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Small in stature but a commanding presence, a professor sits in the back of a comfortable classroom, listening to
students explain assigned readings to the class. She keeps her right hand on her chin, pausing briefly to scrawl notes onto loose-leaf paper.
Suddenly she interjects, “When talking about this subject, please don’t say BAM!”
Her lips curl slightly upward as the rest of the class laughs. And the talk about nuclear warfare and tensions in the Middle East continues.
Professor of Political Science Lenore Martin is not the kind of woman most would expect to be knowledgeable on Middle Eastern studies; even she admits that she stumbled into it.
“A person who studies the Middle East would [normally] have the language, a deep understanding of the religion, and a deep understanding of the culture,” she said. “I had to do a lot of that myself; I still don’t have the language. I never had the opportunity to take an enormous amount of time [on it].”
Prior to the Iranian revolution in 1979, Martin was finishing her doctoral thesis on boundary disputes in the Persian Gulf and could sense a storm brewing in the Middle East.
“When someone is working on their dissertation, they know it better than anybody else,” she said. “And I kept saying to my husband, there’s going to be a war, there’s going to be a war between Iran and Iraq.”
Following the completion of her thesis, Martin’s first editorial, “For a Gulf NATO,” was published in The New York Times on Oct. 9, 1980.
From that moment on, she was catapulted into Middle East studies. Martin has traveled extensively; the only three regions she has yet to visit are North Africa, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
In 1991, she traveled to Iran to speak at a conference during the height of the Gulf War. She was originally the only woman invited until an Iranian woman was added as well. Before leaving the United States, Martin learned to tie a headscarf from a Saudi student at Emmanuel. Once she arrived in Iran and met the other female attendee, she realized the cultural differences ran much deeper.
“Even her hands were covered… and she spoke in a very soft voice,” she remembered. “And I told her, you have to speak up.”
While there, Martin arranged to attend all the events, including dinners, although men and women in Iran customarily dine separately. She brought back a banner depicting the faces of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei, the former and current leaders of Islam in Iran.
One of Martin’s most recent achievements was her appointment as Louise Doherty Wyant Professor at Emmanuel. Usually, the position is offered to a humanities expert outside of the Emmanuel community.
“I was very honored to be asked and to be invited from within the faculty,” she said.
As the Wyant professor, Martin only teaches one course a semester, allowing her more time for writing and research. As part of this position, she also arranges to have a “compelling speaker” come to campus each semester. This semester, the speaker will be Dan Ariely, an Israeli-American professor of psychology and behavioral economics who will come to campus on April 19.
This semester will be Martin’s last as the Louise Doherty Wyant Professor, as she was awarded the position in January 2010.
Despite her 40 years as a professor, Martin is incredibly humble for a person in her position. When a maintenance worker recently stopped by her office to check that a piece of artwork had been delivered and hung correctly and asked Martin, “Are you happy with it?” She looked at the piece thoughtfully and added, “I think it looks perfect. Thank you so much for that.”
“You’re welcome. Anytime,” the worker replied with a small smile.
“Don’t say anytime,” she joked. “How many times have you moved me already?”