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.

Reflection–Supreme Court Project

Although Supreme Court justices may be the arbiters countless Constitutional issues, they all are human—which means they are fallible. As Erwin Chemerinsky points out in his book The Case Against the Supreme Court, it is important not to see justices as strict interpreters of the Constitution, but people with opinions and experiences that shape their judgments. Of the many kinds of decisions it makes, the Court looks at cases in which the law and social justice intersect. That’s why it is essential to remember that those appointed to the Court have their own views on social issues and the law, which may lead to different, and many times irreconcilable, interpretations of the Constitution.

By doing a textual analysis of Supreme Court opinions, and maybe transcripts of arguments, I hope to shed some light on how justices talk about social issues. This project combines my passion for law, politics, rhetoric and technology. To present my research, I plan on creating a website that uses charts and blog posts to talk about the questions presented and track my progress. This way, it is accessible to both the general public and academics. I will use textual analysis tools, and read articles on different types of cases and social justice issues in order to look at how to approach a textual analysis and figure out what questions to ask about the rhetoric used by justices.

One big challenge will be narrowing the project’s scope. I will need to pick a time period for the Court, preferably a modern one, or look at one or two series of precedents for specific issues. To find out the best ways to limit the scope of my research, I will consult academics and texts. I am flexible on the scope of my project, but I am not flexible on making it accessible to anyone interested and answering questions about how the way justices talk about these issues may glean information on how they interpret the law (or, if their rhetoric does not glean information on how they interpret the law, what does it tell us?). Answering these questions on narrowing its scope will be the first step in figuring out how to have a project that is both interesting and manageable to be completed within the six-week time frame.

Monumental Reflection, 1

“Every dictatorship, whether of man or of party leas to the two forms that schizophrenia loves most: the monologue and the mausoleum. Moscow is full of gagged people and monuments to the Revolution.”

– Octavio Paz

One can tell a lot about a nation not just by what is creates, but also by what it destroys. Despite how controversial Communist monuments in post-Soviet Eastern Europe are, they remain as testimonies of national perseverance and evolution. They have stood as silent witnesses to the peaks and troughs of political regimes. With cold, somber eyes, many of these Communist survivors have observed the dynamically changing social values that have brought about political, historical, and social transitions.

Albeit imbued with state ideology, they are art, built upon the empty thrones of fallen dictators. Memorials to students who stood in the path of tanks, to soldiers who bore the deepest wounds of war, to parties that built national history. The people esteemed as heroes in the eyes of some, yet condemned as malefactors in the eyes of others. They are paved over. Renamed. Blown apart. But sometimes … Sometimes, they survive, and each and every one of them has a unique story to tell the world.

Growing up in Eastern Europe, I watched as monuments were abandoned, ridiculed, destroyed by human aggression and passage of time. But I also saw tourists who stood in awe in front of bigger-than-life sharp figures. I watched as youth furiously scrubbed away the contempt painted upon men who, whether for good or for bad, made history. I gazed at how piece by piece, meaning was brought back to monuments that had been left behind.

These are all reasons why this Digital Humanities project is so meaningful to me. How does society’s perception of ideological monuments change? Throughout the years, what are the values that these monuments have carried? Why are monuments destroyed, and what sparks the desire to bring life back to them? How does the digital world play a role in the treatment of physical world edifices? I will attempt to answer all of these questions in the 6 short weeks that I will be conducting research.


One of my biggest aims is to create a digital record of Communist monuments in post-Soviet Eastern Europe. I foresee that I may not be able to track down all the monuments due to limits of time, but I will try to include at least a dozen monuments from each represented country. After the formal timeline of my research reaches an end, I plan to further work on this, until at one point I have mapped down all the existing monuments. Additionally, I have pondered whether to add photographs of each monument, but since I will face a lot of copyright issues in finding usable photographs, it is not definite whether this will happen.

When I have an initial list of the monuments that I will include in the visual database, I will begin looking for primary and secondary resources, in order to explain the values that they have been imbued with throughout history: reasons for building, history of the depicted figure (if human), treatment of the monument, popularity as a visiting site, and lastly, popularity on the internet. Evidently, not all monuments have been treated in a similar fashion, so I may not be able to track the ever-changing values of every monument in the database. However, I will be ready to compromise and, at least as a base level, create a categorization of all the monuments.

After examining those features, I hope to reach certain conclusions about these monuments, based on the aforementioned questions. For instance – the different values imbued at different periods of time. Additionally, a major part of my monumental examination is focused on the role that the digital world plays in the preservation of a nation’s architecture, culture and history.

Throughout this whole process, I will try to be as flexible as possible due to the research question’s large scale and the consequent time-consuming data collection. The idea of a visual database, including categorization and examination of at least a dozen monuments from each country, is important to me, and therefore I will do my best to adhere to it. However, I am willing to compromise on my ideas regarding everything else.

Hopefully, I will face only minor bumps on the road as I embark on this ideological Eastern European journey!

Reflection

As I have been preparing for this internship in the past few months, I have started to determine my expectations/goals for this internship. I hope to create a cohesive, working project that reflects a well-thought out research process regarding topics I am very passionate about. While many aspects of my project are still evolving (and a very necessary goal is to make my ideas more concrete), I know that the intersection of college media, campus politics, and current events is essential to my project. These topics are very important to me for various reasons. As a involved member of The Lafayette, I am very interested in how college media sources have reported on political events that affect college students both historically and currently. I also have always been inspired by the activism on college campuses and how students, represented by college media, can make policy changes on campuses.  I am also vested in learning about how student-run media sources act a response to administrative media/advertising, and the tension that emerges there.

In terms of what is important to keep and what is flexible, I want my main source of data to be newspaper archives from various colleges around the country. I’d like to include Lafayette as one of the colleges I look at. In terms of flexibility, I am very flexible as to what the final project looks like. I’m hoping to discover interesting tools to visualize my data. I also need to narrow my ideas down, so I am open to what direction my project takes for the most part, as long as the core ideas stay the same.
I foresee quite a few challenges with my project. First of all, narrowing down my topic so I can create a research question will require careful thought. I intend on focusing in on one or two social/political issues to look at. At this point, I am equally interested in the movements of co-education and women’s rights on college campuses as well as historical and current movements led by students of color at predominantly white institutions. I also will have to choose a time period. I imagine this will require me learning a bit of code, which may be a challenge as well. I also will have to do some substantial background research in order to Overall, specificity is what I will need in order to make my project work within the time constraints.  Part of this will be narrowing down which types of colleges I plan to look at as well as how many years back I decide my time frame to be. This all depends on how difficult and/or time-consuming my data collection method ends up being. I do not anticipate resources being a problem, unless there are copyright issues with using other colleges’ newspapers.                  

Reflection

“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.

Reflection 1- Embarking on this project!

I want to embark on this project because I felt really inspired this past fall after taking Professor Rothenberger’s Conservation Biology class. We discussed anthropogenic factors that have led to species extinction and species endangerment and I became really invested in wanting to do something unique with my new passion for this topic. I tried to find a webpage that was interactive and educational but failed to find one. I believe that this topic could really benefit from an interactive graph because seeing the damage humans have done visually instead of just in textual form will be extremely impactful. It is hard to comprehend the level of damage that humans have caused and the number of organisms that have been affected by the human world. Something so simple as brushing ones teeth can impact an entire watershed due to microbeads in cosmetic products. Leaving lights on and overusing temperature control systems fuels climate change, which can wipe out entire populations within only a few years. One oil spill can kill millions of organisms and cause long-term damage on an ecosystem. The addition of a factory or housing development to an area can wipe out dozens of species due to habitat destruction and fragmentation. These simple but impactful everyday things that happen because of humans is the reason why I want to explore this impact on a deeper level and try to create an interactive webpage that I can share with others to hopefully inspire them to become passionate about conservation too. This summer I expect to delve into a topic that I am extremely passionate about to engage with it on a deeper level and to hopefully be able to share it with others to influence them in a positive way. Throughout this project I really would like to focus on critically endangered species as well as species that have already gone extinct. In the news it is common to hear about exotic animals from foreign countries that have become endangered or extinct but I find that the smaller less noticeable animals fall by the wayside. I expect this project to be challenging because it will be extremely time intensive sorting through information regarding all the endangered species, considering there are thousands. I plan to invest as much time as possible into gathering good data from reliable sources and I also have set up a meeting with Professor Rothenberger in the biology department so that she can take a look at some of my ideas and give me any insight she may have since she is well versed in this topic. Overall, I am really excited to start my project and I am excited to see what it evolves into.