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Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Welcome to the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) subject page at King’s! Here you will find an overview of AMES at King’s, the course, the people who teach and research at King’s, plus information about applying as an undergraduate.

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge

Freedom cartoon

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff

This is an exciting and important time to study Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The "Arab Spring", a series of world-changing revolutions across the Middle East, has seen dictator after dictator fall to the will of the people demanding freedom and justice. There are transformations in Egypt, and ongoing struggles to change political systems in Syria, Libya and Tunisia. The only way to understand these incredible historical moments is to know the languages - to be able to talk to people, read their newspapers and listen to their debates. Equally, just think of the growing economic power of China and South Korea, which are G-20 major economies today. The intensive grounding in one of the major non-European civilizations that this course offers will open up entire new worlds to you.

AMES students study a single language area or opt for one of the various language combinations available: Common choices are Arabic with Persian or Hebrew; or Arabic with a European language taught in the Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) faculty. Students with an interest in Asian Studies take either Chinese or Japanese alone for Part I. In Part II they can then either continue the single language course or combine Chinese and Japanese. The course covers the languages (from the beginning), the history of those who speak them, and their culture and society. It is, with some exceptions, a four-year course in which the third year is spent in a country where the AMES language is spoken.

You might like to read the page about how teaching works. In Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, the relatively small numbers mean that even lectures are often given to fewer than ten students, so that there is much more contact between lecturer and student than is possible in 'bigger' subjects where the audience may be over a hundred. The first year teaching concentrates mostly on language work to cover the basic elements of the written and spoken language. In second year you do more advanced language work, and also have a choice of subjects including history, literature, society and politics.

It is possible to change between courses to suit your interests. Many students come to Asian and Middle Eastern Studies after doing part I of Classics, Economics, Mathematics, History, or another Tripos, and some complete Part I of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and then transfer to another Faculty such as Law, or Economics. It makes sense for someone who is interested in the politics, history, economics, or art of a non-Western country also to learn something of its language and culture. Such knowledge of increasingly important parts of the world is sought after by many employers.

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at King's

Xu Zhimo's stone

Xu Zhimo's stone by King's bridge

King's has a strong tradition in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Students and Fellows at King's have included Tarif Khalidi, an eminent Quranic scholar, and Peter Avery, a renowned British scholar of Persian. George Antonius, author of the seminal text, The Arab Awakening, was one of the first Arab undergraduates at King's.

The Chinese poet Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) was a research student at King's in 1921-2. He discovered English romantic poets like Keats and Shelly and took their influence to China where he helped to develop modern Chinese poetry. In 1928 he revisited King's and wrote one of the most famous poems in China - 'Saying Good-bye to Cambridge Again'. Today a Beijing marble stone engraved with the first and last two lines of this poem lies near the bridge in King's where the river Cam runs through the College.

AMES continues to be strong at King's, and students receive a lot of support from the Fellows at the College. We are conveniently situated about seven minutes' walk from the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Faculty on the Sidgwick site, which is where most lectures take place. But it is in College where you develop your closest intellectual and personal relationships and really get support from your Director of Studies and other languages students.

From pizza party study breaks when the going gets tough in the grey days of Lent Term, to the joint MML / AMES pudding party in the beautiful gardens after everyone has survived Easter Term, Directors of Studies are there to keep you going and make sure you get the most out of your studies. They run a language table where you can try out your ever increasing speaking skills, and sometimes they host speakers and conferences or show films. With students going on / returning from their Year Abroad, it is particularly helpful to have a strong and friendly college community in the subject to share experiences, advice and interests.

The Year Abroad

Keye at Jebel Akhdar

Keye at Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain), Oman

At least eight months of your third year are spent abroad, in a country in which your language or languages are spoken. This is your chance to immerse yourself in the culture, politics, and people of a new place. Some students of Arabic enrol in a university course given in the target language, and many find private tuition or home-stays with families. Students of Japanese and Chinese enrol in universities designated by the Department. Many students find internships with media outlets, the United Nations, or NGO's.

During this year you also conduct research for a compulsory dissertation chosen at the end of your second year. Setting up your life and learning in a new place can seem daunting, but Year Abroad Coordinators are available for guidance and suggestions, and AMES students have a website where they share information and advice. King's fellow, Dr. Allen, provides a field work seminar every Lent term, with tips on how to do interviews, write field notes, navigate different gender systems, and so on.

Conducting archival or field research in a foreign language is an incredible challenge. When you realise you are fully living and thinking in a foreign language and land, it's also an exhilarating experience.

Full descriptions of year abroad arrangements are available on the AMES Faculty website: Arabic and Persian, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese.

Student perspectives

Rebeccah

Rebecca (left), Helena, Keye, Ivan and Tish have written detailed accounts about their experiences of studying AMES at King's, including their reasons for applying, the course, workload, teaching, year abroad and social life. These documents are well worth reading to get a sense of what King's AMES is really like.

Fellows in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Lori Allen

Lori Allen (Director of Studies) is an anthropologist whose work focuses on the occupied Palestinian territories, where she has been conducting field research since 1997. Her interests include human rights, nationalism and the state, and the ways in which people experience and make meaning of violence, pain and conflict. She is currently beginning a new project, a historical-ethnography of international investigative commissions to Palestine which will explore changes in the production of political evidence over the past hundred years.

Basim Musallam

Basim Musallam is a University Lecturer in Islamic Studies. He is particularly interested in the social structure of medieval Islam and the history of ideas during this period as well as the history of the modern Middle East.

Yasir Suleiman

Yasir Suleiman is a Professor of Modern Arabic Studies and Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies. His research focuses on the cultural politics of the Middle East as well as Arabic grammatical theory and the Arabic intellectual tradition in the pre-modern period.

A number of King's fellows in other faculties have research interests related to Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. In Social Anthropology, for example, we have Caroline Humphrey, James Laidlaw, Perveez Mody and Anastasia Piliavsky.

Students thinking of studying a language from the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty should also see the list of King's fellows in MML on the MML subject page.

Applying to study AMES at King's

We welcome applications from suitably qualified students at all kinds of schools all over the world. Details of our most common offers in a range of examination systems are given on the entrance requirements page. The numbers admitted for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at King's vary from year to year, but we rarely admit fewer than four or more than seven undergraduates. 

AMES languages

The Part I teaching for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies languages assumes no prior knowledge of the subject or language you have applied for. Although there are no specific subject requirements, we will obviously be very interesed in your aptitude for language learning. Most applicants study a foreign language at school, and should aim to achieve top grades in school-leaving foreign language subjects: it is desirable to be on track to achieve A* at A level or equivalent in your language at the end of sixth form. An interest in the world (in politics, history, or literature etc.) is important too. Many applicants have studied social sciences such as Economics or History, but it is also possible to apply and do well with a background in maths and sciences.  For further information about suitable subjects to prepare for the AMES course, please see the Subject Matters leaflet.

A guide to the application process is given on our how to apply page, which we advise you to read thoroughly. After applying, candidates for AMES are usually asked to submit two recent essays or equivalent pieces of school work on a subject of your choice. These may be discussed at interviews. Those invited for interview will normally have one or two Asian and Middle Eastern Studies interviews. Much more than finding out what you know already, interviewers want to find out about how you learn, how you think on your feet, how you respond to challenges etc. so they will ask you plenty of questions to get you thinking and working.

Combining an AMES language with a language from the MML Tripos

If you are planning to combine Arabic, Persian or Hebrew with a language taught in the MML faculty (French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish), you will need an A level or equivalent qualification in the European language. When submitting your UCAS application, the course you need to apply for is Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Only students applying for two European languages apply for MML. You will be asked for your language choices on the SAQ (or the COPA if you are applying from overseas) - see how to apply.

If you apply to study a European language, you would do everything in the above section for your AMES language, but in addition you would also be asked to submit a piece of work written in your European language and, if invited for interview, you would sit an MML written test and have an MML language interview. It would be advisable to read the MML subject page.

Reading, resources and events

What do students do after the course?

Learning the languages, the politics, history and cultures of the Middle East or East Asia makes you an attractive job applicant in all kinds of professions. Arabic and Chinese speakers are valuable additions to NGO's, to international businesses working in the Gulf or China, to media outlets, or to publics and governments in need of fact-based political analysis. Or maybe you will opt to hone you linguistics skills and become a translator of literature. Once you know one (or more!) of these difficult languages, you can let others in on some of the beautiful prose and poetry of Japan, of Persia or Palestine.

Further Information

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