A Brief History of the Middle East Institute

Thu, Dec 22nd 2011, 2:40PM

For 70 years, the Middle East Institute has operated as one of the preeminent centers for Middle East research in Washington, DC. The Institute was founded in 1946 by a group of prominent scholars and statesmen who recognized the need for accurate, rigorous scholarship in a rapidly changing post-War environment, and who sought, as they put it, “to increase knowledge of the Middle East among citizens of the United States and to promote a better understanding between the peoples of these two areas.” They established a library, sponsored research, taught language classes, hosted conferences, and began publication of the first scholarly journal to focus exclusively on the region: The Middle East Journal.

At the center of this group of scholars and statesmen was George Camp Keiser, an architect by training and a student of Islamic architecture. His associates were Christian A. Herter, a congressman from Massachusetts who would go on to become Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of state; Ambassador George Allen; Harvey Hall, a former instructor at the American University of Beirut; and Halford L. Hoskins, an academic who directed what would eventually become the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.  

Keiser and his associates saw political neutrality as a crucial element of MEI’s identity. The Institute’s purpose was to provide accurate information and objective analysis, not to lobby Congress or engage in advocacy. Beginning in the late 1960s, as Middle East think tanks and publications proliferated and policy organizations shifted their focus toward the region, this commitment to neutrality became increasingly important. Where other organizations focused on influencing policy decisions, MEI concentrated on ensuring that these decisions were based on sound data and a thoughtful consideration of differing points of view.

Since 1946, public interest in the Middle East has waxed and waned, and the role of the United States in the region has changed. Through all of this, MEI has maintained its commitment to objectivity, intellectual rigor, and public service, striving to provide both policymakers and their constituents with knowledge of and first-hand encounters with the peoples of the Middle East. From an informal gathering of like-minded colleagues, the Institute has evolved into a highly-regarded forum for debate, one where a wide range of opinions can be presented and challenged. Points of view that are underrepresented in American media often find voice through MEI’s publications and events, ensuring that a balanced and sophisticated understanding of the issues is available to the public.

Read the full history of the Middle East Institute.