Timeless Tradewinds and Markets of the Mind

Markets, Manthia Diawara has written, are the best reflections of society. His discussion, in the West African context, emphasizes markets as grand public spaces of experience and exchange, “a meeting place for the employed and the unemployed, the young and the old, women and men, the intellectual, and the peasant. They are a site for new generative forces, for the transfiguration of old concepts, and for revitalization.”

Travel writing from Ibn Batutta to today’s Rough guides has often chosen to use bazaars and other markets as emblems for distant, chaotic and antique lands. In reality, these spaces of intense human interaction form an intersection where the world presents itself to the heart of local societies. One would not be surprised to find, in a village market in Northern Ghana, a Lebanese merchant selling Chinese goods. Diawara reports the West African saying: “visit the market and see the world.”
Baraza is the modern academic avatar of the timeless market space. Created for intellectual exchange, the forum focuses on issues relevant to the past, present and future of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. The forum’s name mirrors the long history of intellectual, commercial and cultural exchange between these three regions. The Swahili word baraza traces its lineage from Persian and evokes the sense of a public meeting as well as the physical space where meetings take place. It finds a cognate in the Hindi/Urdu word bazar that is commonly employed across South Asia.As a salon-styled forum, with both online and on campus elements for students at the Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies Department at Columbia University, baraza will not content itself with disciplinary or geographic borders nor will it limit itself to well-established genres of academic and popular discourse. Through the intersection and interaction of the timeless and timely, the local and the global, the dynamic and the rigorous, from the market of ideas and exchange that baraza offers, the intellectual can expect to leave with new units of analysis, new methodologies, and new forms of presentation responsive to contemporary social realities and current technological imperatives.Message from the Editorial Collective 2011-2012