Middle East Studies

2013 Digital Islamic Humanities Conference

Thursday, October 24 –
Friday, October 25, 2013

Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

8:30 — 9:00 am: Coffee and pastries

9:00 — 9:30 am: Welcome and opening remarks by Kevin McLaughlin (Dean of the Faculty) and  Beshara Doumani (Director of Middle East Studies, Prof. of History)

9:30 — 10:45 am:  Digital Ethnography  | chair: Beshara Doumani (Brown)

  • Peter McMurray (Harvard), “Berlin Islam as Acoustic Ecology: An Ethnography in Sound”
  • Nadia Yaqub (UNC), “Working with Indigenous Digital Humanities Projects: The Case of the Mukhayyam al-Sumud al-Usturi Tal al-Za‘tar Facebook Group”

10:45 — 12:00 pm:  Manuscript Visualization and Digitization |  chair: Sue Alcock (Brown)

  • Alex Brey (Bryn Mawr), “Quantifying the Qur’an”
  • David Hollenberg (Univ. of Oregon), “Preserving Islamic Manuscripts Under Erasure: The Yemeni Manuscript Digitization Initiative”

12:00 — 1:00 pm: Lunch (registered participants)

1:00 — 2:45 pm:  Text Mining  | chair: Beatrice Gruendler (Yale)

  • Maxim Romanov (Tufts), “Abstract Models for Islamic History”
  • Guy Burak (NYU library), “Comparing Canons: Examining Two 17th-century  Fatawa  Collections from the Ottoman Lands”
  • Kirill Dmitriev (St. Andrews), “Arab Cultural Semantics in Transition”

2:45 — 4:00 pm:  Databases  | chair: Elli Mylonas (Brown)

  • Sebastian Günther (Göttingen), “A Database & Handbook of Classical Islamic Pedagogy”
  • Will Hanley (FSU), “Prosop: A Social Networking Tool for the Past”

4:00 — 4:15 pm: Coffee break

4:15 — 5:30 pm:  Mapping  | chair: Sheila Bonde (Brown)

  • Till Grallert (Freie Univ. Berlin), “Mapping the Urban Landscape through News Reports: Damascus and its Hinterlands in Late Ottoman Times”
  • Meredith Quinn (Harvard), “Putting Middle East and Islamic Studies On the Map”

5:30 — 6:45 pm: Reception, Watson Institute lobby

7:00 pm: Dinner for speakers, chairs, and invited guests at Faculty Club (1 Magee St.)

Friday, October 25, 2013

8:30 — 9:00 am: Coffee and pastries

9:00 — 10:15 am:  Digitization and E-Publication  | chair: Ian Straughn (Brown)

  • Dagmar Riedel (Columbia Univ.), “Manuscripts and Printed Books in Arabic Script in the Age of the E-Book: The Challenges of Digitization”
  • Chip Rossetti (Managing Editor, LAL), “Al-Kindi on the Kindle: The Library of Arabic Literature and the Challenges of Publishing Bilingual Arabic-English Books”

10:15 — 11:30 am:  Disciplinary and Theoretical Considerations  | chair: Elias Muhanna (Brown)

  • Afsaneh Najmabadi (Harvard), “Making (Up) an Archive: What Could Writing History Look Like in a Digital Age?”
  • Travis Zadeh (Haverford), “Uncertainty and the Archive: Reflections on Medieval Arabic and Persian Book Culture in the Digital Age”

11:30 am — 12:30: Keynote address by Dr. Dwight Reynolds (UCSB):  “From Basmati Rice to the Bani Hilal: Digital Archives and Public Humanities”

12:30 — 2:00 pm: Roundtable discussion over lunch (registered participants)

About the Conference

Over the past few decades, humanistic inquiry has been problematized and invigorated by technological advances and the concomitant emergence of what is referred to as the digital humanities. Across multiple disciplines, from history to literature, religious studies to philosophy, archaeology to music, scholars are tapping the extraordinary power of digital technologies to preserve, curate, analyze, visualize, and reconstruct their research objects.

The humanistic study of the Middle East and the broader Islamic world has been no less impacted by this new paradigm. Scholars are making daily use of digital tools and repositories including private and state-sponsored archives of textual sources, digitized manuscript collections, densitometrical imaging, visualization and modeling software, and various forms of data mining and analysis. However, there have been few calls to bring researchers together to showcase their experiments in digital humanistic scholarship within their respective fields, or to discuss the opportunities and challenges engendered by this changing scholarly ecosystem.

With this in mind,  Middle East Studies at Brown University  — with the support of the Brown Humanities Initiative — is pleased to announce a pioneering conference on  October 24-25 2013  that will explore the state of the art in digital scholarship pertaining to Islamic & Middle East Studies. Some of the guiding questions we are interested in include:

(1) Where are the most important digitization projects of historical sources in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and other languages taking place around the world?

(2) What kinds of digital technologies and methodologies have proven most fruitful for scholars in different disciplines (e.g. data mining, pattern recognition, social network analysis, etc.)?

(3) How are existing technologies challenged by the manipulation of data in non-Western languages, and what are the most significant technological desiderata for researchers?

(4) As digital tools and media become more widespread, what ethical issues relating to privacy and human consent must be carefully considered, particularly in projects involving contemporary political and social issues?

We are happy to welcome as our keynote speaker  Dr. Dwight Reynolds  (Professor of Religious Studies, UCSB), who is among many other things the architect of the Sirat Bani Hilal Digital Archive, “an open access resource for the preservation and dissemination of audio recordings, written texts, photographic images and other materials related to the Epic of the Bani Hilal Tribe,” a thousand-year-old epic poem. The conference will be webcast and several papers may be selected for publication in an edited volume.

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