'I have never cooperated as much with fellow Arab researchers as I have since I joined AGYA'
How can we foster interdisciplinary North-South-South research cooperation? Why is it still so rare? And what are the prospects for an enhanced cooperation in the future? These and other questions were subject of an international AGYA symposium in Beirut on 5 March 2018. ‘I have never cooperated as much with fellow Arab researchers as I have since I joined AGYA’: with this statement, AGYA member Professor Bilal Orfali opened the discussion on ‘Chances and Challenges of Interdisciplinary North-South-South Cooperation’ of the international AGYA Symposium on 5 March 2018 in Beirut.
Aesthetics and the Human Scale in Contemporary Architecture in Germany and the Arab World: AGYA contributes to the Aesthetic Salon of the BBAW
In the tradition of the urban salon culture of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) annually opens its doors to the public for the Salon Sophie Charlotte, an evening of thematic discussions in a coffee house atmosphere. As part of this year’s event devoted to the theme of ‘Measure and Measuring’, AGYA alumni Dr. Kirill Dmitriev and Prof. Dr. Bilal Orfali, both Arabists, moderated a debate between prominent architects on contemporary trends in their field from German and Arab perspectives. In several AGYA projects to date, both AGYA alumni Dmitriev and Orfali have collaboratively researched philological phenomena and the manifestation of linguistic encounters in cultural practices such as the narration of the life story of Buddha. Another AGYA projects took them to the Arab Gulf region, where they were puzzled by the architectonical developments, such as how architectural design seemed to strive for superlatives and monumental effects to the detriment of human scale (i.e. the set of human’s physical qualities considered in design and architecture). Thus, the relationship between human scale and architectural design inspired their contribution to the Salon Sophie Charlotte 2019 on ‘Measure and Measuring’. In the intimate atmosphere of the so-called ‘Aesthetic Salon’, they engaged the architects Bernard Khoury (Lebanon) and Prof. Dr. Friedrich von Borries (Germany) in a debate on their provocative viewpoints regarding ‘Aesthetics and the Human Scale in Contemporary Architecture in Germany and the Arab World’. After earning degrees in architecture in the United States, Bernard Khoury, known today as the enfant terrible of the Lebanese architecture scene, began his career in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war. The post-war economic and political reconstruction of Beirut, characterized by a strongly politicized and polarized society, influenced his architectural state of mind. With references to war and radical interaction with urban space, his buildings stand out as provocations. His German counterpart, Prof. Dr. Friedrich von Borries is a German architect and Professor for Design Theory at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg (HFBK), who sees his work as blurring the boundaries between urban planning, architecture, design and art. More specifically, his work focuses on the relationship between design practice and socio-political development in European cities. Starting with an introduction on the centrality of human scale as a measure in contemporary architectural thinking, the discussion quickly picked up momentum as it shifted to addressing political aspects of architecture. While both speakers agreed that architecture can be considered a political act (quoting architect and artist Lebbeus Woods), they interpreted the meaning of ‘political architecture’ very differently based on their cultural and political contexts. On one side, working in the absence of a functioning state apparatus, Khoury has turned to the entertainment industry, making ‘architecture for the rich’, with the aim of manipulating the realities of Lebanon’s most prosperous social classes. He built, for instance, a nightclub in a symbolic location in a Beirut neighborhood that witnessed horrific atrocities during the civil war. The club itself is sunk into the ground like a grave. With this architectural statement, Khoury aimed to illuminate the almost forgotten urban scars of past political violence. On the other side, von Borries focused on the state as an important player in actively shaping the architecture of European cities. In particular, he saw the state as having an important role in the creation of social housing, where innovative design concepts can transform public space and shared residences to bring together different generations, cultures and social classes. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant exchange between the architects, which was a welcome addition to the more scientifically-oriented discussions on ‘Measure and Measuring’ throughout the evening. ‘The discussion raised a lot of new questions’, summed up Orfali, ‘and definitely showed how the human scale in architecture can extend beyond physical qualities to include emotional, performative and political aspects of human life.’
Storytelling as a central theme of AGYA Annual Conference
Fairy tales and stories have the power to inspire. This is not only true for tales and traditional myths of the Islamic world’s pre-modern era, but also in today’s world of interactive storytelling in digital games and interactive learning applications. This became evident when Maic Masuch, professor for media informatics with a research focus on entertainment computing at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Essen, hold a keynote on 'Gaming as a Form of Modern Storytelling'. During the public event that was organized in cooperation with the German Jordanian University on 29 October, a panel of AGYA members Prof. Dr. Bilal Orfali (American University of Beirut), Prof. Dr. Carola Richter (Freie Universität Berlin) and Dr. Jan Friesen (Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research) discussed the topic 'Storytelling Entangled between Entertainment and Education' together with Sally Shalabi, a Palestinian-Jordanian professional storyteller.
Interdisciplinary International Workshop: ‘The Area Studies Controversy Revisited’
Even two decades after its inception, there is a clear need to revisit the so-called Area Studies Controversy (ASC) from multiple disciplinary angles. This insight guided the participants of the workshop “The Area Studies Controversy Revisited”, held at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon on 29 and 30 September 2018. The workshop took place with the support of the Arab German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA) as a project of its Transformation working group. It brought together a diverse group of scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds from Europe and the Middle East.
Language, Identity and Cultural Exchange: Early Arabic Studies in Europe and the Middle East
Fruitful encounters between Germany (and Europe) and the Arab world are closely related to the emergence of systematic teaching and philological studies of the Arabic language in early modern Europe. On the institutional level, this development was pioneered at the University of St Andrews in Scotland (UK) and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands with the introduction of the first Chairs in Arabic as early as in the sixteenth century. Similar centres of research and teaching of Arabic were later on established at other universities in Europe. Several universities in Germany, especially Leipzig, Halle, and Berlin as well as the University of Vienna in Austria played a crucial role in developing and promoting Arabic philology in Europe, which resulted also in the establishment of Arabic Studies in Russia at the universities in St Petersburg and Kazan by German professors and Russian scholars trained in Germany. The development of Arabic philology reflected not only important innovations in the academia, but represented a direct response to the growing interest in the Arab world and reflected wider intellectual discourses and cultural challenges of the time related to negotiating the European identity and such issues as colonialism and orientalism. Remarkably, the philological innovation fostered in European academia not only promoted a better understanding of the Arab culture by the Europeans, but also had a direct and lasting impact on the approach of Arabs towards their native language. The export of new philological methods to the Arab world was strongly stimulated by Arab intellectuals trained in Europe such as for instance Jirmānūs Farḥāt (1670 – 1732), who during his studies at the Maronite College in Rome got acquainted with the philological methods developed by Thomas Erpenius (1584 – 1624), one of the pioneers of Oriental studies in Europe. On the other hand, some European scholars of Arabic actively promoted new philological scholarship through their teaching and research in the Middle East, first of all in Beirut, Lebanon and Cairo, Egypt. Among them were Cornelius Van Alen Van Dyck (1818 – 1895), Vladimir Girgas (1835 – 1887) and Carlo Alfonso Nallino, (1872 – 1938), to name but a few. While the history of early Arabic studies in the Netherlands has been recently re-examined by Arnoud Vrolijk and Richard van Leeuwen in the book ‘Arabic Studies in the Netherlands: A Short History in Portraits, 1580 – 1950’ published in 2013, for the Arabic Studies in Germany and Russia one has still to rely on the publication from the year 1955 by Johann Fück ‘Die arabischen Studien in Europa bis in den Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts’ and from the year 1950 by Ignaz Kratschkowski ‘Die russische Arabistik, Umrisse ihrer Entwicklung (Übersetzt und bearbeitet von Otto Mehlitz in 1963)’. In their AGYA project ‘Language, Identity and Cultural Exchange: Early Arabic Studies in Europe and the Middle East’ Academy AGYA members Kirill Dmitriev and Bilal Orfali revisited the foundations of Arabic Studies in Europe and the Middle East through investigating yet unstudied archival material at universities and research institutions in Scotland, Italy, Germany, Russia and Lebanon. The project’s findings will help contextualize the history of this academic field in the broader perspective of cultural exchange between Europe and the Arab world. Besides further exploring and evaluating the relevant archives at their home institutions, the University of St Andrews and the American University of Beirut, both scholars undertook research visits to the libraries and archives in Kazan and St Petersburg (Russia) as well as Rome and Venice (Italy). The aim was to collect additional research material in order to compare it with their findings in Scotland and Lebanon. At their research visit to Rome and Venice, Bilal Orfali and Kirill Dmitriev were accompanied by Prof. Ramzi Baalbaki (American University of Beirut), a distinguished scholar of Arabic Studies. In July 2018, the team met with Antonella Ghersetti, Professor of Arabic at the Department of Asian and North African Studies at Ca' Foscari University in Venice. With Prof. Ghersetti, the scholars also discussed the perspectives of establishing a research network and collaborative projects in the future. A few weeks later in August, academic networking in respect to the project was continued in Kazan, where Bilal Orfali and Kirill Dmitriev met with faculty members of the Kazan State University. The library of the Kazan State University is well-known for its bibliographical collections. The collection contains about 15000 manuscripts and 3000 unique rare books. The investigation of the Arabic manuscript collections preserved in Kazan proved to be of particular importance and interest for the project. As another result of their visit, both tandem partners were invited to join the editorial board of the newly established research journal ‘Eurasian Arabic Studies’ published in Kazan. All collected material will be published in an online publication and an exhibition on the topic of ‘The History of Arabic Studies in Europe and the Middle East in Early Modern Period’ will be realized in 2019. Two books will be published in 2019 as a major outcome of the tandem project: ‘The Claim of Arabic: Arabic Humanities at the American University of Beirut’ (Bilal Orfali), and ‘Ignaz Krackovsky (1883-1951), ein Arabist in seiner Zeit,’ a German translation of the biography of the Russian scholar Ignaz Krackovsky by Dolinina, Anna (Newol'nik Dolga. Sankt Petersburg 1994).
Media Transitions and Cultural Debates in Arab Societies: Transhistorical Perspectives on the Impact of Communication Technologies
Digital technologies have affected literature and culture, their authors and audiences. So has the transition from oral to script culture – many centuries ago. The AGYA conference explores the impact of ‘new media’ on modes of cultural expression and debate cultures in Arab societies. The conference is organized by the AGYA Members Barbara Winckler (Junior Professor for Modern Arabic Literature, University of Münster), Carola Richter (Professor for Inter-national Communication, Freie Universität Berlin) and Bilal Orfali Associate Profeesor for Arabic Studies, American University of Beirut), in cooperation with Teresa Pepe (Associate Professor at the Institute for Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo). In the last decades, the Arab world has witnessed the emergence and broad diffusion of 'new' media, most prominently the Internet. The opportunities provided by these new communication technologies have not only inspired and empowered a younger generation for political dissent, but have also fostered the emergence of new modes of cultural expression, literary styles and genres as well as new layers of readers and writers. Digital media, however, is not the first ‘new media’ to appear in the Arab world. The adoption of Internet technologies in recent times could be compared to the transition from oral to script culture that took place in the 9th century, the spread of print technologies after several centuries of a flourishing manuscript culture in the 19th century, or the emergence of audio-visual media (radio, TV, photography, film) in the 20th century. The transhistorical perspective has proven useful in the field of media studies in general, but requires further exploration with specifics to the Arab region. With regard to different media at different historical moments (9th - 21st century), the conference aims at exploring how the emergence and diffusion of ‘new media’ or communication technologies in Arab societies have affected the (conditions of) literary and cultural production, distribution, and reception and how cultural debates are shaped by the use of different media. The conference will involve scholars of various disciplines specialized in different time periods and practitioners in the cultural field. It seeks to provide an interdisciplinary, transhistorical perspective and to reach out to a wider public beyond the academic sphere.