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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 the circumstances.
“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 in 1963.
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 freedom’.”*

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 equality.”
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