Professor Profile: School of Liberal Arts Dean Brian Edwards discusses his life and research

Batu El, Staff Writer

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Photo Courtesy of Brian Edwards

Ever since joining Tulane as the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts in July, Brian Edwards has been working to enhance students’ research capabilities.

On Oct. 15 Edwards gave the keynote address for International Education Week, hosted by the Center for Global Education. During the address, entitled “Do We Need Language Requirements for a Global Education?” Edwards discussed the influence of studying abroad and the importance of students learning foreign languages.

His research, however, extends far beyond foreign language requirements. After earning a Ph.D in American Studies at Yale University, Edwards traveled to Morocco to conduct research. He said he was inspired by Paul Bowles’ book “The Sheltering Sky.”

“I traveled there and I became fascinated by Morocco,” Edwards said.

When Edwards first went to Morocco, he spoke no Arabic, relying instead on his knowledge of French. While he was conducting research, however, his Moroccan friends encouraged him to learn Arabic, beginning his interest in the language.

Edwards also began observing how modern technology was influencing the culture.

“When I first was going to Morocco, there was obviously no cellphones — the internet had not even arrived in Morocco,” Edwards said.

His observations on this topic would later become the central theme of some of his books. Edwards said he found the impact of technology coming to the country has changed the attitudes of Moroccans towards the U.S. drastically.

After completing his studies in Morocco and publishing his first book, he went to Egypt and Iran to investigate the perception of American culture in other parts of the Middle East. He also studied the influences of American culture on Egyptian and Iranian art.

“[A]nother important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.” -Paul Bowles

His second book, “After the American Century,” argued that Middle Eastern cultures do not merely replicate or appropriate American culture, but transform it into something that is their own.

After years of research in the Middle East, Edwards came back to the U.S. He joined Northwestern University in 2001 as the Crown Professor of Middle Eastern studies, transforming the department from a small, understaffed division into a successful, internationally recognized program.

Edwards joined Tulane as the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and professor of English in July 2018.

Currently he is studying and publishing works related to the international consequences of populist discourses by U.S. politicians. Though these speeches are perceived as a form of entertainment by politicians, Edwards said, they may have a broader impact on communities outside the U.S.

As a newcomer to New Orleans, Edwards said he is impressed by the cultural landscape of the city.

“Tulane is so lucky to be in New Orleans, and [the reason] the relationship of New Orleans and Tulane is so profound is exactly this mixture of peoples of both of the past and the present,” Edwards said.