Beyond Book Learning

Tel Aviv, from Joppa (or Jaffa, or Yafo)

The main reason I like to go on these tours is that they give me a chance to visit (or revisit) interesting places without burdening my university department’s travel budget or my own.  A Middle Eastern specialist needs to get to the Middle East somewhat the way a chemist needs to go to his laboratory, and, over the past five or six years, I’ve been able to spend considerable time in Israel, as well as in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, and a number of others places, without having to spend either my own limited funds or those of Brigham Young University.

I never really tire of these places.  They’re inexhaustibly interesting, and I thoroughly enjoy introducing them to people who haven’t seen them before, and to telling even people who’ve visited them previously more than they probably knew before about their history and culture.  (I went into this area of study for a good and sufficient reason: I love it, and I love to teach others about it.)  The stories never end.

The sense or feel that one picks up from being on the ground in a place can never be altogether replaced by reading books and articles about it, though they too have their important and indispensable function.

And I often combine visits with a special kind of on-site research, much as I do when I participate in academic conferences.  When I spoke at Harvard last month, for example, I also got in some manuscript research at Harvard’s Houghton Library.  During trips to Athens and Istanbul, I’ve been able to make valuable notes on objects in various museums.  I’ve got some things I want to check on during this trip, too.  Multi-tasking, I suppose.

My group is beginning to arrive now, so it’s off down the beach to ancient Joppa (modern Jaffa or, in Hebrew, Yafo).

Posted from Tel Aviv, Israel.

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