Early Arabic instruction

Early Harvard and Biblical Studies 1654-72

Early Arabic Instruction

According to Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard’s first two presidents, Henry Dunster and Charles Chauncy, were “primarily Orientalists” who studied and taught not only Hebrew, but also Aramaic, Arabic, and Ethiopic. In his 1896 paper on “Semitic Studies in American Colleges,” Rabbi William Rosenau wrote that Arabic was added to the Semitic languages already being taught during the presidency of Chauncy (1654-1672). This instruction was most likely from Chauncy himself, who had studied Arabic at the University of Cambridge in England, taught it to local ministers outside of Harvard, and “boasted that he knew more Arabic than any other person in the American colonies.” After Chauncy’s presidency, Arabic was offered at Harvard occasionally as an adjunct to Hebrew, but was only formally taught as a course in its own right with Professor Crawford H. Toy’s appointment in 1880.

Charles Chauncy
Charles Chauncy (1592-1672)