The country of Oman, located in the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and the northwestern shore of the Indian Ocean, is now linked to the City of Williamsburg through a new professorship created Oct. 24.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman recently presented the College of William and Mary with a grant to endow a professorship in Middle East Studies program.
“The gift is simply marvelous,” College President Taylor Reveley said in a press release. “Today we celebrate the Sultan’s commitment to higher education and our mutual efforts to enhance and extend global cultural heritage for the benefit of all people.”
This endowment is a major contribution to the College’s newly created Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) program, a fusion of the Middle East Studies program and the East Asian studies program.
“The professorship will … allow us to establish a Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair in Middle East Studies to be used for an outstanding scholar of the region in Arts and Sciences at William and Mary,” Vice Provost for International Affairs Stephen Hanson said in an email. “The Sultan Qaboo bin Said Chair has the potential to put our already excellent program in Middle East studies into the international spotlight.”
Sultan Qaboos has emphasized the arts and academics, and recently opened a new opera house in Oman, which has already hosted Placido Domingo and Yo-Yo Ma.
“It is a country deeply interested in cultural capital,” chair and associate professor of ethnomusicology Anne Rasmussen said. “They endow professorships and encourage educational exchange.”
In addition to its educational and cultural pursuits, Oman shares guardianship of the Hormuz Strait, which sees about 40 percent of the world’s petroleum trade.
Lois Critchfield, an honorary alumna of the College through whose efforts the Sultan Qaboos Professorship became a reality, noted the nation’s importance in global trade.
“Oman is a kingpin nation among those who occupy the Indian Ocean Basin from the Arabian Peninsula to the Strait of Malacca, which are today’s trade routes for maritime commerce,” she said.
Critchfield has already established the Critchfield Endowment for the Middle East Studies at the College, in honor of her late husband James Critchfield, who worked closely with the Sultanate of Oman for many years on development projects through his company Tetra Tech.
The Critchfield Endowment provides students with financial aid in order to study abroad.
The agreement to establish the professorship was signed during an Oct. 24 ceremony attended by Reveley, Rawiyahbint Saud Al-Busaidiyah, the Omani Minister of Higher Education, and Hunaina Sultan Ahmed Al-Mughairy, Oman’s ambassador to the United States.
The ceremony was accompanied by a fanfare commissioned by the College in honor of Sultan Qaboos in addition to a concert of traditional music from Oman by the College’s Middle East Music Ensemble.
The ensemble is a group directed by Rasmussen, who received a grant from Oman to spend four months studying in the country.
“This professorship will strengthen the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies program’s focus on the Indian Ocean Basin,” Tamara Sonn, religious studies professor and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Humanities, said.
Sonn wrote the initial proposal for the endowment and has been involved in the project since its formation.
“Oman is in many ways the keystone of the Indian Ocean,” Sonn said. “It reflects the cultural pluralism and richness of the region, from East Africa through Arab, Persian and Indian cultural communities.”
This professorship will be the Sultan’s third in the US, and sixteenth worldwide.