Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg
Teaching Professor, Department of History
I begin every semester by telling my students how lucky they are because right then is an amazing time to be studying the Middle East. I have never been wrong yet. There is always something fascinating taking place in the region and current events always manifest the deep pull of history.
My most recent area of research and publication is the Arab-Israeli conflict and peace process. My co-authored textbook on the Arab-Israeli peace process (with Neil Caplan, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, Indiana University Press, 2010) exemplifies the way I practice historical interpretation. I like to rely heavily on primary source documents, such as UN resolutions, treaties, agreements, speeches, memoirs, autobiographies, maps and other archival documents. Students who have taken courses with me can attest to my emphasis on primary sources! The book has a companion website which I hope will become one of the main on-line "go-to" sites for primary documents on the Arab-Israeli condition. (You don't have to buy the book to visit the site!)
I am also very interested in the personalities of the leaders, their interactions with one another, and the psychological prisms through which they view the world as they make the decisions that largely determine the course of history. Even the most famous leaders are, in the end, human beings, replete with weaknesses and eccentricities and rich personalities and I enjoy reconstructing their individual worldviews in an effort to better understand why they chose the policies they did. My students come to similarly "know" the people moving history forward when they research and prepare for extended role-playing exercises, in which each student acts out a specific character in history.
Another take on historical role playing comes via "PeaceMaker," a video game simulating Palestinian-Israeli interactions which asks the player to assume the role of either the Palestinian president or the Israeli prime minister. PeaceMaker was created by CMU graduate students and I had lots of fun serving as a consultant for the project. Occasionally I assign PeaceMaker at a relevant point in my syllabus. No one has ever forgotten to do his or her video game homework!
Along with continuing my work in the field of the Arab-Israeli conflict and peace process, I also follow Lebanese-Israeli affairs, since my first book and subsequent articles explore the relations between the Zionists in Palestine and then Israel with various actors in Lebanon. My new projects underway concern the legacy of Jordan's King Hussein and the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.