A Year at Baraza

The past year has given us time to consider our experience editing this online space for critical reflection on the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. As editors of Baraza, we have been grateful for the exposure to our peers’ work and how we ourselves gained from the exchanges of the editorial process.

So after a year, why do we still think this online space is important?

One reason is that it provides an important intellectual exercise: authoring work accessible to a broader audience. As aspiring specialists in a variety of world regions studying everything from modern novels to ancient conceptions of science, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of jargon. Not everyone uses the word “deploy” outside the context of military movements or speaks several non-European languages, but when writing for an audience of specialists, it is easy to make these assumptions. As we edit Baraza, we have been, and aim to continue, cultivating a platform which encourages writing that engages a wide array of interests. Ultimately, this accessibility attracts feedback from a diverse range of people, sometimes even scholars and public figures — as with novelist Minna Sif’s engagement with Mara Lasky’s post on Sif’s Massalia Blues.

Accessibility also lends itself to another important aspect of our fields: interdisciplinary reflection. Authors learn how to receive different forms of feedback. As readers, we have benefited from exposure to different types of pieces that draw on literatures and types of evidence outside of our own field. For example, reading Cristina Violante’s post on valves and technologies of hygiene in the Middle East and Joy Garnett’s “Cross Pollination”, we were able to see how history, sociology, literature, and the study of power, when mixed well, can yield fascinating insights. Finally, accessibility can also mean striking a more reflective tone, as we saw in Shiv Subramaniam’s piece titled “The Question & the Kelvi” on listening, reading and the Kelvi.

As editors, we have been grateful for the chance to engage with students and faculty within our department, the wider Columbia community, and elsewhere outside of campus. As we solicited pieces, we were able to develop important editor-writer relationships, and as we workshopped together, we had the chance to critically engage with each others’ thought processes. Professionally, we have benefited from building up a network of students and faculty with whom we have worked together — often over a period of several weeks or even months — in editing, exchanging ideas, and finally posting and circulating to an audience of colleagues. Baraza has given us an opportunity to focus on our editing skills by engaging horizontally with our peers. As students, we devote countless hours to editing our own work, so having a chance to see others’ writings and to work with our peers to implement suggestions has been rewarding and beneficial for our editing and writing skills.

We wish to conclude this very fruitful year at Baraza by thanking everyone in the department and outside who have read, written for, and offered feedback on our posts. And, we hope a yet more engaging future for Baraza because it is more than just a blog; it is a space that is capable of exceeding the limits of the academic.

About Max Shmookler

Max Shmookler is a MESAAS doctoral student at Columbia University, where he works on trends in contemporary Sudanese literature and the place of Arabic as a language of poetry and thought in the modern Middle East. He lived for many years in Cairo. His first collection of translations (with Najlaa Othman) was published online by Words Without Borders in December, 2013. He is the co-editor of “The Book of Khartoum”, which is forthcoming from Comma Press (2015).

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