The annual event seeks to understand present situations through an understanding of the past.


While many weigh in on the fate of the Middle East, the Baker Peace Conference looks into the past to understand the present for the area’s public policy.

The Baker Peace Conference, an event dedicated to the search for world peace through open-forum dialogue, will make its annual appearance in Baker Center starting Thursday.

The topic of this year’s two-day conference, which includes discussion panels and a keynote speaker, will be “History, War, and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East.”

“People know there’s trouble in the Middle East,” Steven Miner, history professor and director of the Contemporary History Institute, said. “But how many people can explain to you how it got that way, what contours of the disputes there are and what possible acts of resolution there might be — very few.”

The conference, Miner said, provides students an opportunity to hear those issues discussed, and also is “very much an interactive experience. It’s free. It’s open to the public. We left plenty of time for discussion and questions, so we hope there’s a good deal of back and forth. Students can gain not only from learning, but also asking questions they must have about the nature of the current crisis in the Middle East.”

The panels will focus on the Middle East in three pivotal stages of modern history: during the World Wars, the Cold War and modern days.

Ziad Abu-Rish, assistant professor of Middle Eastern history, worked with Miner in choosing the panelists.

“People (are) producing research on these topics and producing work that challenges traditional assumptions about how these dynamics played out and (are) offering new interpretations based on rigorous research,” Abu-Rish said.

The members of the panels include: University of California, Los Angeles, law professor Asli Bali, human rights attorney Noura Erakat and Ohio University’s Director of War and Peace Studies Nukhet Sandal, among other published scholars.

This year the keynote speaker will be Rashid Khalidi, chair of the History Department at Columbia University. Khalidi is a published author, and has served as president of the Middle East Studies Association and as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference. The conference was an attempt to revive the Israel-Palestine peace process, from October 1991 to June 1993.

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“We wanted to turn to someone who has played a large part in helping shape the field of Mideast history,” Abu-Rish said. “And someone who is quite reputable in being able to use their knowledge of history and historical research in commenting on contemporary development. Dr. Khalidi was an easy pick.”

The first Baker Peace Conference was held in 1988, which was paid for by an endowment for studying peace and peacemaking from OU’s 14th President John Calhoun Baker and his wife Elizabeth. The goal of the event has continued to be to approach topics that are important for students to be familiar with.

“What we try to do is hit the intersection between scholarships and practical application,” Miner said.


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