Frequently Asked Questions

What are the required courses?

Majors and Concentrators begin their work with a lecture course that introduces the study of the Middle East, South Asia, or Africa:

1) A one-term introductory culture course approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies;.

2)  AHUM V3399 Major Texts or AFCV C1020 African Civ; and MDES UN3000 Theory and Culture (Offered in Fall only).

Majors are required to take two years of coursework in a MESAAS language, and further work (including intensive summer language study) is strongly encouraged, with the aim of learning how to study a cultural field through its own  texts. Those already fluent in a MESAAS language may substitute the required language credits with other coursework. The MESAAS language may also fulfill the CC and GS language requirement.

What are the rules for Departmental Honors?

MESAAS Departmental Honors are available only to Columbia College and General Studies MESAAS majors, and only on the following conditions:

  1. Normally no more than ten percent of graduating majors (or a minimum of one major) may receive honors in any given academic year. This is a Columbia College requirement. This means that even writing a very good honors thesis does not guarantee that you will receive departmental honors; though of course the experience of thesis-writing is often very valuable in itself. The School of General Studies, being a smaller school, does not follow the ten percent guideline.
  2. You must have a grade-point average of at least 3.5 in courses taken for the major.
  3. You must prepare a substantial research paper or project, the length, nature, and format of which must be agreed upon in advance in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies. A normal length for papers of this kind is about forty to forty-five pages. This paper may be written in a regular course, as part of a guided readings course, or independently. Any unusual features or circumstances about the proposed paper or project must be approved by the DUS in advance.
  4. You must compose a detailed letter of one to two pages describing your educational background, academic achievement within MESAAS, and intellectual involvement with the given research paper or project. This letter will serve to introduce you and your project in case we need to consult with readers from outside the department.
  5. Both these items must be submitted to the DUS no later than April 1st (or the next working day thereafter). This will allow for a second reader and proper consultation with MESAAS faculty members. Late materials will be accepted only at the discretion of the DUS, and only in cases of genuine emergency.

What about students from Engineering or Barnard?

Engineering students can have a minor (fifteen credits approved by the DUS, with no elementary or intermediate language classes permitted). Barnard students are under Barnard’s jurisdiction and should consult the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies or the Africana Studies program at Barnard for their major requirements.

What courses can count toward the five required electives?

There is no official list, because we want each student to have a suitable individual program that will reflect a sensible, coherent course of studies suitable to that particular student, reflecting a balance between serious pursuits over time and some varied work in other areas and/or disciplines. We are a small department, and we want to get to know you personally and consider you as an individual, rather than simply providing you with a long list of courses like a restaurant menu. This is why discussing your worksheet with the DUS is at the heart of our major requirements.

While we prefer you to take all five elective courses within MESAAS, up to two can be from outside the department, subject to the approval of the DUS. Courses that count towards the major may also be used to satisfy the Global Core requirement, if they are on the list of approved Global Core courses. Not more than two of the elective courses can be elementary or intermediate language courses, if those courses are not being used to satisfy the language requirement of the major.

What if I want to do a double major?

Students who wish to complete a double major or a major plus a concentration may petition the DGS to count towards the MESAAS requirements a maximum of two courses that are also counted towards the requirements of another program.

What if I want to study abroad?

The DUS will be glad to discuss the prospects in general terms, but will not make binding, blank-check promises in advance. When you return from your study abroad, bring to your meeting with the DUS a transcript showing your grades, and information about the courses you took (including assignments or papers you did in those courses). The DUS will make the final determination about which, and how many, courses can count for the major.

Please note that normally not more than two (or, in the case of language courses, three) such courses will be counted toward the major, even if you have taken a large number of courses. We expect our majors to do most of their coursework at Columbia. If there are particularly complex or unusual circumstances in your case, the DUS may ask you to write a formal letter, with attached xeroxes of transcripts, etc., so that other faculty members can be consulted in the matter.

What if I am already fluent in one of the MESAAS languages?

Instead of four semesters of language study you can substitute four courses relevant to the region that need not be either language-related or formally MESAAS courses (though they may be either or both if desired). The DUS will discuss your situation with you and make suitable arrangements. You might need to have your language proficiency verified by an appropriate faculty member in the department. MESAAS doesn’t mind if you have also used the same language to fulfill the CC and GS language requirement.

What about becoming a concentrator?

Everything will be the same as for a major, except for the four-semester language requirement. If you like, with the approval of the DUS you can count two semesters of language study within the elective credits, but under no circumstances can you count more than two.

What do I do to become a MESAAS major?

You bring a CC or a GS major declaration form from your Dean, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) will sign it. You should also download and bring a copy of the MESAAS worksheet . The DUS will discuss the program with you and answer any initial questions that you might have.

The name of the faculty member currently serving as DUS is listed here and faculty office hours are listed here. The DUS is your adviser of record within MESAAS, and will expect to see you from time to time in the course of your work.

The worksheet is fundamental. You and the DUS will use it, over time, as a basis for planning your major. When a satisfactory program is agreed on, you and the DUS will fill out a final worksheet (including future courses yet to be taken, which will be so marked) and then both of you will sign and date it.  One electronic copy will stay with the DUS and one copy will go to you. If later you need to change your course plans, just discuss the changes with the DUS and fill out a new worksheet. Without a worksheet on file, signed by the DUS, you have no assurance that the courses you have chosen will be approved for your major.

Grades of C- or better are required for all courses counted toward the major.

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