Tag Archives: Global Studies

Toni Morrison and Africa

Toni Morrison (oprahmag.com)
On August 5, 2019, a great tree fell in the forest of my imagination. Toni Morrison, the great African American writer and international humanist, had died.  I could not ignore the sadness.  I was personally moved to read,
re-read, and to become more familiar with Morrison’s novels and non-fiction writing, including her books for children, co-authored with her son Slade Morrison, to learn more about her work with the Western musical forms of opera and classical art songs, her interests in the visual arts, film, and politics, as well as the fruit of her labors as an editor and advocate for African authors and other humanist writers around the world (1975 and 2009).  In the wake of Morrison’s passing, I began conducting a survey of open access interviews and performances of Morrison, as well as significant commentaries on her life and legacy.  As the subject librarian for African Studies at Columbia University, I looked to the books I knew, to the Internet, and to the library holdings at Columbia and elsewhere to cope with my sense of emptiness.  As an Africa-centered reader, I have settled on two topics of investigation:
first, the ways in which scholars have analyzed Morrison’s invocation of an imagined “Africa” and the African heritage among African Americans through her characters and stories ; and, second, her relationships with authors from the African continent.

I offer here the first part of my report.

Out on the Internet, there’s a wide array of freely accessible Toni Morrison performances, analysis, interviews, readings, and testimonies on Morrison’s life and her works.  Aside from the images and words of Morrison herself, particularly useful for the research scholar are the “Bibliography” project of The Toni Morrison Society (Atlanta, Georgia), covering the period 2000-2011, and the Oxford Research Encyclopedia biographical entry on  “Toni Morrison”  by Kristine Yohe (2019).

For those with access to Columbia’s library collections, there are currently in the library catalog: 149 entries for Morrison-authored works -and- 261 entries for works about Morrison.  Using Columbia’s access to MLA International Bibliography and other relevant indexes in the EBSCOhost Research Databases, the reader can find almost 5000 entries on the subject of Toni Morrison for publications since 1968, including articles, books, book chapters, book reviews, and theses. Two useful, recently published, reference sources available at Columbia are:
“Toni Morrison” by Justine Tally (2017) in Oxford Bibliographies Online and Tessa Roynon’s The Cambridge Introduction to Toni Morrison (2013) in print or online.  It so happens that Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library is also the home of the archives of Random House, the publishing company where Toni Morrison worked as an editor from 1965 to 1983.  The finding aid indicates that the collection includes Toni Morrison’s editorial files for the period 1974 to 1983.  However, the bulk of the Morrison archive is to be found in the Toni Morrison Papers collection held at Princeton University, where Morrison actively taught on the faculty from 1989 to 2006.

With regard to my first research topic on the “African heritage” of African American culture depicted in Toni Morrison’s novels, especially Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, the reader might start with the following: La Vinia Delois Jennings’ Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa (2008) ;  K. Zauditu-Selassie’s African Spiritual Traditions in the Novels of Toni Morrison (2009) in print or e-book ; Christopher N. Okonkwo’s  A Spirit of Dialogue: Incarnations of Ogbanje, the born-to-die, in African American Literature (2008)  ; and, Therese  E. Higgins’ Religiosity, Cosmology, and Folklore: The African Influence in the Novels of Toni Morrison (2001) in print or e-book.  Two seminal articles by Gay Wilentz on this matter are critically important: “Civilization underneath: African heritage as cultural discourse in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon,” which first appeared in the journal African American Review in 1992 (print or online) and republished in the 2003 book Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon : a casebook, edited by Jan Furman; and, “An African-Based Reading of Sula,” in Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison, edited by Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle (1997).  In addition, an important early contribution on the discourse is Vashti Crutcher Lewis’ oft-cited 1987 Phylon article: “African Tradition in Toni Morrison’s ‘Sula’.”

These works argue that a major feature of Morrison’s fiction is her use of surviving Africanisms in African American culture, such as the belief in the importance of ancestors, ancestral spirits, healers, conjurers or witches, priests or priestesses, and diviners or soothsayers.  Many scholars argue that such beliefs and the rituals associated with them among African Americans have their roots in the African traditional cosmologies produced in West-Central Africa and in societies near the Bights of Benin and Biafra in West Africa, those areas from where more than half of the African diaspora in the Americas has its origins (Slave Voyages, 2019).  Anthropologists and historians have identified these areas as the historic kingdoms of Kongo and Ndongo in present-day Angola, West-Central Africa, the kingdom and empire of Dahomey in present-day Benin, the Igbo and the Yoruba in present-day Nigeria, West Africa.  So, for example, Jennings argues that in several of her novels Morrison uses the Kongo Yowa (cross-in-a-circle), ancestors–living elders and the dead, witches (bandoki, in Kikongo), healers (banganga, in Kikongo), and various aspects of Dahomean Vodun (such as loas and orixas). Okonkwo focuses more on the Igbo and Yoruba concepts of the spirit child (ogbanje or abiku) in Morrison’s fiction.

With regard to the often cited “flying Africans” in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Morrison herself and other scholars agree that she is explicitly drawing upon a documented aspect of African American folklore handed down by several generations of African slaves and their descendants in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. The myth refers to newly enslaved Africans who upon arriving in coastal South Carolina flew back to Africa rather than live in slavery in America. See for example, the 1940 publication of the Georgia Writers’ Project, Drums and shadows: survival studies among the Georgia coastal Negroes, (reprinted in 1986).

On my second topic, we must rely on what Morrison has said in interviews and in public appearances. In September 2000, she described her first encounters with African literature.  These comments were part of a brief presentation she gave in honor of the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, published in Morrison’s last book, The Source of Self-Regard (2019):

“In 1965, I began reading African literature, devouring it actually. It was a literature previously  unavailable to me, but by then I had discovered a New York bookstore called Africa House, which offered among other things back issues of Transition (print or online), Black Orpheus (print or online), and works by a host of African writers from all over the continent.  Amos Tutuola,   Ayi Kwei Armah, Ezekiel Mphahlele, James Ngugi [Ngugi wa Thiong’o], Bessie Head, Christina Ama Ata Aidoo, Mongo Beti, Leopold Senghor, Camara Laye, Ousmane Sembene, Wole Soyinka, John Pepper Clark: the jolt these writers gave me was explosive. The confirmation that African literature was not limited to Doris Lessing and Joseph Conrad was so stunning it led me to secure the aid of two academics who could help me anthologize this literature. At that time African literature was not a subject to be taught in American schools. Even in so-called world literature courses it had no reputation and no presence. But I was determined to funnel the delight, the significance, and the power of that literature into my work as an editor. The publication of Contemporary African Literature [edited by Edris Makward and Leslie Lacy]   in 1972 was the beginning of my love affair.” (p. 285)  [***See below]

“Chinua Achebe (along with Camara Laye, Bessie Head, and others) constituted a complete education for me. Learning how to disassemble the gaze that I was wrestling with (the habitual but self-conscious writing toward a nonblack reader that threatened and coated much African American literature); discovering how to eliminate, to manipulate the Eurocentric eye in order to stretch and plumb my own imagination; I attribute these learned lessons to Chinua Achebe.” (p. 286)

In a 1986 interview conducted by Christina Davis, which first appeared in a 1988 issue of the Paris-based journal Presence Africaine (in print or online) and later in Conversations with Toni Morrison (1994), edited by Danille Taylor-Guthrie, Morrison says, in response to the question: What do you feel are links between African and Afro-American literatures? : “I’m only discovering those links in a large sense–that is, as a reader and as a scholar…When I first began to write, I would do no research in that area because I distrusted the sources of research, that is, the books that were available, whether they were religion or philosophy and so on. I would rely heavily and almost totally on my own recollections and, more important, on my own insight about those recollections, and in so doing was able to imagine and to recreate cultural linkages that were identified for me by Africans who had a more familiar, an overt recognition (of them).” (p. 225)

In the same 1986 interview, in answer to the question “If there’s an African writer or African writers that you feel particularly akin to or whose work you feel especially close to?”, Morrison responded: “Well, neither akin nor close but certainly a real education for me. Chinua Achebe was a real education… And certainly the plays of Soyinka and the Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born of Ayi Kwei Armah–those things were at that time real, and they’re the kinds of books that one can re-read with enormous discoveries subsequently.”  (pp. 228-29)

In Toni Morrison’s book review of Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King (2001 ed.), which appeared in The New York Review of Books in August 2001, and as the foreword in the 2001 English edition of the French original (1954), later re-published in Toni Morrison: What Moves at the Margin (2008), she explains what was the impact of the Guinean author Camara Laye’s approach:

“This extraordinary novel…accomplished something brand new. The clichéd journey into African darkness either to bring light or to find it is reimagined here. In fresh metaphorical and symbolical language, storybook Africa, as the site of therapeutic exploits or of sentimental initiations leading towards life’s diploma, is reinvented. Employing the idiom of the conqueror, using precisely the terminology of the dominant discourse on Africa, this extraordinary Guinean author plucked at the Western eye to prepare it to meet the ‘regard’, the ‘look’, the ‘gaze’ of an African king.” (pp. 121-22)

————————————————–

***NB: Contemporary African Literature is a spectacular anthology, with color illustrations, now out of print.  It was primarily designed as a textbook to be used for teaching African literature in American high schools and colleges. Sadly, it does not appear to have ever been reviewed by any major book review magazine or newspaper, or by any African or African American studies academic journal.  I am still searching for evidence that it was used in a significant way in any American classroom.  I would argue that interest in this book should be revived among scholars and teachers of Africa.

Medicine, Religion and Alchemy in South India (Siddha conference)

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference on Medicine, Religion and Alchemy in South India: Resources and Permutations of Siddha Traditions and Siddha Medicine that convened at Tübingen University, Germany, 25-27 July 2019. The conference brought together scholars from Austria, France, Germany, India, Poland, Switzerland, and the United States who met in Hohentübingen Castle to discuss developing research in Siddha traditions.

Tubingen, Germany

View of Tübingen from Hohentübingen Castle

The conference was divided into four panels. Panel 1: Siddha Essentials, Essences included a paper by V. Sujatha (a sociologist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India) on medical syncretism in contemporary Siddha; a paper by Brigitte Sébastia (from the French Institute of Pondicherry) on a Siddha manuscripts Endangered Archives Programme archival preservation project; and a paper by T. Dharmaraj (from the Cultural Studies Department at Madurai Kamaraj University) on Tamil Buddhism as practiced by Dalits.

Boat ride in Tübingen

Siddha conference participants

Panel 2 focused on Colonial Transformations, and included a paper by Christèle Barois (an Indologist from the University of Vienna) on the Usman Report as a resource for Siddha medicine; a paper by D.V. Kanagarathinam (a historian from Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, India) on the historical emergence of Siddha as a distinctly identified medical ‘system’; and a paper by Gary Hausman (South Asian Studies Librarian, Columbia University) on the history of Siddha clinical and pharmaceutical research in 20th century Madras State, India. The report by Christèle Barois is of special interest for librarians; volume two of the Report of the Committee on Indigenous Systems of Medicine, Madras (1923) which consists of original testimony of indigenous Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani practitioners in multiple vernacular South Asian languages and scripts is being translated under an ERC-funded Ayuryog Project: Entangled Histories of Yoga, Ayurveda and Alchemy in South India, and will be published Open Access online in the near future (2020).

Brahmananda Swamigal, Siddha expert, Coimbatore

Panel 3 of the conference was on Alchemy and Medicine, and included a paper by Ilona Kędzia (Tamil/Sanskrit Lecturer at Universität Hamburg) on textual references to alchemical medicine in the works of Siddhar Yākōpu; a paper by Justus Weiß (University of Tübingen) on an ethnographic study of plant life forces (muligaikappu) in the Siddha cosmos and pharmacology; and a paper by Roman Sieler (University of Tübingen) on the role of mercury in Siddha medicines. Tamil Siddha texts are often composed in an esoteric parīpāṣai (‘twilight language’) with coded, hidden meanings, so such ethnographically informed textual research is especially important.

Kavadi dancers, Palani, India

Kavadi Dancers, Palani Temple

Panel 4 of the conference, on Religion, included a feminist engagement by Kanchana Natarajan (Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi) on Siddha views of women with positive connotations (e.g., the goddess Valai as first generative principle) as well as negative views; a paper by Nina Rageth (Department of Religious Studies, Universität  Zürich) on “Kaya Kalpa Yoga,” a specific technique of a Hindu Guru organization in Coimbatore district, India based on traditional Tamil rejuvenation practices (kāyakaṟpam); and a paper by Layne R. Little (Religious Studies, University of California Davis) on narratives of commodification and cultural loss relating to the navapashanam (“nine poisons”) icon of the god Murugan reputed to be secreted away  in the Palani Murugan Temple, India.

Kudos to Universität Tübingen, and the main organizer Roman Sieler, for a most intellectually stimulating conference.

The Muslim World Manuscript Project: A great Pedagogical tool! What can manuscripts teach us?

Ms. Or. 4_ʿAli Qushjī (Risāla dar ʿilm-i hayʾa, Qūshjī, ʻAlī ibn Muḥammad, d-1474 or 1475, unidentified date

Ms. Or. 11_Tūsī (Dar maʿrifat-i taqvīm, Ṭūsī, Naṣīr al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad, 1201-1274, 14th c.? 1354??, Script: Nastaʻliq, Persian, contians a note of ownership by Taqī ibn Ali al-Qumī. ʻĀlamgīr Shāh

The summer months at Columbia University allow more mental space and time to savor enjoyable conversations and delve into the numerous treasures that the Columbia University Libraries offers to the scholarly community.

Last week, I sat down with Prof. A. Tunç Şen, (who just had a baby) and asked him a few questions about his work with the Islamic manuscripts collection at the Columbia University Libraries. Prof. Tunç  Şen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, and his research and teaching focus on the early modern Ottoman period and Islamicate worlds, with a particular interest in the history of science and divination, cross-cultural and historical perceptions of time, as well as material and manuscript cultures from the Islamic worlds. Prof. Şen is one of several professors at Columbia who have shown and keenly supported a renewed interest in the Islamic manuscripts collection at RBML, which is the subject of a current CLIR digitization grant. Prof. Tunç Şen taught a  course on Islamic manuscript culture at Columbia in the Fall of 2018, and plans to offer it again, as the course was the subject of high interest and excitement on the part of the students.

Q: Tunç, could you please tell us about the course on Islamic manuscript culture, which you offered in the Fall of 2018: how did you conceptualize it, and what was the students’ reception of the readings and the hands-on activities you offered through the course?

The seminar I offered in the Fall of 2018 shared the same title as the ongoing “Manuscripts of the Muslim World” digitization project. When I first conceptualized the course, I was planning to name it: “History of Reading and Writing in the Islamic Manuscript Culture,” as that would have been an accurate representation of the scope I intended to cover. But then, for various pedagogical and publicity purposes (regarding both the project and the seminar) I thought that it may be best to use the same title, just to weave the importance of the Libraries’ Islamic manuscripts collection in particular and the significance of material culture for intellectual inquiry around Islamic cultures and societies in general, onto my teaching. I thought it was a nice way to make people more aware of the tremendous resources we have at hand—the Columbia Univeristy Libraries’ rich manuscript collections, especially when it comes to “hidden” collections such as this one—and to highlight the opportunities they present for creating a unique pedagogical experience for our students. That’s how I decided to go with the project’s title for the course, too: the Manuscripts of the Muslim World Seminar.

Throughout the course, we followed a number of thematic arches, all organized in a discernible chronological sequence. The first thematic arch was the material aspect of the Islamic manuscript culture, ranging from the impact of the so-called paper revolution, to tools and techniques utilized in bookmaking and binding. Then we slowly moved onto our central theme and discussed over a few weeks the different ways we can utilize the para-textual elements of manuscripts for understanding, reconstructing and rewriting the social, cultural, intellectual, and material history of the past. These possibilities are not peculiar to Islamic manuscript traditions, but are shared throughout the history of the book, across periods, cultures, and eras, for any culture or period under study. But of course, unraveling the specific history of a book- making and scribal tradition requires a closer look at the individual items, and engaging with their specific micro-histories. We focused on colophons, ownership statements, or traces of ijāzat al-qirāʾa (reading certificates) or samāʿ (audition certificates) as recorded in the books and their margins.

MS Or 122, Junnat al-amān al-wāqiyah wa-junnat al-īmān al-bāqiyah by Kafʻamī, Ibrāhīm ibn ʻAlī, 1436 or 1437-1499 or 1500, Arabic, manuscript date unspecified

Ms. Or. 21, Jighmīnī, Maḥmūd ibn Muḥammad, d-1221?, Al-mulakhkhaṣ fī ʻilm al-Hayʼa, dedicated to Ulugh Beg, manuscript date unspecified. Ulugh Beg was the grandson of Timur (Tamerlane) (1336–1405), and was an astronomer and a scientist, who established the famous Ulugh Beg observatory in Samarkand between 1424 and 1429

We looked at blurbs, commentaries and other marginalia recorded in the manuscripts, and we tried to show how these extra-textual materials — books within a book so to speak–  can avail us with surprising small details that  shed significant light on the personal stories—the micro-story– of these manuscripts as well as their past owners, readers, makers, etc.. What emerges from all of this is a fascinating fresh look at the bigger social, cultural or historical reality at hand, culled out of the traces left in the books of a “lived perspective”, a relation to these items that the readers, owners, writers, producers of those fascinating works had with the manuscripts at hand. Throughout the course, we visited the RBML on a regular fashion and explored some of the items in our collection. Then, toward the end of the semester, we moved on to discuss the formation of libraries (first private/individual, then public, growingly from the seventeenth century onwards), addressed the accumulation of Islamic manuscript collections in the U.S. and elsewhere, and finally revisited the famous (or infamous) debate on the “late” adoption of print technology in the Ottoman/Islamicate context and its implications for our understanding of this period.

What is the added scholarly and pedagogical value of teaching with material culture?

In all the classes I’ve taught so far at Columbia, be it the Core Civilization courses, the History of the Ottoman Empire, or courses on Islamic material culture such as this seminar on the Manuscripts of the Muslim World, I actively integrated periodic visits to RBML into my regular teaching, always pointing out some of these fascinating sources and collections, but also, and most important, raising the students’ awareness of the richness and depth of the learning experience that can be achieved through an open engagement with the manuscripts.  This is particularly significant in the current context in which learning and education take place: We are now living in a digital age and it is not entirely uncommon to come across an undergraduate student (likely a digital native) who may have never closely interacted with a physical printed book, let alone a hand written one. The word “manuscript” may sound too esoteric or obsolete to students, as lack of familiarity can unfortunately feed a sense of irrelevance or fear, of being passe or in the best of cases, produce a sense of an inflated awe. All of these expectations can act as hindrances to the act of open learning: yes, every manuscript is “unique” and individual by its very nature but this should not keep us away from taking a more sober and demystified approach in studying manuscripts. We, the scholars, librarians, preservation specialists tend to treat them as precious, luxury items (and there are evident reasons for doing that), but not all manuscripts were originally copied and circulated in the past as such. Especially in the Islamicate context, most manuscripts functioned up until the late nineteenth century as the primary form and medium of pedagogy and scholarship. They were the main, one can even say the quotidian tools of learning way into the late 19th c….

So, to come to your question, one obvious value of using manuscripts in class is to bring these historical artifacts to life again, and feed that pedagogical immediate relation between the object and the learner, imbue the students with that vibrant tradition, that share of the past, which was once experienced and lived by the owners/readers/writers/copyists/sellers of these manuscripts in a quotidian, open, engaged manner.

MS Or 91 القرآن al-Qurʼān, ا; 1776 Iran, Copy completed at the end of the second part of the month of Dhū al-Qaʻdah, approximately 20 Dhū al-Qaʻdah 1189 A.H. (fī awākhir al-ʻushr al-thānī min shahr Dhū al-Qaʻdah 1189 AH)., 1776. Complete copy of the Qur’ān in an inset, color-contrast paper technique. Binding: Painted lacquer over pasteboards with leather spine. Endbands with chevron-pattern secondary sewing. Decoration Polychrome [red, blue, green] and gold illuminated frontispiece (f. 3v-4r) with text in cloudbands; polychrome [gold, red, blue] marginal verse markers; textblock border ruled [gold, black]; page openings framed in black rules; readings in red and chapter titles in gold; gold roundels with red and blue dots mark verse endings.

MSx892.8 aN8, Sayyid Ahmad Hatif (D. 1783), Divan Text: Iran, late 18th or 19th century Binding: paint, gold, and varnish on papier-mâché boards. The binding is too large for the text-block and may have been made for another work, and was reused for this manuscript.

 

The lavishly illuminated beautiful copies with fanciful bindings may still dazzle us with their visual/artistic qualities but I think we should also explore more deeply what these individual repositories can reveal to us with their sometimes astonishing personal and mostly quotidian details. It is that sense of discovery of the importance of the lived element in our relation to books and learning, and that deep personal relation to the tools of learning  that I seek to bring back alive, and hope to nourish and bring to the learning experience of my current students. I think there is nothing better equipped to achieve this result than exposing students to manuscripts.

Can you please tell us of a learning moment that stood out in the past term, through the usage of manuscripts in your teaching?

I think this is a question better put to my students…  But joking aside, I very much enjoyed all the sessions we held at the RBML when we engaged in browsing through select manuscripts from our collection, collectively deciphering the colophons, reading and commenting on the paratexts including the audition certificates and all other types of marginalia. Using cellphones is often not permitted in classes but in my manuscript seminar, cellphones were extremely helpful, because all of us got excited  taking photos of some interesting part of a manuscript, and then zooming in to read the text or understand the script  more easily, and feeling that Aha moment: “yes, now I get it!!”.

Ms. Or. 470_Flyleaf, Nawaji, Muhammad ibn Hassan (1386-1455 AD), al-Hujjah fi sarakat ibn Hijjah., A criticism of [his friend] Ibn Hijjah al-Hamawi and of his poetic compositions., written in 1632,.

Are there any particular items in the collection you can highlight as having constituted particularly interesting tools for your course?

One particular manuscript that I would like to note is Ms Or. 470. Interestingly, a note on the flyleaf of this manuscript reveals an interesting story about a book theft committed in 1799 by a few unnamed French soldiers, and the owners’ lament about the morals of any culture who could steal books (this most probably happened during the French invasion of Egypt). I would like to thank my dear colleague Boris Liebrenz, who had flagged this item for me and directed me to this note. So here, you not only have a very interesting manuscript in its own right, but also have a witness to emotions and feelings and ways of acting around war and books that are recorded in this very personal way… I find it fascinating that this testimony is handed down to us in this form.

Ms. Or. 360, Nev’ı̂,d1533-1599, Natāʼij al-funūn wa-maḥāsin al-mutūn, Turkey, 1623

Another interesting piece for me is Or. 360, a late-sixteenth century Ottoman encyclopedia of sciences, that contains numerous minhu records (i.e. glosses added to the margins that can be traced back to the author) presenting interesting details as to different stages/editions the “finished” work might have undergone. Here, too, you have an archive within an archive so to speak, where you get to see a work in evolution. That’s also fascinating…

The medieval Arabic ṭarsh (print block) now located at p. Col. inv. 705, about which Richard Bulliet had written a short article, is also an interesting piece for complicating the debates on printing technology (or lack thereof) in the Islamicate context. This is a small example of how much can be learned from this collection, and often in surprising ways, once we focus on these microstories embedded between the leaves of each work.

Are there any parts or sub-parts of the collection you plan to research or publish about?Our collection is particularly strong in terms of works devoted to mathematical and astral sciences thanks in particular to the scholarly and collecting interests of David Eugene Smith, a professor of mathematics at Teacher’s College in the first quarter of the twentieth century. In my own work, I examine the astral lore produced in the fifteenth and sixteenth century Ottoman/Persianate context. I hope I will have more time in the near future to explore more closely the zījes (astronomical tables) and other astronomical/astrological treatises collected by David E. Smith during his travels to the Muslim World.

 

Ms. Or. 2, Ulugh Beg, d1394-1449, Zīj-i sulṭānī, Zīj-i Ulugh Beg. Ulugh Bey (or Beg) was an astronomer, scientist and ruler who established the famous observatory in Samarkand in the 15TH C. The following names appear in the manuscript: Qāḍīzadah al-Rūmī; Jamshīd Ghiyāth al-Dīn al-Kāshī; Shukr-Allāh; Qūshjī, ʻAlī b. Muḥammad.

Can you please comment on the conception of the MWM project as driven by students’ curiosity and learning interests?

One of the greatest things about the MWM project is the fact that it has been initiated and conceptualized by our own graduate students. I think we should keep that spirit alive in the next stages of the project. My seminar was also partially intended to “recruit” new students to the project. As part of the course requirements, I asked my students to pick a particular item (or a set of items) from our collection and write their final papers to describe and contextualize the content and the scholarly significance of the select manuscript. I very much enjoyed and learned a lot from the final papers my students submitted. Two of my students, Trevor Brabyn and Shabbir Agha Abbas, eventually started working in the ongoing cataloging/digitization project. I strongly believe that this number will increase as more students will get interested in exploring the hidden gems of our collections and of the manuscript universe!

In closing, can you please comment on how you see this project fitting in within the politics of knowledge representation across the bigger scholarly eco-system?

MS Or 24 Calendar for year 1064 AH, Turkish, 1653 Turkish calendar, with a lunar table showing the phases of the moon. Includes information on prayer times for each day of the year and astrological signs for finding the best times for curing different illnesses.

Codicology, Manuscript studies, or the History of Reading in the Western/European context are much more established and institutionalized disciplines and scholarly traditions. The scholarship about Islamic manuscript culture has witnessed a promising renewed interest in the last decade or so, thanks not only to a number of digitization projects undertaken by different university and other research libraries but also to the publication of a series of outstanding catalogs and monographs, as well as a number of specialized journals, including the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts; Manuscripts of the Middle East , among others.

I believe that it is our task to create a closer dialogue between the scholars and the students across different traditions. We were particularly fortunate for example, in the  Fall 2018 to be able to encourage such interdisciplinary exchange and dialogue, as during that term, there were several courses offered on campus around Book History, Medieval Manuscripts, and Print Cultures. Joining efforts with other instructors, we managed to organize a “Book Fair” at RBML at the end of the semester. There, students put on display and briefly discussed some manuscript  items from the RBML collections that they were working on. These mini-presentations, from a variety of perspectives, cultures, histories and backgrounds, including Arabic, Jewish, Latin, Persian etc. were extremely interesting and engaging, and opened up possibilities for dialogue and scholarly exchanges. We had side by side a Latin Book of Hours for example, next to a Persian astronomical treatise: you can imagine the wonderful conversations this could spark! A project like the Manuscripts of the Muslim World, and events such as the Book Fair, will certainly help deepen scholarship, support diversity in research over various “hidden” or under-represented perspectives, and explore scholarly possibilities across eras, languages, traditions, cultures and histories. It’s so enriching, and eye opening– for all!!

For inquiries regarding the Muslim World Manuscript project at Columbia, please contact RBML: Jane Siegel: Librarian for Rare Books & Bibliographic Services: jane.siegel@columbia.edu; Peter Magierski:The Middle East and Islamic Studies Librarian: pm2650@columbia.edu, or Kaoukab Chebaro: Global Studies, Head: kc3287@ columbia.edu

Kaoukab Chebaro, Global Studies, Head, Columbia University Libraries

 

 Dr. Ambedkar and Columbia University: A Legacy to Celebrate

Every morning, I look forward to glancing at Dr. Ambedkar’s bust, in the far East corner of the Lehman Social Sciences Library, on my way to work. My eyes first rest on the bright garlands (offerings of admirers) that often adorn the bust, hanging around the neck, and then, unfailingly, go to the glasses carved in dark bronze (like the rest of the sculpture), almost indistinguishable from the broad face, but yet magnetically pulling my eyes in. I find myself drawn into the eyes of the “Father of the Constitution”, the “Doctor and Saint” or as people affectionately refer to him, Baba Saheb Ambedkar (1891-1956), and I unfailingly detect a subtle smile. I tried looking at the glasses, and the eyes, from different angles, and the smile is always there, barely perceptible, but definitely present. There is something slightly jolting, refreshing about this daily ritual: looking for that subtle grin has come to frame my mornings, and in fact, my whole experience of my working space, the Lehman Social Sciences Library. A grand library, designed like a “ship of state”, and part of the SIPA and Law School complex (–both designed by Max Abramovitz and Wallace Harrisonthe latter is known for leading an international team of architects on the design of  the United Nations Headquarters in NYC, and the former for designing the Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center –) the Lehman Social Sciences Library opened in the early 70s, and is often jokingly referred to by students as “the NASA Headquarters” or even  “the bunker from the cold war”, for its subterranean open aesthetics and its typical late 60s, early 70s look. That is very far from how I experience this space, and I just realized recently, it is in large part due to my daily anticipation of seeing that fleeting grin in the morning subterranean light of Lehman Library’s open skyline.

 

 

Continue reading

Sorry, This Page Does Not Exist!: The Brazilian Presidential Transition (2018) Web Archive

The web lives in the present tense. But, as librarians understand all too well, scholarly research and knowledge production require sustainable long-term access and preservation of evidence that supports the deciphering and understanding of the world. The broken links we encounter throughout the web can signify the loss of important information, sometimes when it seems to matter the most. In addition, as those of us in global studies librarianship are especially well placed to appreciate, information that may not be congenial to those in power is especially vulnerable and the disappearance of opposing ideas and agendas can frame narratives and shape policies that reproduce and/or reinforce political control. Many important questions open up when we consider web archiving: How do we select and curate what to archive? What should be our thematic focus? What perspectives do we preserve? How do we achieve sustainability? What tools to use? Who can we partner with, as we take in the breathtaking magnitude of the task at hand? All of these questions are relevant to the aim of minimizing the negative impact of the number of instances of that dreaded message: “Sorry, this page does not exist!”

The Latin America Libraries of the North East Consortium (LANE) has had web archiving on its agenda for the past few years. However the thought of selecting content to preserve from the vast and inestimable world of the web often seemed daunting and intimidating.  In a collaborative setting where lots of good ideas surface but consensus is harder to achieve, focusing on a thematic collection would also prove to be a challenge. However as Latin Americanist librarians we know from decades of organizational efforts dedicated to collecting in the region that collaboration is key to successful outcomes.

This month, the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation launched the Brazilian Presidential Transition (2018) Web Archive, a collection built by the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation and member libraries of LANE with significant contributions from members of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM). The Archive consists of Brazilian government websites in the areas of human rights, the environment, LGBTQ issues, and culture, for the period following the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil on October 28, 2018, up to his inauguration on January 1, 2019. A timely and urgent collection borne out of Pasteur’s maxim, “In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.”

During a meeting I hosted at Columbia University Libraries in November 2017 I invited several speakers to talk about their work in web archiving. Alex Thurman and Samantha Abrams gave the group an overview of web archiving issues including global efforts to preserve a continuously vanishing landscape, the technology and infrastructure that currently supports preservation, the technical and ethical challenges of preserving spaces such as social media platforms and the workflows necessary for starting a web archiving project.

2017 LANE meeting at Columbia University

It was also important to hear from two Columbia colleagues who had already developed collections and thought through criteria for inclusion. Pamela Graham, who curates the Human Rights Web Archive and Christine Sala who curates the Avery Library Historic Preservation and Urban Planning Web Archive, spoke about developing collections, the process of selecting content, creating descriptive metadata for discovery, and potential use of these collections for future researchers.  What was particularly helpful about these talks was seeing how this new sphere of collecting could work in parallel with our established forms of collecting and how much the thinking process for selecting web content mirrors the collecting of traditional library material.  The 2017 meeting made web archiving accessible and ostensibly possible for the group.

While the group was determined to work on something, we had not reached a consensus on the content of the web archiving project yet. This had to wait another year, when the Fall LANE meeting was held at New York University in October of 2018. We were instructed by LANE chair Jill Baron (Dartmouth Library) to “come prepared with a topic idea we are passionate about, and be ready to convince others that the websites reflecting this topic necessitate collection and preservation action.”

The group brainstormed about any and all topics of interests and voted on four topics that we could focus our energies on. Small groups researched and compiled content for the four collections. Some of the topics didn’t yield the information we expected and one of the topics we worked on stood out for its immediacy, vulnerability, and relevance to collection priorities established by many in the group.

Our meeting took place a couple of weeks after Jair Bolsonaro had come in the first round of the Brazilian presidential election and a couple of days before he would go on to win the run-off election. Throughout his campaign Bolsonaro repeatedly made statements about his agenda and his vision for government that concerned academics, journalists and activists. LANE decided to prioritize Brazilian government websites in the areas of human rights, the environment, LGBTQ issues, and culture. We considered these sites to be vulnerable due to anticipated consolidation, elimination or defunding.

2018 LANE meeting at New York University

Over the next couple of months we researched state and federal government sites in the hopes of capturing as much as we could before Bolsonaro took power. Given the scope of the work and the size of Brazil as a country it was clear we needed help. LANE is a regional group under the umbrella of the Seminar for the Acquisition of Latin American Materials (SALALM) and we called on our colleagues for assistance and many of them graciously contributed some of their time to our effort. Our colleague Samantha Abrams, Ivy Plus Libraries Web Resources Collection Librarian worked diligently to capture the sites within a limited amount of time.

As the Brazilian specialist at the Library of Congress Talía Guzman-González has been instrumental to this project. LC archived the 2010 Brazilian election and this past election and Talía’s deep expertise in the region was particularly helpful. Metadata in a crowdsourced project requires some editorial cohesiveness and Talía, Jill and I led the effort to normalize subject headings, geographic descriptions and descriptive fields. The results of this work is a snapshot of government content before Bolsonaro took office, with the aim of preserving these important, but potentially ephemeral, documents for researchers and scholars.

We very much hope that this effort will inspire other collaborative web archiving projects, to preserve and provide continuous access to timely and important scholarly global content!

Sócrates Silva (2CUL Latin American and Iberian Studies Librarian)

Women and Gender Studies, Resources for International Research, and… Coffee! Find out more!

For the occasions of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8th, I sat down with Sarah Witte, our Women & Gender Studies Librarian, and Yuusuf Caruso, our African Studies Librarian, and asked them about resources that the Columbia Libraries makes available to researchers interested in women and gender studies at the global level.

What are your recommended resources for getting started with research?

SARAH: Ebscohost Research Databases. “This is a platform of core subject databases, including Gender Studies Database, LGBT Life, Historical Abstracts, Index to Legal Periodicals, Anthropology Plus, Art Source, Film and Television Literature Index, ATLA Religion; as well as interdisciplinary databases focused on specific regions: Bibliography of Asian Studies, and Middle Eastern & Central Asian Studies, Africa Wide, and American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies. It is a resource for scholarly work on virtually any topic related to women, gender, sexuality and feminism, though the literature it indexes is primarily in English.”

YUUSUF emphasized the need to carry out research based on print and subscription-based holdings at the Libraries while supplementing them with open access research publications on gender and social equity, environmental sustainability, economic security, sustainable and ethical agriculture and trade, and the role of NGOs and grassroots movements. In addition to the EBSCO suite of index databases mentioned by Sarah, he cites the African Women’s  Bibliographic Database (Leiden);  online journals:  Feminist AfricaAgenda—a journal about women and gender;  and, New African woman ;  web sites:  CODESRIA-Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Dakar, Senegal), with over 230 online full texts on African women and agriculture; African Women’s Development Fund (Accra, Ghana);  Forum for African Women Educationalists (Nairobi, Kenya); and, Gender Links for Equality and Justice (Johannesburg, South Africa).  For historical research at Columbia on women, gender, and sexuality in Africa, see:  Gender and Sexuality in African History.

What new research interests and trends have you noticed in women’s and gender studies at Columbia, and what new or timely resources are available to researchers?

SARAH emphasized a number of areas of strong research interest at Columbia, including: national and transnational feminist movements, inter-generational trauma, menstrual health and justice, rights for sexual minorities, for diaspora and immigrant communities, to name a few. She also stressed the growing interest of researchers in alternative forms of documentation and grassroots testimony, including personal narratives, oral histories, letters, memoirs, film, art and literature.

Women and Social Movements, Modern Empires Since 1820, from Alexander Street Press is a new full-text database that seeks to explore themes in world history since 1820: conquest, colonization, settlement, resistance, and post-colonialism, through the voices of individual women.  It includes more than 50 curated document clusters organized by theme, time period and empire, including the Habsburg, Ottoman, the British, French, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Japanese, and United States Empires, and settler societies in the United States, New Zealand and Australia.  It includes a variety of sources: 93 issues of L’Egyptienne, an Egyptian feminist and nationalist journal published from 1925 to 1940, transcripts of interviews with women activists in South Africa, Guatemala, Romania, and the United States, manuscript letters in Arabic with English translations.  It is a companion database to Women and Social Movements International: 1840 to present, which focuses on international organizations.”

It is no secret that coffee, and agriculture in general, were a major factor in setting up colonies in East Africa. These excerpts are from: Farming and planting in British East Africa: a description of the leading agricultural centres and an account of agricultural conditions and prospects / compiled and edited by T.J. O’Shea, Nairobi : Newland, Tarlton & Co., Ltd., 1917.

YUUSUF: Stressing emerging areas of scholarly relevance, Yuusuf highlighted women’s development, labor movements, and gender-related social and economic justice movements in Africa.  Then noticing the cup of coffee I held in my hand, he smiled and said: “So for example, if you were interested in something as mundane as the provenance of that cup of coffee …and women’s roles in our world, assuming this is coffee imported from Africa,  you may want to consult a few recent publications for starters available in the Libraries, such as:  the 2018 Coffee Atlas of Ethiopia, which documents the sources of Ethiopia’s coffee production ;  A Good African Story, an incisive insider account of a successful African-owned coffee company in Uganda (the company’s website features articles and links to interviews about different aspects of the coffee business, including the role of women’s cooperatives);  a chapter on the same company in a 2018 book on Africapitalism: rethinking the role of business in Africa offers an analysis of the attempt to transform Uganda’s and even Africa’s role in the coffee industry—from being merely exporters of green beans to becoming exporters of high-quality roasted and packaged coffee that can be bought straight off shelves in Europe ; plus, two case studies:  Rita Verma’s Gender, land and livelihoods in East Africa: through farmers’ eyes and Kiah Smith’s Ethical trade, gender, and sustainable livelihoods: women smallholders and ethicality in Kenya,  which examine social and economic issues surrounding women and cash crop farming in post-colonial and 21st century Kenya.”

Yuusuf also had tips on how to conduct productive searches in the Library catalog and in other databases. One is that –because the issue of “women farmers” is often lumped in with that of agricultural development in general—there are few books with LC subject headings “women farmers” for African countries. Hence, the best search strategy might be to use “Women Agriculture [name of country]” as keywords in “all fields”.

There’s a lot to think about the next time you head out to grab that cup of coffee!

Imagining the World: Exhibit Reception

Thanks to all who joined us at the reception for the reception for the exhibit opening of Imagining the World: Unexplored Global Collections at Columbia on April 17.  Some pictures of the opening (and the exhibit itself) are included below.  The exhibit will be in the Chang Octagon Room of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library through June 24, so please do come visit!

The Global Studies Curatorial Team

The Global Studies Curatorial Team (Socrates Silva, Rob Davis, Peter Magierski, Yuusuf Caruso, Michelle Chesner, Pamela Graham, Gary Hausman)

Yuusuf Caruso and the African Studies case

Yuusuf Caruso and the African Studies case

GS_exhibit-8

Lively discussion