Panel 2A

Chronicles and Curation:  Documenting Cultural Transitions in the Wider Middle East (Part 2)

13.45 – 15.45
Chair: Sharon C. Smith, Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT

Untangling the Threads: Preserving and Presenting the Music of Post-Independence Morocco

Michael Toler, Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT

Music of Between 1959 and 1962 the American composer and writer Paul Bowles travelled throughout Morocco recording soundscapes and music performances.  In correspondence planning the project, Bowles argued there was an urgent need to document and preserve a rapidly changing culture. In particular, he expresses an interest in preserving “Berber” folk music, which he argued was threatened by the ideology of the post-independence, nationalist state.  Ultimately, Bowles submitted approximately 70 hours of recordings for archiving by the Library of Congress, including songs in Arabic, Hebrew, Tamazight, and other languages. They included Andalusian “art” music, popular songs, folklore performances, and liturgical chanting. His extensive notes are informative, but exhibit all the biases and misconceptions of an outsider.  In 2010 the recordings were digitized with the expressed goal of “repatriating Morocco’s music.” In 2013 the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT agreed to host the files in Archnet, an open access resource focuses on Muslim societies writ large.  Cataloguing the recordings for Archnet has required grappling problems in the original notations of Bowles, including changes in the nomenclature used to refer to persons and places, as well further inaccuracies and errors introduced when the recordings were catalogued and subsequently digitized.  Archnet’s “Music of Morocco” archive will simultaneously present the recordings and related annotations in their form, and also contextualize them within a cultural context that continues to evolve.  This paper explores some of the challenges encountered in this effort.

Sounds of Resistance: Poems and Songs that Dare to Talk Back

Rachid Aadnani, Wellesley College

The struggle for independence in its clear linearity of “us” vs “them” continued into the post-independence era as a framing context through which the nascent nation states of North Africa sought to define themselves.  This basic binary opposition contributed to creating polarized and polarizing paradigms that haunt nationalist discourses in the region to this day. Literary texts and popular culture products have to inhabit this space and are lived and classified according to the same polar logic.   This paper explores some voices that used the medium of oral poetry and song to undermine these polarizing narratives in order to lay the foundations for more inclusive discursive practices that seek to dismantle existing restrictive narratives about nation and identity.  From the poetry of Hajj Belaid, El-Mejdoub, Ali Sidki Azayku, Ahmed Lemsyeh, Mohammed Khair-Eddine to the song lyrics of Sami Al-Maghribi, Baaziz, Souad Massi, Nass El-ghiwane and others, this paper explores how these poets and singers deploy new aesthetics and thematic choices to sing “a different tune” that opens new avenues of thinking and being.  The paper will look at how these diverse texts challenge, question, reconstruct, and undermine prevalent cultural, artistic, aesthetic, political and identity norms.

The Challenges of Documenting Revolution and Political Change in Egypt: the University on the Square Project at the American University in Cairo

Stephen Urgola, The Arerican University in Cairo

When the University on the Square: Documenting Egypt’s 21st Century Revolution was launched at the American University in Cairo in March 2011 its mission was ere clear: gather and make openly accessible testimonies and relics of a widely-heralded historic event, collecting photographs, artifacts, and oral histories.  This became increasingly challenging as Egypt’s political and social environment evolved.  The proposed presentation will discuss challenges faced by the project, and the evolving strategies library staff use to collect and make this documentation accessible.   The library had to balance concerns about access with the need to protect that collection and the institution. Amid the fraying consensus about Egypt’s political path, it became more difficult to recruit interviewees. Over 400 interviews have been archived.  Since then the need to facilitate access to the archive had to be balanced against the protection of participants, leading to the anonymization of audio recordings and the transcripts.  Changing political winds also affected the preservation of digital documentation.  Since 2011, using a subscription service of the Internet Archive, library staff have archived news sites, blogs, and social media accounts related to the revolution and electoral politics. The library also preserved websites of institutions whose existence was threatened by government action.

New Challenges Affecting Bibliographical Projects

Mohamad Meqdad, The Aga Khan University (International)

Although academics strive generally to achieve objectivity, their works suffer from lack of access to research produced in languages in which they are not fluent or sometimes languages with which they are not even familiar. Due to this linguistic shortfall, much valuable scholarly work published in Muslim countries remains largely unknown in Europe, America, and even other parts of the Muslim World. Every year, in Africa, West Asia, and Central Asia, many quality academic works are published, but because they are written in languages less widely used in the international academic world they cannot be marketed efficiently; hence, they remain unnoticed. This situation puts this research at risk. Literature that is tangible today, might become be lost through lack of recognition.  The presentation outlines that some of the challenges faced by scholars and archives in zones of conflict or political instability, and explains how the MCA seeks to promote the exchange of knowledge and to eliminate linguistic barriers by creating a platform for scholars around the world. The Muslim Civilisations Abstracts (MCA) project was conceived to allow equal access to scholarly materials, and to highlight the universal relevance of issues facing Muslim societies. It is an open access initiative that reviews books from multiple contexts, publishing them in multiple languages. By highlighting often overlooked publications in languages such as Arabic, Turkish and Persian, it facilitates scholarly dialogue about diverse heritages and cultures of Muslim societies, past and present.

Download Paper (Meqdad)