The Center for the Study of Muslim Societies is the recipient of one of the 2019 “Humanities War & Peace Initiative Grants” given by the Dean of Humanities for the upcoming academic year. Our grant application, “The Humanities in the Wake of War? Technologies of Power, Displaced Histories and Reconstruction,” emerged from conversations between various colleagues in CSMS—Manan Ahmed (History), Hiba Bou Akar (GSAPP), Zainab Bahrani (AHAR), Kaoukab Chebaro (Columbia Libraries), Marwa Elshakry (History), Brinkley Messick (Anthropology & MESAAS), Madiha Tahir (Journalism), and Adrien Zakar (Stanford Humanities Center).
We aim to hold events on campus in Fall and Spring of the coming academic year, and hopefully at Tunis Global Center in the Summer of 2020. In Fall 2019, we will have the "Abandoned Landscapes Exhibit" with Hanaa Malallah, led by Zainab Bahrani. In Spring 2020, a Symposia on drone technologies, led by Madiha Tahir and Adrien Zakar, and in Summer 2020 an exhibit/conversation on Displaced Archives, led by Kaoukab Chebaro.
“THE HUMANITIES IN THE WAKE OF WAR? Technologies of Power, Displaced Histories and Reconstruction” will bring faculty and fellows, students and scholars at risk, together with artists and archivists to consider the past and future role of the humanities in the wake of wars. As a response to the witnessed destruction in recent years in the Middle East in particular, it is recognition of our responsibility as much as our desire to re-think disciplinary knowledge and the role of the academy in the aftermath of a century of wars.
Since the turn of the 21st century, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and now Yemen, wars have led to the destruction of rural and urban landscapes, including heritage sites, museums, schools and libraries and archives, representing devastating losses to humans and habitats. Parallel to this litany of material loss, however, is the development in universities, in roughly the same period, of new technologies of knowing and framing the past: drones, aerial sensing and mapping all grew from technologies developed after 2002 at Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, MIT, and USC among others; Google’s mass digitization of texts began in 2004 at Stanford; algorithmic machine reading learning of vast corpora began at Cornell in 2008, and the first 3-D printers at MIT in 2009. It need only be underscored here that most of these technologies were developed through direct funding of the US military since 2002, even as they were later both applied to warfare and to peacekeeping, to new ways of killing as much as knowing, and to acts of destruction as much as to attempts for reconstruction.
It is precisely this nexus of destruction and reconstruction that brings together an interdisciplinary group of academics, artists and archivists to ask: What happens to such pasts after destruction? How do historians, humanistic social scientists, art historian-archaeologists, architects, and archivists, along with activists and artists, work together with new tools to piece together or reframe worlds that have been blown apart? How do states and organizations avail technologies of machine-readable texts, printed models, spatial mapping techniques, drones, etc., for surveying and surveilling as well as for reconstruction and renewed historical inquiry? How do we, in the university, conceive of archival or textual collections, archeological reconstructions or visual representations in this new reality? What responsibilities do we, as scholars and citizens of local academies and global knowledge networks, collectively bear?
Bringing together academic researchers, artists and activists along with displaced scholars at risk and students from multiple disciplines at Columbia and beyond, we will organize symposia and working groups to actively deliberate upon these subjects and to foreground a series of scholarly and artistic interventions. Taken together, we hope to provide new venues to extend the ways in which we conceive of possible futures after wars."