Final Reflection!

“At exactly which point do we start to realize
that life without knowledge is death in disguise…” (Talib Kweli)

From the moment we started the program, my topic was already close to me and my heart. Growing up, I never really learned much about my cultural background form my parents and this always left a void for me. As most curious childs/teens, questions like “who am I?” and its numerous variations can very much swell our very being. The lack of positive representations of Islamic societies and the way in which my early education tended to minimize these alternate histories only made that void wider. It took time for me to really understand how I could access information on these narratives and, for me, this project has been a step in that longer process. As I don’t want to over essentialize cultural heritage as being born “within,” rather than a thing that is taught/learned, I am very happy with what I was fortunate enough to have access to learn and explore.

The things that I have learned throughout this program have definitely been more abstract than tangible. While I am extremely happy to have learned how to use Neatline, Omeka, and ArcGIS, I think learning how to manifest my ideas in such a short amount of time has been very rewarding and important. It’s hard to really separate the tangible from the abstract because even in the process of learning tangible things like how to use ArcGIS or Neatline, I was also re-working on abstract things like the value of patience, humility, and being able to sustain a long-term vision in order to overcome short-term obstacles.

When I think about my experience with this program, I think that the timing is definitely something I would have changed. Even just an extra two weeks would really go a long way with such a big task as creating a website. Also, while the individualized tool review/live demo was very helpful, I think maybe having a group session where we mess around with a tool can also be useful just in terms of building confidence. I know for me, I was very intimidated with the tools I had to use and maybe getting my feet wet with the class as a whole would have helped demystify the complexity of some of these tools. However, at the end of the day this was an independent project, so either way I think I learned what was intended.

Moving forward, I will definitely hold the lessons and tangible skills/information I have learned close to me. I am happy to say that I will be pursuing further research on a similar topic to what I did in the program. I plan to do research during the semester on Yemeni identity in relation to Indian Ocean history and post colonial studies. As Yemen is much larger than Hadhramaut, it will be interesting to learn more about other parts of the country’s history and how migration, the political landscape, etc. are connected with identity.

Overall, all the failures I had during this program were not really failures. I don’t think there was ever a time that I didn’t learn something that if not immediately applicable would help me in the long-run academically and also in life. Even the presentation affirmed the importance of being able to express myself clearly and concisely, because even the best of projects can be overlooked if not presented optimally. I am very happy with how my project came out and the atmosphere we were able to build during our time, and I hope that this continues with future members of the program and DH community!

Reflection 4

This past week has been frustrating and nervewracking. With all the upcoming deadlines, I am feeling the pressure of how little time we have left. Fortunately, it has also been a very reflective week as well and I am happy to have gotten past the hurdle of narrowing down my research question. A big source of frustration has been balancing the research aspect of the project with learning how to use the digital tools. While we were reminded that the research question is more important than the tools, I still feel that there has been an underestimation of how time consuming working with these tools can be, especially given the numerous ways in which we can choose to represent our data. While it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when I finished collected my data points, turning this data into an actual interactive map and timeline has been a challenge, but one that I am in the long haul for.

Overall, despite the pressure and frustration, I definitely already approached the journey with a sensitivity to time which has been helpful in giving me a strong start. However, I think narrowing down has made me feel as though a lot of my initial time spent researching has gone to waste. Ultimately, I have realized that the information I have been learning is already valuable to me regardless of the project and will continue to be a source of motivation moving forward.

Reflection 3

The past week has been very productive in shaping my project but also extremely stressful. For me, changing my project topic to make a more specific argument and analyze a smaller scope has initially felt like a huge compromise and limitation. However, after reformulating my argument a bit, I actually really liked the direction I have gone in of using Ibn Battuta’s travels as a lens through which I can illustrate the cultural and economic interconnectivity of the Indian Ocean world. While I was pretty excited about moving in this direction, I have faced more bumps in the road after speaking to a librarian about hashing out my argument. While the lens was narrowed, my argument was still said to be too broad or too big for a DH project and more like a dissertation. I struggled a little because I felt as though the Indian Ocean in general is seen as too big to analyze and therefore I must choose a specific region or city. This I feel really takes away from my project as the point is to illustrate a mobile maritime community that isn’t founded only in one region. However, I realized that I can still use a case study to make a broader argument about the roles of Hadramis in Indian Ocean port cities and still also utilize Ibn Battuta’s travel descriptions of these cities. After updating John Clark on this new trajectory, I felt a lot better about this switch and I don’t have to make too many changes to the map I will be creating in ArcGIS as it will mostly serve as a background illustration for information that I will bring to life in Neatline using pop-ups and the timeline.

Another positive has been that compiling data for Ibn Battuta’s travels has been far more easier and focused. I messed around a little bit with ArcGIS and was able to reorient the Indian Ocean in Yemeni-centered way fairly easily, so it seems that with the help of John making my base layer maps won’t be extremely time consuming as long as my data tables are well structured and documented. Moreover, after looking at some Neatline tutorials I can really see my project come into shape; now it’s just about executing my plan. I think my maps and Neatline annotations have a lot of potential and I have compiled a majority of my data which makes it feel more possible. I am considering learning HTML because I am not really pleased with how my Omeka site looks, but if it becomes overly time consuming I might have to make another sacrifice. Overall, I have been facing a lot of challenges both in terms of my argument and how I want my site to be built; however, I have been rolling with the punches and I definitely can envision my project with a more realistic lens than initially. I also feel that the compromises I have made will pay off in the long run and it will be something I will probably be more aware of after the fact than in the moment.

Reflection 2

My personal and intellectual curiosity for this topic has been a strong source of motivation in keeping up with my research. There are numerous ways in which I can approach this project, and finally finding some direction by choosing a timeline has made me feel more confident in facing the upcoming weeks. In this past week I have come across tons of valuable information that is helping me turn my ideas into an actual website. Another big source of inspiration is that my research will not stop after the program is over as I plan to use this information towards a larger project about Yemeni diaspora in the Indian Ocean. For the larger project my argument will be more concerning ideas of identity and home rather than globalization, but nonetheless learning the history behind the contemporary Yemeni diaspora has been extremely useful.

The Project Review assignment was also a useful experience. Seeing different ways in which Digital Humanists organized their information and utilized different tools has made me think less about the research content and more about how I plan to convey the information. While both are important, I feel that the visual data–especially the mapping–is more important than the textual information I have been compiling. While the software I am using for my site looks sort of bland, I have been trying to be realistic given the short amount of time we have left. For the next upcoming weeks, I will most likely have to make more sacrifices for the sake of time, but I don’t plan on letting that get in the way of creating a great project.


“Contemporary globalization rhetoric regularly obscures pasts that never easily conformed to the distances, dichotomies, and differences that we often imagine to have constrained human relationships across space…We should be cognizant of forgotten routes of human connectivity and understand how we have come to see the world as we do.” – Jeremy Prestholdt, Domesticating the World (2007).

As globalization has become a big topic over the past few decades and has been made more apparent by the tremendous speed with which people can connect with others across the world, an implicit assumption in globalization discourse is the suggestion that in the past people were primarily restricted to small scale interaction and ultimately isolated. Part of my purpose for taking up this project is to challenge this assumption through the example of the Hadrami diaspora, an old diaspora that through its dynamism is connected to the “modern” and highly cosmopolitan. Starting in Hadramawt, a coastal region in southern Yemen, Hadramis over centuries have established communities along Indian Ocean trade routes and port cities in the Red Sea region, East Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. As my family is partly of Hadrami ancestry, this topic is intimately connected to my family history and this project is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about the different cultural influences that make up my background. Growing up, I never really knew why my parents predominantly spoke Swahili instead of Arabic and why my mother’s family resides in Tanzania rather than Yemen. Moreover, another big motivation for me in pursuing this project is to bring to the forefront the Indian Ocean region which is often forgotten in discussions of globalization and global migration. Migration stories too often present an image of a person traveling from the Global South to reach a better life in the Global North. Instead, the Hadrami diaspora is a story of South-South migration that challenges Eurocentric teleology and suggests an alternate worldview.

As this diaspora is not stagnant and spans across multiple regions for centuries, the main challenge for me is making decisive decisions to focus on a particular time period and location, as to represent the diaspora in its entirety would take far longer than six weeks. Given that I will be working mostly with mapping, I possibly plan to mediate this by representing the various regions and timelines of travel with brief information. Within this broader representation, I can then have a more intensive case study of a particular region or community. As the Indian Ocean region is underrepresented in relation to Atlantic networks, this also presents a challenge in gathering data. Fortunately, I have consulted different professors to find more sources on the Hadrami diaspora. Moreover, there are an array of colonial archives written in places like India and Southeast Asia which I can also reference to trace these patterns. Ultimately, by experimenting with different mapping orientations, over the course of these six weeks I expect to visually represent the interconnectivity of the Indian Ocean region as well as highlight Hadrami cosmopolitans who have been important players in global trade for centuries.