We Shall Keep Your Thoughts Alive
The Edward Said Chair of
American Studies at AUB
To pay tribute to a dear friend of the University who was one of
the most celebrated and revered scholars, humanists, and intellectuals
of the last century, AUB has launched an effort to establish the
Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies. During his lifetime, Edward
W. Said inspired generations of thinkers, activists, scholars, and
students; in short, people from all walks of life, to search unremittingly
for truth and to gain a greater understanding of the other no matter
“Professor Edward Said, who was intimately involved with AUB
for many years, long urged us to create a new program in American
Studies,” explains Richard A. Debs, chairman
of the AUB Board of Trustees. “Although the University had
always served as a bridge between the US and the Middle East, he
thought the time had come to put a new focus on American studies
by creating a center that could call upon all of the University’s
academic disciplines for that purpose. He saw the need for this
even before 9/11, demonstrating again his great vision and foresight.
The University is committed to having his vision validated and is
honored to be creating a chair in American Studies in his name.”
When he succumbed to his long battle with leukemia on September
25 at the age of 67, the world mourned the death of the renowned
public intellectual, musician, poet, author, and literary theorist.
During the span of his illustrious career, Professor Said distinguished
himself as an intellectual luminary, a prolific and path-breaking
writer, an accomplished pianist, a music critic, a sought after
public lecturer, and a media expert. Underlying all his activities
was the search for cultural understanding.
Professor Said was University Professor of English and Comparative
Literature at Columbia University, whose faculty he joined
in 1963. His ties to AUB were not only professional, but also personal.
Professor Said was a member of the University’s International
Advisory Council, commencement speaker in 2000, a key speaker at
an AUB Symposium in New York in 2002, and a recipient of an
honorary doctorate in Humane Letters last year, the first year that
AUB had conferred such degrees since 1969.
He was a close friend and colleague of many of the University’s
trustees, of the faculty and administration, and was committed to
AUB’s unique role in the region as a liberal arts educational
institution. However, his closest, and most important, personal
affiliation to AUB was his wife, Mariam, who graduated from AUB
The AUB community gathered to say farewell to Professor Said on
September 29 with a candlelight vigil, organized to coincide with
his funeral in New York. Underneath his photograph were the words:
‘We shall keep your thoughts alive’. An official University
memorial ceremony took place on November 1, 2003 with readings and
music at the Assembly Hall.
The University will live up to its promise and keep alive the educational
mission of Professor Said with its plans to establish the Edward
Said Chair of American Studies. As an Arab and an American deeply
connected to both worlds, he believed a greater understanding between
the two groups occurs by American students taking Middle Eastern
studies and Middle Eastern students engaging in American studies.
AUB President John Waterbury commented, “Edward over the years
urged me and AUB to fill the inexcusable void in the Middle East
regarding the study of the United States,” he said. “When
he learned of Prince Al Waleed's gift to establish a Center of American
Studies and Research (CASAR) at AUB, he expressed his enthusiasm
and offered to be a visiting professor within its framework in the
spring of 2004. He offered to give a course on the American novel.
What a wonderful offer. What a terrible loss for AUB and its students.”
True to Professor Said’s wishes,
the endowed chair, which has the approval of the Said family, will
be affiliated with the recently established CASAR. The center is
fittingly dedicated to increasing the knowledge and understanding
of the United States in the Middle East, and to the research and
teaching of American affairs, especially in the fields of American
history, culture, and political institutions.
Mrs. Mariam Said remarked on her husband’s commitment to cultural
understanding between the US and the Middle East: “Edward
believed that the history of the Western world to the Arab world
and the history of the Arab world to the Western world are equally
valid and important. We must learn every history and know each other's
history to understand ourselves and the other. Knowing America as
well as knowing ourselves allows us to see things from a different
perspective that produces healthy criticism, whose ‘social
goals are non coercive knowledge produced in the interests of human
Born in Jerusalem during the British mandate in Palestine, Professor
Said came to the United States when he was a teenager. He studied
at Princeton and Harvard Universities and began a career in academia,
eventually establishing himself as a world-renowned scholar and
professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.
He was author of several widely-read books, including The Question
of Palestine, After the Last Sky, The Politics of Dispossession,
Musical Elaborations, Culture and Imperialism, Reflections on Exile
and Other Essays, Parallels and Paradoxes (with Daniel Barenboim),
Freud and the Non-European, and the memoir of his youth, Out of
Place. His most influential book, Orientalism, was a groundbreaking
work that profoundly influenced the discipline of Middle Eastern
studies as it exposed the tragic connection between the enlightenment
and colonialism. His most recent work, Humanism and Democratic Criticism,
will be published posthumously.
One of the leading literary critics of the last quarter of the 20th
century, Professor Said’s academic specialty was English literature.
He received Columbia’s Trilling Award (twice), the Wellek
Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association, the Spinoza
Prize, the 2001 Lannan Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement,
the 2002 Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, the Sultan Owais
Prize for General Cultural Achievement, and in 2003, he became an
Honorary Patron of the Trinity College University Philosophical
Society. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,
the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Philosophical
Society, the Royal Society of Literature, and a member of King’s
College, Cambridge. In 1999 he was the president of the Modern Languages
Association and served as a member of the PEN Executive Board until
1998. Professor Said was also for many years a music critic for
The Nation magazine.
He had been awarded more than 20 honorary doctorates from the University
of Chicago, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Haverford College, the
American University in Cairo, Birzeit University, the University
of Michigan, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Warwick,
the University of Exeter, the National University of Ireland, the
University of Paris 7 – Denis Diderot, the Institute of Social
Sciences (The Hague), the American University of Beirut, the University
of Aberdeen, and several others.
Professor Said was an articulate and prominent advocate of Palestinian
independence. But he never abandoned a vision of peace between Palestinians
and Israelis based on a “mutual recognition of the other’s
histories and narratives, and a reconciliation leading to complete
AUB hopes to continue Said’s educational and philosophical
mission with its plans to launch the Edward W. Said Chair of American
Studies. This chair of American Studies will not only enhance AUB’s
liberal arts mission, but will bring about a greater understanding
of the United States to the young men and women of the Middle East.
It is a step closer to the vision of Professor Said and one AUB
is proud to take.
*Said’s The World, the Text and the Critic