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Amman, Jordan

Jordanian Futurities Between Ancient Antiquities and Performances of Urban Life

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Program Quick Facts

  • Location: Amman, Jerash, and Petra, Jordan
  • Stanford Faculty Leader: Samer Al-Saber
  • BOSP Program Manager: Morgan Diamond [Email] [Schedule Appointment]
  • Program datesAugust 27 - September 16, 2022
  • Program Cost: $600 program fee; please visit the Overview page for complete information about the program fee structure and financial assistance
  • Academic Prerequisites: N/A
  • Activity Level: Light/Moderate. Activities may include city walking tours, easy/short hikes, museum and other site visits as well as an occasional physical activity such as snorkeling, hiking, or kayaking. 
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Information for Travelers to Jordan
  • US State Department Country Information: Jordan International Travel Information
  • Visa Information: Embassy of Jordan
  • Application Deadline: Sunday, January 23, 2022 at 11:59pm PT

General Description

Present day Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the site of remarkable civilizations of Antiquity.  In Jordan, Eastern civilizations of Ammon, Moab, Canaan, Assyria, and Babylon thrived as did the Romans and the Persians.  Today, the most visible of Jordan’s ancient world are the Roman, Nabatean, and Islamic civilizations. The proposed course takes cultural artifacts as the foundational blocks of the Levant, asking a fundamental question about how a contemporary state exists on top and beside the ancient past, by exploring three cities: Petra, Jerash, and Amman.  All three cities have large Amphitheatres that suggest a particular pattern of growth over time, and play a major role in how these cities function today as tourist attractions and a geography for performances of everyday life. In these three case studies, students will investigate how performances of everyday life, along with culture in its broadest definition, have shaped the destiny of the Levant historically and influenced the present day Hashemite Kingdom.  

How did three major metropolitan cities that stretch back to antiquity develop into very different urban living spaces today?  Why do all of them have a massive theatre in their midst? What conclusions can be drawn from the stunted development of Petra, the semi-developed city of Jerash, and the highly developed capital city, Amman?

Through essential critical readings by leading scholars such as Henri Lefebvre, Michel De Certeau, archaeological surveys by Rami Khouri, Arthur Segal, and Ian Browning, and the historical narrative by Philip Robins A History Of Jordan, students will critically encounter three sites that equally straddle the past and present.  These foundational readings will set the stage for site visits, including guided tours, that will encourage students to explore their own readings of how space is produced and performed.  Each site visit is anchored by a major theatre where a city can be read in relation to performance, architecture, and urban life. By the end of this course, students will be able to read theatrical and urban spaces in historical terms. The main objective of the course is to observe and narrate on the ground how history and culture shape the footprint of human civilization.


The course’s expansive movement from center to periphery, begins in Amman at the Roman Amphitheatre downtown in the first week. During this time, students become familiar with the official Amman that is seen in tourist materials, but they are also oriented to the urban life of Amman, full of complexity and history. Then, the movement expands in the second week to Gerasa (Jerash), a city famous for its well preserved urban play, multiple theatres, hippodrome, and layers of civilization. In the third week, the movement leads to the crescendo of the course at the historic city of Petra, known as one of the new seven wonders of the world. The long journey to Petra, across the desertscape of Jordan, reminds us of a time when urban life was not as fast and history did not move so quickly.

As part of their cultural experience, students will visit the lowest sea on earth (The Dead Sea), the ancient city of Umm Qais, Aqaba on the Red Sea, and Wadi Rum, known for its unusual desertscapes.

Living and Travel Conditions

Amman is a city built on multiple hills and has curved roads. Due to heavy traffic, it is not easy to go from one area to another during the day. Accommodations will therefore be near classroom space. We will stay in a long term hotel that will provide a homebase for day trips.  During the long trip to Petra, students will be hosted in a hotel.  Site visits will be professionally guided and an air-conditioned bus will take the group to each destination as needed.  

We will fly from the United States to Amman International Airport.  For the duration of this course, the weather will be hot and dry during the day (low 90s degree Fahrenheit), but cooler at night (low 60s degree Fahrenheit). On field trips, students should have sunglasses and sunscreen as it is easy to burn while on long hikes [several miles on uneven terrain] in areas such as Petra and Jerash [bring comfortable shoes]. The group’s itinerary is still being finalized but will likely involve extended hikes in Umm Qais and/or Ajlun.


Dr. Samer Al-Saber

Dr. Samer Al-Saber is Assistant Professor of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS).  He is affiliated with the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, and the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies. As a scholar of Middle East Studies, with particular expertise in the Levant, he has taught at the intersection of Performance, History, and Culture.  With deep roots in the Middle East, he has studied the region from antiquity to the present with extensive experience in fieldwork and archival research. He has taught graduate seminars on research methods in various historical periods including antiquity. At Stanford, Dr. Al-Saber taught courses on the Middle East including Performing Arabs, Edward Said: Scholar vs Empire, and Culture and Conflict In the Middle East. Other courses he has taught include, Race and Performance, Performing Identities, Conflict and Theatre, World Theatre History, Arab Theatre and Culture, Staging Islam and American Politics, Orientalism and the Victorians, Making Your Own Solo Show, Workshops in Theatre, Play Analysis, Introduction to Theatre, and Acting. Dr. Al-Saber is known for his theatrical teaching style and his experience in theatre-making as well as performing.

Prerequisites and Expectations

Students are required to read the book A History Of Jordan, by Philip Robins, prior to arriving to Amman, and they are also required to bring with them a copy of the Lonely planet guide to Jordan.  During the initial orientation period, the class will review these sources, mining them for the foundational knowledge needed to move through the country.

Elementary Arabic is helpful, but not necessary as survival Arabic will be taught as part of the course.

Grading Basis

Letter Grade. Grading will be based on student reflections and sustained participation throughout the class.  Familiarity with readings and effective participation in fieldwork throughout the course of study are integral for success in this course.