Former ICWA fellow L. Carl Brown—a historian of the modern Middle East and North Africa who was a longtime Princeton University professor—died in his sleep Wednesday night in Mitchellville, Maryland, his son Jefferson Brown said. He was two weeks shy of 92.
Carl was a fellow in Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia from 1960 to 1962 and later an institute trustee. Author of a dozen authoritative books published by leading academic presses and numerous articles and essays, his initial area of interest was North Africa—a part of the Arab world that traditionally had enjoyed little attention in academia.
Focusing on the encounters local rulers and policymakers to royal courts had with the West in the 19th century, he first produced a historical treatise of Tunisia under Ahmed Bey and then The Surest Path, an annotated translation of a treatise by Khayr al-Din Al-Tunisi, a reformer who was at one time grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire.
Carl traced how Al-Tunisi—also at one point Tunisia’s prime minister—came to view the challenges the West posed for his country and the wider Middle East. The book established him on a path to becoming one of the most innovative and respected Middle East scholars of his generation.
More books followed on a variety of subjects, from the Middle East’s international politics to American diplomacy in the region, the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and inherent tensions between religion and the modern state.
Another leading authority on North Africa and the Middle East—Dartmouth professor and former ICWA Chairman Dirk Vandewalle—met Carl before he began his own fellowship, to Libya in 1986. “I very much viewed Carl as a role model,” he said. “I fondly remember the enthusiasm and intellectual focus about North African matters he brought to our discussions.”
Carl was born in Mayfield, Kentucky. He received his bachelors degree from Vanderbilt University, a masters from the University of Virginia, and PhD from Harvard University in 1962, where he taught four years. He worked for the Foreign Service between 1953 and 1959, serving in Beirut, Lebanon and Sudan.
Carl joined the Princeton University faculty in 1966. He held several roles in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, including longtime director, and was Garrett Professor of Foreign Affairs from 1970 until his retirement in 1993.
He remained professionally active long after, including with the Middle East Studies Association—of which he was onetime president—the American Institute of Maghrebi Studies and on the board of the Middle East Institute.
His long experience in the field gave him deep practical understanding of the region on top of his academic knowledge. In one of his final dispatches as an ICWA fellow in 1962, he advised US policymakers about the importance of recognizing cultural differences.
“In the best American tradition, the American technician will in his enthusiasm be on the phone to his African colleague in the Ministry of Economic Planning… wanting to know ‘why in the hell those supplies promised for today aren’t ready,’” he wrote. “In three or four months the American will be disillusioned, convinced ‘those fellows’ are not really serious about economic planning. From that time on he is worse than useless for any work in that country.”
“His African opposite number will be convinced that the Americans are trying to run his country,” he added.
Another ICWA Africa fellow, the journalist and diplomat Smith Hempstone, met Carl the first day of his own fellowship in 1956. “He walked into the US Embassy in Khartoum to find Carl sitting in the political office,” Smith’s widow Kitty Hempstone said. A more than six-decade friendship with Carl and his wife Anne followed.
“We traveled together, visited one another wherever we were, learned from one another, laughed together, and told ourselves that everything would be alright if the powers that be just listened to us,” Kitty said. “Everyone should be so lucky as to have a friendship such as theirs.”
Carl’s daughter Liza Brown died in 2009 and wife Anne Stokes Brown in 2017. He is survived by two sons, Jefferson and Win Brown, and six grandchildren.
Read Carl’s ICWA newsletters here.
Photo: (L to R) Former fellows and trustees Red Austin, ex-Executive Director Dick Nolte and Carl Brown, with member Joan Cooledge at an ICWA board meeting in 2004.