Archiving!

Jun. 20th, 2013 04:11 pm
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
My family is preparing for a move (yes, that does mean there's job news--no, I can't tell you yet, because I'm being paranoid about wanting a physical contract in my actual hands with relevant signatures, and university bureaucracies do not excel at doing that quickly), so I'm cleaning out a bunch of stuff. Some of this is tedious, like wading through every shirt I own and deciding which are keepers, which are in good enough condition to be sold or donated, and which are in such terrible shape they need to go to the fabric recycling. Some of them are stunningly productive, like reading through the back issues of all those journals that have been piling up around my house, and entering citations for useful things into relevant folders. And some of them are just weird.

In the weird category goes this one: I've mailed off a huge box of stuff to the Library & Resource Center at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI. I've been increasingly involved with the Museum since 2011, when I visited for the first time to attend a conference, and ended up volunteering for the Arab American Book Awards. I had two large boxes of newspapers, flyers, chant sheets from protests, and other assorted pieces of paper sitting in the corner of my wife's office left over from my dissertation research, because, like a good researcher, I saved everything. But it was time to shed some weight. So I went through, sorted it into piles, and dropped it in the mail to their archivist, Liz Skene.

The weird thing about this is twofold. On the one hand, it really means I'm done with my dissertation. I mean, sure, I've got to get the book out, but that's a matter of revision; by sending these documents away, it means I'm not going to sit around and translate those newspaper articles, I'm not going to perform an elaborate reading on the graphics on that poster, I'm not going to do any of those things. I'm closing that door, and turning to the next one, to see what it's got in it.

The other weird thing here is that it presupposes that what I've got is meaningful. There's someone out there, in the world, who might want to look at these documents later. Some other scholar might get something useful out of them. That seems terribly self-aggrandizing and self-important. And yet, it's also part of how the historical record is made: what gets put into archives, shoved into boxes in attics, passed down from generation to generation is how we figure out what happened at previous points in time. If, fifty years from now, someone wants to do research on how the Arab community in Brooklyn has grown or changed over time, those two file boxes of papers will be invaluable data.

I both want to claim that my work is important enough to do this--that it's worth publishing, that my primary sources are worth looking at, that there's unexplored data in there--and I feel the tiniest bit imposter-syndrome about it. But I pushed through that. And now there are some boxes in Dearborn with my name on them.

And that's a little awesome.

Fellow researchers, have you ever sent some of your documents and data to an archive? How did you choose what to do, or where to send it? (For instance, none of my fieldnotes went, because they contain people's legal names, and I'd want to obscure them before archiving; I would have liked to archive my papers in NYC, but the AANM is a dedicated thematic archive, and I think that gives them a better chance of being found by an interested party in the future.) Have you ever used archived data and been either glad it was there, or pissed off that All The Wrong Things Get Saved?
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (bridge)
The fields are your birthplace
but filled with your boa constrictors.
The mines are your cradle
bu filled with their poison.
The mountains of richness are your throne,
but surrounded by their wild animals.
Woe to your sons and lovers.

Your drink is silver and your food is gold
Your dress is the most valuable of silk and
the rarest of jewels.
Your sandals are the wings of knowledge
but your heart is of tar set on fire.
Woe to your sons and lovers.

The daughter of richness and monopoly
In your stores are the productions of the world
In your safes the immense heaps of money and jewels
In your castles the wonders of civilization
And your dark cottages--poverty, hunger and sighs.
Woe to your sons and daughters.

Highness, and immensity in the womb of commerce, called
greatness, and splendor by your merchants, and
this is your beauty.
But woe to them and thee because they are liars.
The beauty of their idols like a dollar, minted
in the night and gilded in the day.
Woe to this beauty.

--Cited by Michael W. Suleiman, in "Impressions of New York City by Early Arab Immigrants," in A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City."


I love this poem for a lot of reasons--not least that I recognize the New York that this anonymous Arab immigrant wrote about nearly a hundred years ago. But I also wanted to take a moment to acknoweledge the debt I feel to Mike Suleiman, who wrote the article containing this piece. I met Mike write after I defended my dissertation prospectus, at the Middle Eastern Studies Association Conference; he complimented me on my paper, and mentioned an upcoming conference on Arab-American women he was organizing. I remembered seeing the announcement, but, well, I'd be prepping my prospectus, plus my wife and I had just had a baby (he was 5 weeks old at the conference), so I'd forgotten the deadline--I said, "I'm guessing it's too late to submit an abstract? I'd love to come." He gave me a sharp look, and said, maybe--and cornered me in the book exhibit the next day to pitch him prospective articles, and then hassled me into calling him three days later to pitch more fully, and then said to send him an abstract within 24 hours--and so I got a paper accepted to the conference, as I later discovered, two months after the CFP had closed.

Those three days in Manhattan, Kansas, were some of the most productive of my career. The papers varied wildly in topic and tone, but it was my first sustained interaction with the field of Arab-American studies, and the variety of people there, and with whom I got to discuss my work, was amazing. It was at this conference that I became convinced that, if I could help it, I only wanted to go to minor themed conferences from then on, because that is where the intellectual action is. And I owed it to Mike, who grabbed a brand-new and totally inexperienced graduate student and brought her into the big leagues.

The book that will come out of this conference is still very much in progress; the review process takes forever, and it was slowed down by the fact that, shortly after the conference, Mike became ill. He passed away in March of 2010, and is much missed by all of us in Arab-American studies as a pioneer in the field.

There's a conference in his honor planned for the fall, and I'm hoping to attend. (It'll also be my first chance to visit Dearborn--and I think Arab-American studies scholars are among the very few people to be excited to utter those words.) In any case, it's worth thinking fondly on those who gave us our inspiration, especially when they continue to inspire us from the page.
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
facebook vote

(The picture shows a screencap of Facebook's "Voting" widget, displayed at the top of my feed for all of November 2nd, and now into November 3rd. Taken at approximately 1 AM New York time on November 3rd, it shows that 12,046,588 Facebook users used the widget to indicate that they voted as of that point in time.)

My wife, son, and I walked the four blocks to our local polling station today. Two years ago, he went as a tiny infant in the Ergo, and slept through our voting, and then slept through us watching the results. Today, he walked himself, gripping onto the two plastic dinosaurs the dentist gave him this morning for a no-cavities-and-no-biting checkup. Holding his hand to cross the street, I said, "We're going to vote. When we go to vote, we learn about who we think will do the best job of working to help our community, and then we pick them. And the people who win then make decisions about how to run our country. It's very important that we do it."

Every single word I said was wrong.

***

This is the problem with studying a thing: you inevitably learn too much about it. You figure out how a thing works, and then you realize it's nothing like you expected, nothing like you thought; things are much more prosaic and random, and your ability to shift reality is less and less than you thought.

Basic rational choice theory teaches you that voting is an irrational act: a single vote so rarely makes a difference that no one of us has any political effect. Game theory teaches us how much rules matter, which means, at election time, that the majority of us barely count at all. The study of polling and political opinion teaches us that those who hold strong partisan affiliations rarely have an effect on the outcome of an election.

More than anything, I find myself skeptical about how much voting matters as a measure of the rightness of a polity. Post-1989, I tell my students too frequently, democracy is the only game in town, the only overarching ideology you can make a claim to when you think something is wrong with your political system. It's not that I'm against democracy; it's merely that I don't think choosing political leaders via reasonably open elections is the be-all and end-all of political justice. Elections are a shitty way to express preferences, and an even shittier way to engage in political dialogue, because they're like sledgehammers: they don't allow for any sort of disaggregation of arguments, and for not an ounce of nuance. Even the best elections are an incredibly crude way to make policy decisions.

***

I know this. I have known this. And I haven't missed an election in the eleven years I've been old enough to vote.

The politics that interests me as a scholar is the politics that takes place in actual encounters between individuals, wherein we interact and navigate the lines of power between us. Social movements interest me in their decisions and strategies; policies interest me in the complex ways they are written into law, and then written again onto the bodies of people who follow them (or break them); informal political relations interest me because power is everywhere, and must always be negotiated.

But I am more than a political scientist: I am also a person who lives in the political world. I'm a person whose marriage is not legally recognized in my place of residence. My taxes pay for social services, which I am also a beneficiary of. My life is regulated by the regimes I am subject to. I'm also a person with strong, strong empirical political preferences, preferences that have never been well-represented by my elected officials, because I'm just too far to the fringe. Political science has taught me to moderate my desires, to reign myself in, to make strategic choices and expect to be recognized only barely.

The fact that voting is irrational doesn't mean I don't do it. So many of my political actions are irrational; they derive not from economic self-interest, but from theoretical principles or from instinctive preference or from prejudices I can't quite justify. (Amazingly, I've been comfortable voting for Joseph Lieberman, but not for Hillary Clinton; my reasons for this are confusing even to me.) It no longer concerns me to realize that "my vote doesn't matter," because what matters is that I vote, is that I make the gesture and then sit back and watch what all the gestures mean on the aggregate.

I'm laying on my living room floor right now, with a concession speech on mute, flipping back and forth between my local election results, the national election results, and Facebook, watching that counter tick up, up, up, counting down everyone who voted today. (Over twelve million people, as of me typing this.) Just because I know the limits of democracy, doesn't mean I don't play along (and pick favorite teams). Just because I know how useless voting is doesn't mean I don't do it.

And just because it's a limited discourse, which does the work it means to do so poorly, doesn't mean it doesn't have value. People who are fighting for free, fair, and open elections aren't wrong to be doing so. They're asking for something they think can help. We need every bit of help we can get to make real political change in the world. Electoral democracy's a fine place to start.
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
Proof I've been a terrible blogger this summer: I had links from July stored in a "to be blogged" file on my browser. D'oh. Anyway, I culled them, and these two were still worth posting:

Cute children bloggers and depressing Palestinian politics )

And now, on to some actually contemporary links! Le sigh.

Social media, post-conflict women's philanthropy, political pop music, and women and Park51 )

And, since watching the Shatha Hassoun video sent me down a rabbit hole of Arabic pop on YouTube, let me just close by linking to Ah W Nuss (Yes and a Half) and Ya Salam (...Oh peace, literally? but it's just an interjection? Translating song titles is hard) by Nancy Ajram, with English subtitles.

Paths

Aug. 21st, 2010 08:40 pm
ajnabieh: A seagull standing on a "no seagulls" sign, with the text FIGHT THE POWER (fight the power seagull)
Have you ever taken the PATH train from the World Trade Center stop?

It's something I'm contemplating these days.

I lived in New York for the first time in the summer of 2002, and I've had a permanent-enough address here since 2003. (Even while finishing up school in Connecticut, I came down at least once a month, do to my co-op shifts; that's gotta count.) I first experienced the World Trade Center site as a giant hole in the ground, with a fence around it. They had finished most of the real clearing work by the time I saw it, so, to me, the area was mostly the ghostly Cortlandt St stop on the R train, the giant, brightly-lit construction zone between me and the concerts at the World Financial Center, and a knowledge that terrible things happen, sometimes.

For various reasons, I've taken the PATH train at least twice from the World Trade Center stop, heading into New Jersey. It's a little strange to me, sometimes, that they kept the name, but then again, I can't tell what else you'd call it; that's its name, in a deep and meaningful way, and you can't just erase what something's been. The station is beautiful and clean--more like the SEPTA regional rail stations of my youth than the MTA subways I take every day. I remember the first time I took it, being impressed with the clarity of the station, and settling in to a seat on the train, ready to venture into the wilds of Jersey City.

The train pulls out of the station and into the light, and its reminiscent of taking the train from Penn Station, how some of the tracks before the tunnel are open-air and below grade. And this feels normal, until you realize where you are. You're going in a giant circle around the base of the square pit where the towers used to be. This makes sense, on some level: the trains used to run under the towers, and this station will, at some point, be underneath whatever they eventually manage to get built on the site. But it's as disconcerting as the name: shouldn't there be something special about this ground? Shouldn't we not be driving trains over it? Shouldn't we be leaving it alone?

***

I am thinking of this as I think of the level of bullshit being directed towards a group of Muslims who have the audacity to build, on private property, a community center, several blocks away. Who think that they have a place in this city, as its residents; who think they have a place in this neighborhood in particular, because it bears wounds from those who share a faith with them. Who think that there is work they should be doing, and want to do it.

I am wondering why it's okay to drive trains through something, but not to pray the wrong way in the vicinity.

***

I am thinking of this as I am thinking of Pakistan. A fifth of the country underwater; 20 million displaced; the world torn apart. And yet, torn-apart becomes the new normal, eventually. There will be months of waiting. There will be losses and losses and losses. And then from destruction will come construction, and places that were lost will become rewritten. Someone will remember, this was my farm. Someone else will know, this is my bridge. The world will change, and change, and change.

And someone will build trains there.

And mosques, too.

***

Park51, otherwise known as Cordoba House
A list of aid organizations working in Pakistan
[livejournal.com profile] help_pakistan, a fannish auction to support aid work in Pakistan

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