now?
Erica: I’ve just
published (after two years in press) a book I’ve been working on for
the past 33 years, Medieval Painting in Lebanon (Wiesbaden: Reichert
Verlag, 2004). Dr. Raif Nassif of the Faculty of Medicine visited the
frescoes with me and took the color photographs.
Actually, this current visit started
with a conference in Damascus, where I gave a paper on Syrian
frescoes. My next project is to publish the inscriptions of the Mosque
of Wazir Khan in Lahore, Pakistan. I’ve always been interested in the
way Islamic inscriptions are used as a focal point of decorations. I
have enough material to get on with the writing, but I might want to
go back there, if I can afford it. I’m keeping up my interests in
Byzantine silver, Arabic inscriptions, and frescoes (medieval
I’m still attached to the University of Victoria
as adjunct professor in the history of art. I teach now and then, whenever they
need me. I just completed an academic study cruise around the world run by the
University of Pittsburgh for 650 students. I like to keep up contact with young
people. I am also a fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion and Society
at the University of Victoria.
Peter’s work is less formal, focused around
advocacy on Middle Eastern, particularly Palestinian, issues. He writes and
lectures. He also teaches short, intensive Arabic courses in Victoria.
What impact has AUB had on
Erica: It is difficult to say
that AUB had any impact on me. You can only say that I am AUB, since I was born
in it, grew up in it, was a student in it, and spent more than twenty years
teaching in it. By comparison, other places I’ve lived and worked in seem
The greatest impact on me was the CS Program.
Those classics come to me many, many times in my daily life, and I am grateful
for the reading. In the West, classical programs like AUB’s CS Program have had
to give in to the demands of the students for commercial reasons, and most of
the classical requirements have been done away with. If we really mean to
produce leaders in the Arab world, they must know our real traditions—and
theirs—not the stuff handed out by trendy fashion.
When we first came back here to teach, we both
thought that with our background we stood a good chance of making a contribution
to East-West understanding. With our AUB backgrounds, we thought we had a chance
to make a contribution here that we couldn’t make elsewhere. We thought teaching
at AUB would make our lives worthwhile, and it has.
Peter: We both wanted to work on
American understanding of the Middle East, the Arab world, the region—AUB’s
region. The US understanding of this area is so limited and defective. AUB gave
us the opportunity to work on that, to try to improve understanding. And we are
AUB’s greatest impact on me came
through interaction with fellow faculty members. There were the great men of
the previous generation, such as Constantine Zurayk, Nabih Faris, and Metta
Akrawi. There were my contemporaries—too numerous to name individually. AUB has
had—and still has—an unusual asset: its relatively small size. A faculty member
can interact, in discussions, in joint teaching and joint research, with members
of other departments and other faculties. The result is immensely beneficial.