Magda Al-Nowaihi

Magda al-Nowaihi, Associate Professor of Arabic Literature, passed away after a seven-year-long battle with ovarian cancer. Al-Nowaihi was a dedicated member of the Columbia faculty, maintaining close ties with students and colleagues even while on leave this past spring. She died June 4 at the age of 44. Al-Nowaihi changed the face of the Middle Eastern and Asian Language and Culture (MEALAC) department, garnering one of the top spots in the final round of nominations for a 2002 Presidential Teaching Award. Her contributions to the department include the reorganization and streamlining of the three-year Arabic language sequence. Al-Nowaihi transformed the once insular MEALAC department by collaborating with other departments to bring guest lecturers to her students. She also introduced gender studies to the department teaching the undergraduate course Gender Issues in Middle Eastern Studies. Many good professors use the classroom as a forum to deliver ideas to their students, but Al-Nowaihi used her contact with students inside and outside the classroom as grounds for a living dialogue. For example, she influenced former student Dana Sajdi to go into Arab studies as a lifelong profession. “Professor al-Nowaihi ushered me into the field of Arabic literature, and thanks to her, I was able to add range to my intellectual pursuits,” said Sajdi, in a letter of nomination of al-Nowaihi for the Presidential Teaching award. Sajdi was recently appointed as Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern History at Concordia University in Montreal.

Other words of praise in the nomination letters described her as “relentlessly devoted,” “an intellectual compass,” and “a mentor of the best sort.” Despite her recent medical and subsequent disability leave, she remained active in her post. She continued to use phone, email and teleconferencing to write letters of recommendation for her students and make thesis corrections. MEALAC chairman Hamid Dabashi wrote, “her devotion to her students…is simply phenomenal. In his letter, he emphasized “how blessed we all feel we have been in having her among us.” He added: “She was my friend and colleague.”

Al-Nowaihi taught graduate seminars exploring Arabic literature, and undergraduate classes, such as Topics in Asian Civilization: The Middle East and India, and Negotiating Identity in Modern Arabic Literature.

Her research interests spanned both classical and modern Arabic poetry and prose. Her command of both classical and modern genres was exceptional in a field where most people specialize. Al-Nowaihi published various essays in her field, most recently “Resisting Silence in Arab Women’s Autobiographies” last year. Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Vitals, called al-Nowaihi “the keenest voice in Arab literary criticism in the United States today,” in the May 2000 issue of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies News. Martha Hammond, a graduate advisee of al-Nowaihi, recalled the extent of al-Nowaihi’s celebrity. “I have presented at two conferences in Europe over the past year and a half, the first in Ghent, Belgium, and the second in Cambridge, England, and at both venues I was approached by students of diverse nationalities eager to rub shoulders with one of her pupils,” Hammond said. “She was one of the very few people who could move comfortably throughout the Arabic library. She was an irreplaceable asset,” MEALAC professor George Saliba said. Saliba remembered her delivering hour and a half lectures without the use of notes, and being able to give direct, but constructive criticism about her students’ theses. Al-Nowaihi , a native of Egypt, was educated at the American University in Cairo. She earned her doctorate with distinction from Harvard in 1988, and her thesis was published as a book five years later. After teaching at Princeton, Columbia hired her as an associate professor in 1995.

For all her devotion to her academic life, though, al-Nowaihi always made her family the first priority, calling Philadelphia home while professor at Columbia.

‘[al-Nowaihi] was the keenest voice in Arab literary criticism in the United States today.’ —Professor Robert Vitals

‘She was one of the few people who could move comfortably throughout the Arabic library.’ —Professor George Saliba

Edward Allworth

Edward Alfred Allworth, Professor Emeritus of Turco-Soviet Studies in the Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures at Columbia University and member of the Harriman Insti- tute faculty for over a half-century, died at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan on 20 October 2016.

Professor Allworth was founding director at Columbia of both the Program on Soviet Nation- ality Problems (1970) and the Center for the Study of Central Asia (1984). The Central Eurasia Studies Society had planned to honour Edward Allworth at their conference in November 2016 with the CESS Lifetime Service to the Field Award.

A ground-breaking researcher and connector of scholars, Allworth made his first tour of Soviet Central Asia and Russia in 1957 as one of the early unsponsored American visitors. As a faculty member of Columbia University’s Department of Middle East Languages and Cul- tures, Professor Allworth headed a series of official exchanges between American and Soviet scholars in 1983 and 1985. Later he was invited to the region by the Academy of Sciences in the USSR and the Uzbek and Kazakh Academies to study a variety of subjects in the region, ranging from Central Asian firearms to Uzbek and Kazak theatre and drama. His own papers (now in the New York Public Library) include extensive and rare collections on Soviet Afgha- nistan, the Crimean Tatars, Tajikistan and the ‘Uzbek Intelligentsia Project’.

Professor Allworth’s voluminous writings span nearly six decades, ranging from ‘How the Soviets Interpreted the Lines of Two Asian Poets’, in American Slavic and East Europe Review (16:2, 1957), to a 2015 entry on Tamerlane for the Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia. He is best known for his books Uzbek Literary Politics (Mouton, 1964), Central Asian Publishing and the Rise of Nationalism (NYPL, 1965), Central Asia: A Century of Russian Rule (Columbia, 1967), The Nationality Question in Soviet Central Asia (Praeger, 1973), Nationality Group Survival in Multiethnic States (Praeger 1977), The Modern Uzbeks: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present (Hoover, 1990 [2013]), The Tatars of Crimea: Return to the Homeland (2nd ed., Duke, 1998), and The Preoccupations of ʿAbdalrauf Fitrat, Bukharan Nonconformist: An Analysis and List of His Writings (Das Arab. Buch, 2000). He updated his seminal 1967 work with a second (Central Asia: 120 Years of Russian Rule [Duke, 1989]) and a third (Central Asia: 130 Years of Russian Rule [Duke, 1994]) edition. Professor Allworth was editor of the Central Asia Book Series at Duke University Press.

Edward Allworth was born on 1 December 1920, the son of Edward and Ethel (Walker) All- worth. He received his bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University, a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and a PhD from Columbia University (1959). After working at both Reed College and the Ford Foundation, Professor Allworth returned to Columbia. His long- standing contribution to Columbia University spanned decades of teaching a wide variety of courses on Central Asian studies, including language, literature, history and politics, and culmi- nated in 1984 when he established a centre at what was then the Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures to focus on the study of contemporary Central Asia. Beyond his impressive body of research and scholarly accomplishments, Professor Allworth is widely known for his infectious enthusiasm for Central Asian studies and his dedication to students.

He mentored dozens of accomplished researchers and scholars from around the world and introduced the rich culture and history of the region to countless more.

Kathleen Burrill
Kathleen Burrill, Professor Emeritus of Turkish Studies at Columbia University, passed away on September 18th, 2008. Born in Canterbury, England, on March 8th, 1924, she worked for the British Council for over eight years, including five years on their staff in Turkey. Following her marriage in 1955 to Claude W. Burrill, she came to New York, where she obtained her PhD from Columbia University, with a dissertation on “The Quatrains of Nesimi, Fourteenth-century Hurufi”. From 1957 until her retirement in 1999, Professor Burrill published works on folk, Ottoman and modern Turkish literature, as well as teaching courses at Columbia University on modern and Ottoman Turkish language and literature, and Islamic civilization, and serving as Chair of the Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures from 1985 to 1990. She was active and held posts in numerous professional associations, including the American Turkish Society (Board of Directors, Honorary Vice President 1974-1989), the Middle East Studies Association (Founding Fellow in 1967, Director 1974 -1976), the American Association of Teachers of Turkic Languages (Founding co-member, President and most recently President Emeritus), the Turkish Studies Association (Founding member and Director 19741976), and the Institute of Turkish Studies (Founding Associate, Governing Board Member and Secretary-Treasurer).
Allison Busch

It is with profound sadness that we announce that Professor Allison Busch, Associate Professor of Hindi Literature in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies passed away Saturday, October 19.   Prof. Busch received her Ph.D. in Hindi literature from the University of Chicago in 2003 and joined MESAAS in 2005.   Her expertise is in the early modern period (c. 1550-1850), with a special interest in courtly India. In 2018 she was awarded the Vishwa Hindi Samman (the World Hindi Award) to honor her “remarkable and outstanding contributions to the spread of Hindi language and Hindi literature.”

Her book, Poetry of Kings. The Classical Hindi Literature of Mughal India (Oxford, 2011) is an impressive examination and reevaluation of the Mughal era’s literary achievements (the courtly poetry of classical Hindi literature), while astutely reframing the debates about its disenchantment and decadence/abandonment as a result of British colonialism. In addition, she also addresses the various factors that contributed to the decline of courtly poetry.

A recent co-edited volume (with Dutch Hindi scholar Dr. Thomas de Bruijn), Culture and Circulation: Literature in Motion in Early Modern India (Brill, 2014), draws together essays by leading scholars of Hindi, Bengali, Persian, and Marathi literature in an attempt to foster conversations about the importance of multilingualism and literary cross-pollination in the Indian milieu.

Prof. Busch also contributed enormously to the department in her capacity as Director of Undergraduate Studies and Director of Graduate Studies. Remarkable was her warmth and continual willingness to serve the department, particularly her ability to focus and clarify the discussion in department meetings. On the university level, she chaired the Junior Faculty Advisory Board (JFAB) in the School of Arts and Sciences, playing an important role in transforming the experience of tenure-track faculty at Columbia University. Prof. Busch was also a member of the Steering Committee of the Directors of Graduate Studies. She was a member of the executive committee of the South Asia Institute and served as Chair of the University Committee on Asia and the Middle East.

One colleague writes that her cheerful face cannot be erased from his memory despite the gravity recognizing that this persistent image, shared by many colleagues and friends, is the only way of conquering death. For another colleague, she was an inspiration, an ally, and a guide.


Prof. Mamadou Diouf

Leitner Family Professor of African Studies and History

Pierre Cachia

Pierre Cachia, Emeritus Professor of Arabic. Born: 30 April, 1921 in Egypt. Died: 1 April, 2017 in Dundee, aged 95.

Pierre Cachia was instrumental in fashioning academic studies of modern Arabic literature into what it is today.

His love of both classical and modern Arabic literature stretched back to his childhood when, as a boy growing up in Egypt, he had been surrounded by the culture and language. Post-war, he would emerge as an influential teacher and mentor, enjoying a career spanning 60 years, much of it spent at the University of Edinburgh.

So passionate was he about his subject that he finally retired just a couple of years ago, at the age of 92, returning to Scotland from New York where he had held the chair of Arabic Language and Literature at Columbia University.

The son of a Russian mother, who had made her way to Egypt via Jerusalem as a young girl, and a bank manager father of Maltese descent, he was born in Fayyum and raised in Upper Egypt. After an education at various French, Italian, Egyptian and American schools, he studied at The American University in Cairo and graduated with a BA degree.

Called up in Egypt in 1943, he, like his mother, was a censor during the Second World War. Though conscripted as a British subject, he could have avoided serving in the forces but opted not to seek an exemption. His mother also declined the offer of a desk job for her son who served with the army’s 78th Division as an interpreter but was often posted out to work with other units, including the 8th Army.

He served in Tunisia, Libya, Malta, Sicily, Italy and Austria. Whilst in Sicily he was posted to 281 Field Park Company, Royal Engineers, and promoted to sergeant. It was the company’s esprit de corps and friendships he forged then that later played a part in his emigration to Scotland.

Immediately after the war ended, he returned to Cairo’s American University, where he taught from 1946-49 before heading for Scotland. He studied for his PhD, receiving his doctorate at the University of Edinburgh in 1951 and subsequently taught there for the next 24 years, becoming a senior lecturer in Arabic.

At the time fellow Arabists were concentrating on the study of classical Islam and few were interested, he maintained, in “what the contemporary Arab thought or wrote”. But by 1956 he had written the first English language book to seriously study any aspect of modern Arabic literature, Taha Husayn: His place in the Egyptian Literary Renaissance, probably his most important work. Other publications during that period included his 1973 volume The Monitor: a Dictionary of Arabic Grammatical Terms. By 1975 he had moved to New York, to the private Ivy League institution Colombia University, where he was appointed Professor of Arabic Language and Literature and where he remained an influential and highly-regarded teacher and mentor. He taught both pre-modern Arabic literature and modern folk Arabic literature and retired in 1991 although he remained in Manhattan and continued to teach and write, producing academic articles and books on various subjects and translating classical and modern literary critical work.

In addition to titles such as Popular Narrative Ballads of Modern Egypt (1989), An Overview of Modern Arabic Literature (1990) and numerous essays compiled in Exploring Arab Folk Literature (2011), he also published the work of other academics in the Journal of Arabic Literature, a publication he co-founded and jointly edited for many years. He had also spent a year at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and sat on a panel of experts on Arabic at the University of London.

As one former student Wen-Chin Ouyang observed, he represented “an irretrievable era in which a first generation of post-war American and European Arabists and Orientalists made tremendous strides in fashioning academic studies of modern Arabic literature into what it is today: grounded in native fluency of the Arabic language, informed by real experiences lived in close proximity with Arab writers and storytellers, and took seriously the concerns and priorities of Arab scholars, critic and intellectuals.”

Remembered as a gentleman scholar and raconteur, with perfect command of both English and Arabic, he always put his students first and spent his life striving to write concisely and eloquently for their benefit. He was also admired for his generosity of spirit, continuing to share his knowledge and understanding of his subject internationally for many decades.

Following his death, his family launched a fundraising campaign in his memory to honour his legacy and support research into Arabic language and literature.

Gregg Labita
The Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies(MESAAS) announces the passing of the MESAAS Business Manager Gregg Labita on January 2nd, 2021. Gregg was a valued member of the staff with his cheerful presence and professional skills in financial management.  Prior to joining MESAAS,  Gregg worked in the Physics Department as their Business Officer. Before joining Columbia University, Gregg  worked in the music industry at Universal Music for 28 years, most recently as Senior Credit Analyst.  Gregg was passionate about all forms of music and he specialized in rock guitar. He was also an avid photographer and  enjoyed travel and hiking in diverse places in the US and abroad. Gregg was regarded by all who knew him as generous and kind. He is survived by his children, Alex Labita Kozik and Dylan Labita, and his partner, Claudia Breger, Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature in the Department of Germanic Languages at Columbia University.
Alexander Wayman

Alex Wayman, pioneer in the field of Tibetology and Professor Emeritus of Sanskrit, died on Sept. 22 at the age of 83. Wayman joined Columbia in 1966 as a visiting associate professor of religion. In 1967, he was appointed professor of Sanskrit in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, a position he held until his retirement in 1991. During his tenure, Wayman taught classes in classical Sanskrit, Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit, Indian and Tibetan Religions and the history of astrology.

While at Columbia, he was a member of the administrative committee of the Southern Asian Institute. He also served as senior editor of The Buddhist Traditions Series (with 30 volumes to date) published by Motilal Banarsidass in Delhi, India.

Wayman authored 12 books, including Buddhist Tantric Systems, Untying the Knots in Buddhism, Enlightenment of Vairocan, and A Millennium of Buddhist Logic. He co-authored a translation of the 3rd-century Buddhist scripture Lion’s Roar of Queen Shrimala with his wife, Hideko. Her knowledge of Chinese and Japanese sources complemented his research and translation of Sanskrit and Tibetan sources.

An honorary volume, titled Researches in Indian and Buddhist Philosophy (essays in honor of Prof. Alex Wayman), edited by Ram Karan Sharma, was published in 1993 to commemorate the many years that Wayman devoted to scholarly research on Indian topics.

Born Jan. 11, 1921, Wayman received a B.A. (1948), M.A. (1949) and Ph.D. (1959) from UCLA.

Theodore Riccardi

It is with profound sadness that the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies announces the passing away of
Professor Theodore (Ted) Riccardi Jr., Professor Emeritus of the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures on
September 14, 2020.

A noted historian and researcher of the cultures, languages and traditions of South Asia, in particular the Himalayas, Professor
Riccardi had a special connection with Nepal and spent many fruitful years there including serving as the resident Director of The
Fulbright Program in Nepal from 1965-1968. Dr. Riccardi studied and chronicled important historical texts and contexts of Nepal that
continue to inform the world and Nepalis themselves about the richness and challenges of Nepali historical and cultural landscapes.

Ted Riccardi joined Columbia University as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures in 1968. He was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 1974 and later promoted to Professor in 1978. He served as Chair of the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, and as Director of the Southern Asian Institute in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

As Department Chair, he was instrumental in remapping its intellectual character and composition. In many significant and enduring ways the current intellectual vision of MESAAS and the rich diversity of its components are indebted to his visionary leadership of the department.

Nina Garsoian
 Nina Garsoian passed away on Sunday, Aug. 14 at the age of 99. She was the first Avedissian Chair in Armenian Studies in MELAC (Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures) the former name of our department) and retired in 1993.

She was born in Paris in 1923, and ten years later as a child moved with her parents to New York City. She initially intended to be a concert pianist, but after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Classical Archaeology in 1943 from Bryn Mawr College, she earned a master’s degree in archaeology and then her doctorate in Armenian, Byzantine and Medieval History (1958) at Columbia University.Garsoïan came to Columbia University in 1962 and became the first female professor to receive tenure at its Department of History. She was invited to Princeton University in 1977 to become the first female dean of its graduate school, but only stayed till 1979, when she returned to Columbia as the inaugural holder of the Gevork M. Avedissian Chair in Armenian History and Civilization.

She was one of the leading scholars in Armenian and Byzantine Studies, and part of the generation of scholars who integrated Armenology into American academia at the highest levels. As such, she became the first president of the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) in 1975.

Garsoïan served as editor for many years of the Paris-based Revue des Études Arméniennes. She was a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. She participated in the Byzantine Studies Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, twice serving as a co-director.

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