A Harvard Art Museum Trip from my Arabic Language Class

Category Student Voices


David, HFAI Coordinator
David Class of '25
Authored on May 08, 2023



I had always wanted to interact with the authentic material in classical Arabic. In that regard, whatever came to my mind was always a trip to the Arab world for me to see and interact with old Arabic material that contains Classical Arabic. However, I had never thought that some of these books and manuscripts that I wanted to interact with existed much closer than I had imagined, right on Harvard’s campus. 

Some of the oldest Arabic manuscripts and books are well-preserved in the Harvard Art Museums. I did not know this until the end of my sophomore fall in 2022. During that semester, I was a student in the Intermediate Arabic class. My professor was Prof. Muhammad Habib, a famous Egyptian professor of Arabic and calligrapher. In his soft-spoken nature, he told us one day at the beginning of class, “سنذهب إلى المتحف إن شاء الله الأسبوع المقبل” (We will go to the museum next week, God willing). 

A week passed by, and I was excited for that day. It dawned on me that I had actually never visited any of the many Harvard museums that were always open to me as a Harvard College student. Prof. Habib organized everything, and we were received well by the museum staff and led to the exhibition room where the classical Arabic manuscripts and books had been prepared for us to view and learn from. 

Four students and professor looking at a manuscript

A photo of 4 of my classmates with Prof. Muhammad Habib David J. Aboge

Prof. Habib and our guide carefully explained to each of us the significance and age of each material. 

Viewing such old material was life-changing. Important to note was that most of the Classical Arabic manuscripts were religious manuscripts, specifically, Islamic manuscripts. We were all surprised at how we could read material from almost a millennium ago and understand and analyze it amongst ourselves with knowledge from our Modern Standard Arabic class.  

A photo of an old Arabic manuscript

A photo of an old Arabic manuscript at the Harvard Art Museums David J. Aboge

A photo of an old Arabic manuscript

A photo of an old Arabic Manuscript at Harvard Art Museums David J. Aboge

The museum staff advised us against underutilizing the wealth of resources that we have at the Harvard Museums. This is because people come from all around the world just to view and utilize our resources while Harvard College students have almost unlimited and free access to almost everything in the museums. 

Author and other students viewing Arabic manuscripts

A photo of myself viewing some of the Arabic manuscripts Mahdi Hamad

Since we could not physically touch or borrow any of the materials there, we took photos of the materials for later analysis and also took group photos to commemorate this amazing visit to the Harvard Art Museums. 

Students talking a photo of the Arabic art

My classmate Samia Afrose '25 taking a photo of the Arabic art David J. Aboge

Student talking a photo of the Arabic art

My classmate Natalia Cárdenas '24 taking a photo of the Arabic art David J. Aboge

We then took a group photo to wrap up our 1.25-hour “class” for the day.  

A group photo of Professor Habib and students

A photo of my classmates, Prof. Habib and I

This single visit has motivated me to explore more of the Harvard Museums. I also encourage all students to visit any of the Harvard museums to learn more and to appreciate the wealth of resources that we have in the museums. 



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David Class of '25

Habari zenu (Hello everyone)! My name is David and I am a junior in Adams House from Kenya. I concentrate in applied mathematics (government honors track), with a secondary in global health & health policy, and I’m on track to earn a language citation in Arabic.

David, HFAI Coordinator