NELC Has a New Name

Submitted by Patrick Gibbs on


 We are excited to share that the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization has a new name: Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (MELC). We have made this change to acknowledge and embrace the diversity of the regions we study, to raise the visibility of the courses and activities we offer, and to stay up-to-date with developments in our fields of study. This name reflects the great variety of approaches and interests in our scholarly work and course offerings, and we believe it best represents the work we do and the communities we serve, now and in the future.

How did we arrive at the new name?

Reflecting our Expanding Global Interests

Our department represents a vast region and 3000 years of language and culture – from Morocco to China and all the diasporas beyond. Over the past decade our scholarly interests have broadened significantly, with new language courses, new strengths in archaeology and art, new expertise in Sephardic history and Ottoman studies, a focus on the Horn of Africa, extensive projects in Digital Humanities, and more. By replacing “civilization” – a word with a problematic history – with the less West-centric word, “culture,” we endeavor to emphasize the plurality and reach of our scholarship and our foundational value of inclusion.

Enhancing Access

For students and for the public, “Middle East” is a more familiar, intuitive term than “Near East.” By using more accessible and familiar language we hope to expand and diversify our student body, as more undergraduates and graduate students explore the many opportunities a MELC degree offers.

Maintaining Relevance

This name change is in step with peer institutions (such as the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and the University of California Berkeley) that have recently adopted the term “Middle East” in their department names; the change helps ensure that we maintain relevance and alignment with leading voices in the field.

Alums and friends of NELC – you are a vital and cherished part of our department community! We hope that you will share our excitement about our new name and departmental direction. We will continue to celebrate the history and achievements of the department , renewed and recommitted to expanding knowledge and deepening our collective understanding of peoples, languages, and cultures.

 Still have questions? Let us help!

How can I find information about the department online?

We are in the process of transitioning to, but the current URL will remain accessible and searchable going forward.

How can I find the department on campus?

The department is still in Denny Hall. New signage is on the way, and we have notified UW Directories about the change of department name.

How is MELC different from the Middle East Center (MEC) and Near and Middle Eastern Studies (NMES)?

MELC, MEC, and NMES strive to build a community of scholars and students with interests in overlapping fields of study.

The Middle East Center (MEC), housed in the Jackson School of International Studies does not offer undergraduate degrees. MELC offers a Bachelor of Arts with three different options for concentrations within the major, as well as six undergraduate minors.  MEC offers an MA with emphasis on social science, while MELC offers an MA with emphasis on languages, literatures, textual studies, and critical thinking. MELC and MEC will continue to work closely together to support curriculum, public programming, and faculty research.

NMES, the Interdisciplinary PhD program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, is housed in the Graduate School. MELC does not offer a PhD degree. However, MELC faculty work closely with NMES, serving on PhD committees, and the two units support one another in their academic pursuits.

Will the names of the department’s degree programs change?

  • The BA in NELC will become Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures.
  • Concentrations in the MELC major will also change:
    • Comparative Civilizations will become Comparative Cultures
    • Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies will remain the same
    • Languages and Culture will become Languages and Literatures
  • The Minor in Near Eastern Studies will become the Minor in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. The other minors (Arabic, Modern Hebrew, Persian, Turkic Languages, and Turkish) will remain the same.
  • The MA in NELC will become: Master of Arts in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures 

 Will my degree be a NELC degree or a MELC degree?

For current students, while the administrative transitions are taking place, please consult with Humanities Academic Services to discuss the particulars of your own degree completion. We don’t anticipate  the name change having any impact on those on track to complete a degree in our department.

Will the course prefix NEAR E remain the same?

The NEAR E prefix will change to MELC. In 2022-2023, the NEAR E prefix is still in effect.

If I still have questions, who should I contact?

Please contact the Chair of the department, Prof. Naomi Sokoloff ( or Prof. Hamza Zafer (

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