Author Archive for cmari008

What to expect in the field? What am I bringing with me?

As summer approaches and we begin to turn our proposed projects into reality, I personally am beginning to question what problems I might expect in working with the local publics with such a politically sensitive topic. What biases will I encounter, and how can I prepare to address them myself? How will my own position as a university-sponsored individual impact how I am received? My project is geared towards preserving ancient Syrian heritage, and with that comes entangled, messy, colonial baggage, which on the one hand I must contend with as a scholar, and on the other hand must figure out how to explain to the public. The current political situation moreover has created tensions in my area that partially focus on issues pertaining to my project. How will these tensions affect my project, the reception of it, and the direction it takes?

What I am bringing with me is support from my university from multiple departments, as well as the background knowledge relating to the history of the region. I also, however, am bringing my own biases, centered on a value of education, and sharing and preserving of knowledge, combined with a Western worldview. I must keep in mind that the cultural heritage I am working towards helping preserve is not my own.

What Can I Do Over a Summer?

This week we have been asked to question what can we do over a summer–the question, I think, not only being what we can conceivably accomplish with regards to a particular project, but what kind of change we can effect for the community and public with whom we are working.

For what can I accomplish with respect to my project itself, I have established and outline and a timeline that involves a month or so of research, followed by a period of event planning. I believe I can do the research and translations that are the focal points of my project, and I also believe that I can set up an exhibition hosting these translations. While I have tried, in my proposed timeline, to be aware of the time I can spend on this project, I also recognize the need to be flexible and honest with myself. Unforeseen issues will arise that create obstacles in both research and event planning, and I must be prepared both to make cuts if need be, and to be open to adapting new elements for my project.

The question of what kind of change can I effect for my community and the public is a much more difficult–if not impossible–question to answer. I do not believe that major policy changes will arise from my project, but I do think that public education regarding the ancient site of Palmyra can be a small stepping stone in bringing awareness about the struggles of the region, which in turn could influence how people view foreign policies in the region, what donations individuals make to organizations focused on helping people in the region, and how people vote.


Why am I here?

This week we were asked to write about why we are here–and for me, the answer is simple. I think that knowledge production–scholarship–does not (and should not be thought of) as happening within the confines of the academy. Limiting access to scholarship, and limiting what constitutes scholarship, is harmful, particularly in the United States today. While funding is cut for education, and a dislike for the so-called “educated elite” increases, I believe it is my job–our job–as scholars to make ourselves open and relevant to the public. I see scholars decrying the desire to cut departments in universities, and yet I also see elitism and condescension when faced with non-traditional forms of knowledge production.

Some of this, I believe, is stemmed from the outdated notion that having a PhD entitles the doctor to respect simply because of the work he or she put in to getting that title. Perhaps, one time, when the market was not flooded with recent PhD’s, and tenure-track jobs were more bountiful than they are now, a person with a PhD might have been impressive—it was a lot of work for a good and respectful career. Now, that is not the case. Having a PhD does not guarantee a good or stable career in the academy. Does that then mean that getting a PhD is futile, if one cannot work in the academy when finished?

No—or rather, I hope not. While obtaining a PhD the individual not only participates in the production of knowledge, but also acquires unique skills that can be translated to the public, for the good of the public. This is why I am here, in this seminar. I hope that I can tune into ways that my research, and the skills I’ve acquired while a PhD student, can translate into the world beyond the academy.

Reactions to Readings: Navigating the Identities of a Public Scholar

The readings this week have made me think with more care about the intersecting identities of public activist and scholar. What are the responsibilities of both, what are the risks, and is it perhaps better to leave academia altogether and become a scholar not of public discourse, but within them? In the introduction to Activist Scholarship, Sudbury and Okazawa-Rey tell of the general reaction to Canadian antiracist feminist Sunera Thobani’s analysis of US foreign policy and the mass death it caused post-9/11. Her work was met with resentment and hostility. What this provides an example of, then, is the inherent risk of presenting to the public alternative narratives that call into question national histories. While presenting such alternative narratives is indeed important, can it be done in such a way that creates a space for the public to engage with the information without becoming angry or hostile? Or is such a reaction necessary in the production of public knowledge?

On another level, public scholars likewise must contend with peers in the academy. While Hale, in the introduction to Engaging Contradictions, argues that the coming together of public scholarship and the academy can be productive, there is a sort of crisis of identity among scholars who also are public activists, nothing that the authors who contributed to that particular work feel “completely at home in his or her discipline or in the university setting where he or she works,” and that “commitments to activist scholarship can leave one feeling torn (if not mildly schizophrenic), stretched too thin, and resentful, especially toward the larger academic community, whose reaction generally ranges from indifference to outright hostility,” (Hale 14). Both readings therefore demonstrate how the identity of the public scholar as living in two worlds must contend, at varying degrees with the criticisms of both the public outside of the academy, and the academy itself.

Reactions to Readings: Rethinking the Archive

This week, our readings examined the idea of the “archive”–its meaning as an institution and as a social formation, ways to expand what constitutes an archive, and, consequently, how to move away from the colonial archive. I am struck by the effort to trace the “archive” back to (and subsequently disentangle it from) its ancient eurocentric roots, and the impact that redefining or reconstructing the archive might have on the production of knowledge. In The Reorder of Things Roderick Ferguson begins his work by citing Derrida’s theory that the word “archive” comes from the Greek arkheion, meaning the residence of those who commanded. To this, I add that we can break down the word even further to arkh, the Greek word that can mean magistracy, but also can mean power or sovereignty in a more general sense, as well as origin, beginning and foundation.

Ferguson and Romeo Guzmán (our guest this week) both problematize and expand upon what constitutes an archive. Ferguson defines the archive as, “a diverse assemblage of documents…coordinated so that they may articulate an ideal unity,” illustrating that the archive acts as a model  for finding “unity with the reality of heterogeneity,” or e pluribus unum (Ferguson 19). From this, he shows how, in the university, the inclusion of interdisciplinary studies in the sixties and seventies–while embracing diversity– is an institutionalizing and “archiving” project (Ferguson 36). Guzmán, in his blog post “Unofficial Archives: Crafting History from Family Documents & Material Culture” discusses how he worked with students to create new historical narratives by using primary sources found in “unofficial” family archives, which I hope to hear more about in discussion this week.

The question that rethinking the archive rises for my own research is, how to respond when a specific archive–or indeed the whole notion of archive–is perceived as a threat and is thus met with violence and erasure? My project deals with this very issue–the destruction of archives in Syria because they are perceived as centers of secular and imperial knowledge. The violent break away from the (de)colonial projects preserving the ancient past is, for these militant groups, an attempt to rewrite and reestablish official historical narratives and reject other dominant histories. As scholars invested in the preservation and production of knowledge, even in the attempt to address issues of colonialism and the archive, what is the responsible reaction? What lessons, if any, can the destruction of sites in Syria provide scholars interested in moving away from the colonial archive?