One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is holy to the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Its earliest-known human settlements, appearing sometime in the fourth millennium BCE, gravitated toward the region’s mountainous landscape and access to fresh water from the Gihon Spring. The site is characterized by enduring strife:

“There have been at least 118 separate conflicts in and for Jerusalem during the past four millennia—conflicts that ranged from local religious struggles to strategic military campaigns and that embraced everything in between. Jerusalem has been destroyed completely at least twice, besieged twenty-three times, attacked an additional fifty-two times, and captured and recaptured forty-four times. It has been the scene of twenty revolts and innumerable riots, has had at least five separate periods of violent terrorist attacks during the past century, and has only changed hands completely peacefully twice in the past four thousand years.”[1]

But besides these bellicose conflicts, Professor Annabel Wharton’s graduate seminar (ARTHIST713/RELS881, Fall 2015) examined how violence arises from Jerusalem’s ancient and modern topography, its urban plan, and contested cultural quarters and sites.[2] In Duke’s Visualizing Cities Lab, Team Jerusalem adapted Professor Wharton’s original syllabus and transformed it into a prototype that accommodates a range of undergraduate courses. This ‘sample syllabus’ features new primary sources, including archaeological and material evidence, films, novels, and video games; a greater diversity of voices that serve as modern theoretical ‘interventions’ and populate suggested secondary sources; and engaging activities, such as peer discussion groups and creating ‘educational’ TikToks.

As an additional pedagogical resource for instructors affiliated with the Visualizing Cities Lab, Team Jerusalem created a ‘syllabus scaffold’ that posits a framework for developing innovative syllabi. In future iterations of a Jerusalem course, based on the ‘sample syllabus,’ students will benefit from a variety of nuanced perspectives and build a set of skills that are relevant to our increasingly digital age.

1. Eric H. Cline, Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 2.
2. Professor Annabel Wharton, faculty advisor for VCL Team Jerusalem, is the William B. Hamilton Distinguished Professor of Art and Art History in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University.