An Ending

Scholarship is a strange endeavor, the foremost knowledge one gains from it is the realization of how severely one lacks it. The pursuit of scholarly work demands time, intellectual rigor and creative patience. And yet, once the research objective is achieved one is left convinced of the dwarfness of one’s research. To realize the potential of different or future research on my subject was the most hard hitting. Academics often, I’ve noticed, surround themselves with impenetrable hubris, maybe it is something that accompanies expertise. In that sense, I probably am not an expert. This research woke me up to the possibility of that hubris taking over my analytical faculties, an occurring I wanted to actively avoid, and I think I did. 

A little deserves to be said about the collective analytical setting of our cohort. A striking lesson that I take away from this gem of an experience is the purely analytical and conceptual merging of our works for mutual critique, not the act of critique itself but the setting that fostered an intellectually inspiring atmosphere.

Much has been talked about the specifics of my project (in previous reflections and papers), I would thus stress a little on the general, underlying theme that inspired, steered and furthered my project – the battle against mis/ill information. The lack of insight on issues, people, cultures and traditions different from one’s own could take strong, imperturbable root in the psyche of societies, much of what happened to Iran. The lack of information that surrounds conversations about Iran is astounding. I felt it to be a pity that people from one great civilization, even in the age of such access to information, are grossly misinformed about another, older civilzation. Iran’s Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove is my contribution in shaping a better informed discourse on Iran.

All in all, the journey from being mere academic aspirants to being DH scholars, the journey has been rather tiring, in the most charming way however. The flexibility of one’s ideas, I realized, is truly a remarkable trait that separates an average academic from a profound scholar. I only hope that such programs keep falling my way, and that one fine day the journey from being an ‘interested’ academic to a prolific scholar will be complete.


Until next time,

Abdul Manan

The Charming Setback(s)

The real thrill of an academic endeavor lies almost entirely in trying to scale the mammoth walls of conceptual and logistical impediments. If every nuance of a concept is simply accessible, not to be confused with a nuance that is explained simply,  the researcher’s adrenaline ceases to flow. The past week saw much brooding, for hours altogether, to construct cogent, detailed arguments in support of the founding thesis. In re-examining, reevaluating and intensely cross questioning my own argument, the frailty of it became more evident than ever. There is a strange sense of achievement in locating the fragility of one’s own argument, I learnt. It’s thrilling. Discovering a flaw in the conceptual machinery of one’s work, besides being rewarding in the longer run, is much like an adrenaline shot, dramatizing the proceedings that one could otherwise mistakenly consider ‘boring.’

At the technological end, unprecedentedly, there has been much progress. The “elusive first crush” is beginning to confide into her suitor which is progress of a kind. I did however realize that the grandiose manifestation of the project that I have in mind seems unlikely to transpire into reality. But, the shape that my project might/will actually take is equally effective and inviting if not as seductive.

To the impediments and the thrill to/of overcoming them, and also to our imagination taking palpable shape, let’s raise a toast.

Triumphs and Tribulations.

Iran’s political culture is a bottomless well, one can always delve a little deeper. The past week was spent mostly engaging with scholarly work pertaining Iranian politics. The outline for the paper finally took physical form. While drafting the detailed outline, the complexity of the issue returned with striking force. At one particular instance, when I was trying to appropriately phrase the founding concept of my thesis, I recollected, rejected and reevaluated words and concepts for about two hours. “Deep State, I think would work,” only to learn that the definition of the deep state does not entirely correspond with my conceptualization. This was only the slow beginning of a grilling two hour session, self quizzing and self critique rolled into one, wherein I struggled to denote a complex idea with one term. Eventually I succeeded. Struggle of the phrasal kind is not much trouble to me, the technological struggle is a different story however. News is not too bleak at the technological end. There seems to be one benign application that I have gotten my head around, it seems to offer almost everything to materialize my project from words into visualization.

Considering the triumphs and tribulations, I am finding the depths of the bottomless well that is Iran to be charming, and enticing.

The Realization That is Week Two.

Iran is a dense country, dense in the most endearing sense however. The more I explore the nuances of Iranian politics, history, culture, the more forceful is the realization that there is a dearth of concepts that I am yet to flirt with. The better part of my previous week was spent willingly engulfed in the infinitely deep oasis of Iranian polity. The complexity of the intersection of politics, religion and culture in the Iranian scenario is enticing . The political structure in Iran is unlike any other, unprecedented in its formulation, robust in its ideology, and yet constantly at friction with itself. At this juncture of my research, it appears to become increasingly clear that an analytical model tailored specifically for the Iranian political structure is the only way to reach the uncharted depths of Iranian political culture.

Having elaborated much on the gains of the week, I must admit to some innocent sluggishness on the ‘technical’ front. Technologically almost illiterate, I, understandably, am nervous. Particularly testing is the realization that in Digital Humanities, much like other academic ventures, the mode of presentation is as significant as the content. While writing is a devil that I have managed to befriend, technology continues to be the ‘first crush’ that is forever elusive. But I shall not surrender.

A few attempts at understanding the tools through which my project will come alive in the digital world were mildly successful. I plan to capitalize on such mild successes in the technical aspect which hopefully will culminate into an attractive, effective digital project.

Although the past week has unearthed technical roadblocks, it has happened only in good spirit. Moreover, treading in Iranian waters, I am relieved to say, our ship has set sail.  

Reflecting on why and how to analyze Iran.


Narratives shape our reality. Discourses are often inspired by the narratives surrounding them. When conveyed through efficient means, narratives have the potential to shape and often change the ongoing discourse. The power of an idea is inextricably linked to the means one employs to convey it, a notion the Digital Humanities Internship comprehensively embodies. Using digitized, visual means to creatively convey a thoroughly researched idea, I am certain, will expose me to the skill set required to create an informed narrative, which in my case will be about Iranian politics vis a vis the United States.

At this crucial juncture in middle eastern politics, the two great civilizations, West and Persia, have managed to re establish diplomatic ties, a development that made Iran the subject of a number of conversations I had with my fellow students. In my personal experience of discussing Iran with the general public at Lafayette, there seems to be as much misinformed paranoia about Iran and Iranians as there is ill founded pity. My project will aim at surfacing, through an interactive timeline, the lesser known nuances of Iranian political history, her actions, domestic and foreign, that proved especially crucial with respect to the United States.  

As an avid admirer of Persian poetry and a student of middle eastern politics it aches me to see the rampant misinformation about a civilization as crucial as Iran. Iranians and their way of life are misunderstood by many, an unfortunate occurring to an incredibly endearing civilization. The birthplace of wine making that once boasted the most exquisite collection of Shirazi wines, home to the most enticing, invigorating tradition of poetry, Iran or Persia, enjoyed the rightly attributed reputation of a land devoted to mysticism, an image that underwent serious change after the Iranian revolution of 1979. From being famous for her exciting, accommodating customs, Iran is now assumed to be an ambassador of fanaticism, almost as if the world has forgotten her applaudable Persian character.  The current Iranian, Islamic regime, a mere thirty three year old creation, through its theocratic and isolationist nature seems to have overshadowed the seven thousand year history of the Persian people, a tragedy that any global citizen would mourn, and fight against.

This project is an attempt at fighting against the popular misconception about Iran and Iranian politics. The misinformation about Iranian politics and people continues to fuel faulty discourses. My project aims at addressing this gap between the two populations, Iranians and Americans that is, by demystifying the Iranian political structure and by making sense of the political developments through the Iranian lens.  Hopefully this project will make a worthy contribution in reshaping the currently bigoted discourse about Iran.

Having established the underlying agenda and the overarching expectations of the  project, a little must be said about its sensitivity.  Acknowledging the sensitivity of a humanities project helps one to address them effectively.  I envision to address the sensitive aspect of my project by creating an analytical model that is as robust as it is flexible. Given the sensitive nature of my particular project (the sensitivities of Iranians and Americans are inextricably linked to it), I must strike a decent balance that accommodates the sensitivity of the subject without compromising academic rigor. For achieving this objective I see peer review to be of utmost importance.

The budding academic as well as the global citizen in me is looking forward to contributing to and benefiting from this priceless venture.