Photo Courtesy of NYU Abu Dhab

Meet Nathalie Peutz, the new Executive Director of the Core Curriculum

Nathalie Peutz was appointed as the Executive Director of the Core Curriculum. Here, she talks about her background, how it informs her work and ideas for the future of the Core.

Oct 2, 2022

“The UAE is as much home as anywhere else. I don’t know that I have counted the years but I have been here now 11 years, which is probably the longest I’ve lived in any place,” shared Nathalie Puetz, Associate Professor of Arab Crossroads and Anthropology, and now the new Executive Director of the Core Curriculum, when asked about her connection to the UAE.
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Nathalie Peutz moved to the United States at the age of nine but remained deeply connected to her European roots. As a young student figuring out next steps and then later as a cultural anthropologist, Puetz has also spent significant time in the MENA region, especially Cairo, Morocco and Yemen.
Peutz’s academic journey did not follow a linear path. She had taken only a single course in anthropology as an undergraduate student but didn’t consider it to be her future at that point. Following her undergraduate degree, she biked from Prague through Eastern Europe, around the coast of Turkey and through Syria and Jordan before finally reaching Kenya. Having run out of money by then, Puetz got a job working for the International Rescue Committee and spent a year working in Tanzania. After saving enough money, she continued her journey through East Africa.
“I became interested in anthropology as a discipline because I was… thinking about cultural differences and how to write about the cultural differences I encountered on the trip and the experience. And so I went to graduate school in anthropology,” shared Peutz.
Her fieldwork in Yemen eventually led to a book titled Islands of Heritage: Conservation and Transformation in Yemen, which focuses on environmental conservation, development and heritage projects in prewar Yemen.
“I’m worried that there will be a lot more migration of people in the near future… We just passed the hundred million mark a few months ago, and a lot of that is due to conflict or political unrest, but also climate, and it's very hard to disaggregate those causes as well as the aspirations that people have for a better life… So I'm deeply concerned about the fact that there will be a lot of people who feel trapped in places and circumstances that they can't get out of with a lot more borders and walls going up,” explained Puetz when discussing her work and how the intersection of migration and environmental regimes affects people on the ground.
When speaking about her shift from teaching classes on the Middle East and anthropology courses in liberal arts universities in the US to one in the UAE, Peutz emphasized that it proved to be both a challenge and an opportunity to rethink what anthropology meant in the MENA region and how to center its multiple histories.
“I try to center the course on where we are and then look at the connections going outwards. So anthropology has also become an anthropology of place, an anthropology of location, of this location, and then looking towards its global connections from here,” clarified Peutz.
We then talked about her taking on the position of Executive Director of the Core Curriculum. “I'm really excited to take up this position. It's also a bit daunting because I have amazing predecessors and I'm very indebted to my predecessors… and humbled by that. So at this point, there's a lot that I would like to take up. We're still in a transition mode,” Puetz added.
Peutz is currently focusing on better understanding the Core Curriculum in its current form and on what she hopes to do to strengthen the foundation. She is excited about reenvisioning the core in a way that students remain connected to it, even after graduation.
“If your major prepares you for a career or profession or graduate school, the Core is that foundation that [will] prepare you and the faculty as we teach it. I learn from teaching the Core… It's for preparing us for life outside of just that narrow trajectory of career and profession because it's so interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, rooted in big questions, 21st century challenges,” elaborated Peutz.
Peutz hopes to achieve this connection with the core by bringing alumni back, and finding new ways to engage them through the core and continue to have the conversations that they engaged in as students. Another potential idea she hopes to explore is to better incorporate the summer colloquium text first years read during Marhaba throughout their four years as undergraduate students.
She is considering questions of how the core can engage with the Global Network of Universities and how the core can align with the global component of the NYU Abu Dhabi curriculum. Another challenge is that the core belongs to all divisions and Peutz is attempting to learn from both students and faculty on how to better integrate the core across all programs.
“Conversations going forward would be [based on] how can the core do more? I would like to hear more about what students want for the core. What are the students' visions for the core? What are faculty visions for the core?” ended Peutz, emphasizing her desire to collaborate with students to revitalize the core and their education at NYUAD.
Githmi Rabel is Editor in Chief. Email her at
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