A history of giving
Marina Tolmacheva endows second scholarship
By Phyllis Shier, College of Liberal Arts
History professor Marina Tolmacheva's generous philanthropy to the College of Liberal Arts extends more than 20 years and has led to the establishment of two endowments. This spring she finalized her second $25,000 endowment, creating a Middle East Studies Research and Scholarship Fund for students interested in pursuing history of the Muslim world.
For Tolmacheva, an Arabist who immigrated to the United States, broadening the curriculum of the history department to include Middle East studies is a personal and professional priority.
Learning from the past
Recent world events have led to an interest in Middle East history, Tolmacheva said, but that tends to ebb and flow historically, with interest waning in times of peace. She hopes the Middle East Studies Research and Scholarship Fund will contribute to fostering a consistent interest in the study of Middle East history and classical Islamic culture here at WSU.
"The minute the war subsides it seems that the study suffers, and it should be actually the other way around," Tolmacheva said. "If you look at people with whom you are in conflict, you still have to know what they're about. Classical Islamic civilization is such an enormous cultural pool that whoever studies it cannot be but overwhelmed and excited by the richness, the diversity, and the expressiveness of that culture. It is a worthwhile pursuit in itself, not to mention how much Islamic civilization gave Western civilization."
Similarly to her first endowment establishing the Asia Program Excellence Award, which was inspired by one student's outstanding work, the new endowment will provide one award annually for excellence in scholarship.
"Civilization is such an important part of total humanity, and politics so often overshadows culture," Tolmacheva said.
A historical perspective, she said, sobers us so we are not guided by the mood of the moment. Instead, we learn from chronicled events what happened, why it happened, how things were perceived at the time, and how people perceive them now.
"All of that is very important whether you are doing a study of a medieval period of history or trying to explain why bin Laden used references to the crusaders, for instance, in his propaganda against the West."
Implications for the future
Tolmacheva's gift supports a course of study that has practical implications for our global society.
"I remember one of my former students was applying to work in the customs service and he asked for a reference—it was important to his employer that he had exposure to such subjects," she said of the courses he took in Middle Eastern studies at WSU. "Among my former graduate students, at least two got their college teaching jobs because they had training in Middle East history."
Strong departmental support
On a personal level, Tolmacheva said she has always felt supported in the history department, which provided another good reason to give back.
"The history department has been good to me when I was establishing myself here in terms of allowing me to pursue my interests," she said. "The University supported me and my peers supported me in terms of my research and travel interests. In a way this is giving back to the field, but it also is giving back specifically to the department."
Tolmacheva received her undergraduate degree with distinction from St. Petersburg University and her Ph.D. in history from the Russian Academy of Sciences.
A recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, she has traveled to the Middle East and Asia since 1964 and served as lecturer and interpreter on more than 20 travel tours. In 1998 she was visiting professor at the pre-eminent French academic center, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
In 2003 Tolmacheva was awarded an honorary professorship (equivalent of honorary doctorate) by the Institute of Eastern Languages and Cultures of the National Pedagogical University of Kyrgyzstan. She was named a 1992–1993 Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in the Humanities, a 1995 Fulbright Fellow, and a 2005–2006 Fellow of the Open Society Institute International Higher Education Support Program.
From 2006 to 2009 Tolmacheva served as president of the American University of Kuwait.
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