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Eminent Guests Return

Scholars of Islamic culture first visited in 1994 

It is a long way from Scotland to Hanover, but for Robert and Carole Hillenbrand, visiting professors at Dartmouth this year, it is only one of many journeys-personal, professional, and intellectual-they have made together. Since January, they have visited nine countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, India, France, Kuwait, Spain, and Saudi Arabia, where Carole picked up a $200,000 award from the King Faisal Foundation for her latest book, The Crusades: The Islamic Perspectives.

Carole and Robert Hillenbrand
Carole and Robert Hillenbrand teach Islamic culture at the University of Edinburgh.

Avid travelers since they first met in London, the Hillenbrands now teach Islamic culture at the University of Edinburgh-he as an art historian and chair of Islamic art, she in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.

For many years, Dartmouth's religion department has had an exchange program with Edinburgh and sends a faculty member and a group of students to the university every year. The Hillenbrands' first contact with Dartmouth came through the program. Their first teaching visit to campus came in 1994. Then, as now, Carole Hillenbrand taught in the religion department, Robert in art history.

Both Hillenbrands specialize in Islamic history and culture of the 12th and 13th centuries. He is the author or editor of many books on Islamic art and Persian painting and has helped organize major Islamic art exhibitions. She has translated and edited Islamic classics (some illustrated with art chosen with Robert's help) and has worked on the history of the Crusader era from the Islamic point of view, which eventually led to her award-winning book.

"Almost all of the books on the Crusades were written from the perspective of Western Europe," Carole Hillenbrand says. "What most Westerners remember of the Crusades is mostly schoolboy-hero sorts of things. But for the Islamic world, Western Europe was a very distant, uncivilized place, swirling in the mists. The shock of the First Crusade, which led to the loss of Jerusalem, was extreme. The Crusaders were like something coming from outer space, really. It took a good fifty years for the Islamic world to unite and expel the invaders."

The Hillenbrands are delighted to be back in Hanover. They find Dartmouth an excellent place to teach and work. "Very fine, very enthusiastic, very articulate, extremely lively," says Carole of her students. "They have plenty to say in class and have high expectations of their teachers. The classes are very international, even more so than eleven years ago. There is a very big mixture from different countries and different parts of America and different ethnic groups."

"Dartmouth students are accustomed to getting serious attention," adds Robert. "They keep you on your toes in a way that certainly isn't true in Germany or England. Here at Dartmouth, students are privileged to an extraordinary degree, and they know how to take advantage of that. I think that is a good thing."

He is also impressed with campus resources. "What's changed since 1994 is the student body is even more wired up, in computer terms. The library system is much more automated than before. Back in '94, I wrote a letter to the library saying that I had never had such service in any library I have used. It's now even faster still, with the fastest, friendliest, most efficient aids to library work-even better than they were before."

The Hillenbrands have been putting campus resources to good use on a new collaborative project: an illustrated book on a 14th-century Persian classic, a universal history by Rashid al-Din. And they have been enjoying Hanover again. "It's the kind of place where you walk along the road and a total stranger says hello," Carole says. "When you go to cross the street, all the cars stop, which is amazing. The people are very friendly indeed. To visit Dartmouth is genuinely a pleasure."

By PETER WALSH

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Last Updated: 5/30/08