Learning to navigate an archive is a rite of passage for many young scholars. Yet acquiring these skills is hardly a one-time activity. After all, many archives are undergoing rapid changes in the way they relate to their materials or to the public. Moreover, the ethics of archival provenance has opened important debates.
These issues and more are the focus of Hazine, a blog dedicated to scholarly research on the “Middle East and beyond” that is itself undergoing changes, broadening its scope and engaging with new audiences.
The site “isn’t just for the Middle East studies community,” said N.A. Mansour, one of the site’s new editors. “I want it to function as a place for someone who is curious about any of the topics we cover: be it curation or data literacy, or if they want visual resources for something they’re designing, or if they want to try to begin that family history.”
Hazine began as an archives review site in 2013. After a relaunch in 2018 by Mansour and co-editor Heather Hughes, the site is now in the process of transforming into a multilingual platform for reviews, interviews, profiles, digital-humanities tools, and more.
The site recently raised $5,000 to support its next phase. With the help of these funds, the editors intend to pay contributors, develop new tools, and translate existing materials.
A User-Oriented Perspective
Scholars familiar with Hazine say it makes scholarly resources more accessible and friendly.
Arafat A. Razzaque, a research associate at the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Islamic Studies, tweeted out his support for the recent fund-raising campaign.
Over email, he added that he thinks “Hazine helps make archives and libraries more accessible and familiar,” and that the best thing about the site is “its primarily user-oriented perspective, addressing the practical experience of research with any collection.”
Indeed, Hazine is keen to be useful. Mansour said the site’s editors were recently asked: How do I apply to conferences? “I didn’t know,” she said in a phone interview. “So I asked a bunch of people on Twitter, edited, and condensed it.”
This became Hazine’s resource, “A Guide to Annual Meetings: How to Submit Papers, Panels and More!” The short guide draws on advice offered by nine different scholars, and it is tailored to the annual meet-ups of the American Academy of Religion and the Middle East Studies Association.
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In large part, Mansour said, “Collaborating with the public is just talking to people.” As an example, she pointed to Hazine’s plans to translate its resources into Arabic.
“A lot of the push to begin translating came from talking to people in Egypt when I was living there—having conversations with people at Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya (the National Library and Archives of Egypt) and Al-Azhar (University Library).”
Making Research Friendly
Tine Lavent, a Cairo-based librarian and educator, said over email that she finds Hazine “enormously helpful” because it keeps her updated “about what’s new (and older but equally important) in Middle East Studies and Islamic Studies.” She added that Hazine is becoming a focal point “where people with all kinds of backgrounds—students, researchers, and librarians—can start to find what they need.”
“Academia can be a scary place sometimes,” Lavent said, “but they manage to make it friendly.”
Hazine’s resources are particularly important to students who need basic orientation to research methods and collections. But they’re also useful to seasoned scholars. As Mansour says, the research landscape is “changing beneath our feet. So many more tools are online digitally that weren’t when I was an undergrad working on this kind of material.”
“I think what I appreciate most about Hazine is that the editors are actively seeking out gaps in the information available to us about researching the Middle East and Islamic world more generally, and then filling those gaps in the most efficient way possible.”Amanda Hannoosh Steinberg
Visual resources librarian for Islamic Art and Architecture at Harvard University
Yet Hazine doesn’t just uncritically post information about new digital tools. It also opens up questions around these resources.
“There are dangers to a lot of these digitization projects,” Mansour said. “My concern is that people who are being paid to do research aren’t spending time in countries [they’re researching], and it shows. It also shows in the fact that, when they publish, they don’t think of those audiences.”
“That’s something I want the site to engage more,” Mansour added. “Audiences in the Middle East, and the Arabic-speaking world, and the Muslim-majority world.”
Seeking Out Gaps, Connecting Communities
Amanda Hannoosh Steinberg, Harvard’s visual resources librarian for Islamic Art and Architecture, is also a Hazine user and contributor, the author of “A Guide to Online Visual Sources in Middle East, North Africa, and Islamic Studies.”
“I think what I appreciate most about Hazine is that the editors are actively seeking out gaps in the information available to us about researching the Middle East and Islamic world more generally, and then filling those gaps in the most efficient way possible,” Hannoosh Steinberg said over email. “Cheat sheets, almost—so useful!”
Yet Hannoosh Steinberg’s visual-resource guide isn’t only for academics. It’s been used by artists, magazine editors, and designers.
The site also interrogates relationships that are sometimes fraught and exploitative, encouraging difficult conversations. Academics from the United States and the United Kingdom sometimes criticize archives abroad rather than learning from them, Mansour said, “and oftentimes the comments they make are semi-racist comments about the Arab world.”
Another illuminating Hazine essay, Sumayya Ahmed’s “Archivy,” gives scholars entry points into understanding what archivists do and walks through the disrespect scholars sometimes direct at archivists and librarians.
As Hazine broadens in scope, Mansour and Hughes have been joined by Marwa Gadallah, who will focus on enriching the site’s visual resources, and Shabbir Agha Abbas, who joins as manuscripts editor.
The site has been extending its geographic reach, too. The phrase “Middle East and beyond” is a holdover from the old site, and Mansour acknowledges there is no good, pithy phrase that covers the site’s range of interests. “We are so open to expanding globally. If there’s an Arab diaspora in South America and we can cover that material, and we can cover those archives, great. We never want to exclude anyone. That’s the founding principle of our geography.”
Part of expanding also means coming to the attention of more people. Thus far, Mansour said, it is students who have engaged the site most. But Tine Lavent said she still comes across many students who have never heard of Hazine. “It would therefore be great if educators in the field could tell their students about it early on in their academic track.”
Hazine’s editors are now open to questions and submissions from students and scholars. Although the current guidelines for contributors are only in English, those who want to contribute can send proposals or drafts in Arabic, too.