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Country of Words: Reading and Reception of Palestinian Literature from 1948 to the Present

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PalREAD (Country of Words: Reading and Reception of Palestinian Literature from 1948 to the Present)

Período documentado: 2018-04-01 hasta 2019-09-30

With massive numbers of the world’s population living as refugees and exiles, the literary production of displaced peoples poses serious questions and challenges to conventional and established methods of literary analysis. This is the context in which PalREAD is working to develop a comprehensive model for the study of Palestinian literature as an early and on-going case of literary displacement. To do so, PalREAD is seeking new ways to account for and analyze texts, literary production, reception and reading practices that challenge and lie outside the framework of the nation-state. In tracing the story of Palestinian literary production across different countries and continents, PalREAD adopts a transnational perspective combined with a holistic methodology that can view and understand Literature in its widest components. To tell the story of a literature-of-a-nation, PalREAD is building a relational database that can bring together and process fragmented data on texts, authors, publishers, critics, and scholars as well as explore crucial intersections with journalism, politics, and art. As datasets for the case of Palestinian literary production do not exist, PalREAD is building and developing its own custom-made database and corpus. PalREAD’s database will be visualized and made publicly accessible and searchable through the project’s online platform. PalREAD’s digital project is envisioned to include timeline and map functions; network visualizations; gallery of images and digitized sources, audio interviews, and analysis pieces.
PalREAD is tackling a number of “high-risk” factors. PalREAD’s novel methodological approach – a synthesis between digital methods together with textual, reception, trend, and network analysis – has not been applied to Modern Arabic Literature before, not to mention to a case of displaced production such as Palestinian literature. The lack of precedents poses risks in terms of the time it will take to undergo processes such as mapping, accessing, collecting and structuring data, and building datasets from scratch. This risk is being mitigated by collaborating with projects and institutions that may have already gathered information on a certain aspect of PalREAD’s database, such as author biographies, bibliographic information, digitized sources, GIS information and coordinates for mapping functions, and so forth.
An associated second factor is the project’s ambitious scope of research, volume of material to be collected, and wide geographical remit. A number of risks are involved in working on a more than seventy-year history of highly fragmented literary production of a dispersed Palestinian people whose archives and sources have been subject to loss, destruction, looting and scattering. In addition, the political climate in the Arab world has made it difficult to conduct fieldwork and access sources. Furthermore, PalREAD’s database involves working with different languages and types of data that have not been systematically structured for the purpose of literary study before.
Such factors can be mitigated in several ways. Using accounts of reception and reading practices to extract information about missing or inaccessible sources, which can be referenced through description in the scientific publication that the project will produce. Drawing on extensive personal networks to fill gaps in sources by conducting interviews and seeking access to material held in private collections or archives. Experimenting with creative and interdisciplinary methods, as well as looking at other case studies, that do not rely on conventional literary histories to find new ways to paint a rich picture of literary and cultural life of displaced people. It is hoped that the methodological inventions from the research can make a larger contribution to other cases of displaced literatures and the creation of specific cultural heritage digital projects that can be tapped into and studied by other researchers and interested individuals. In this way, PalREAD’s aim is to pave the way to better integrate literary history of refugees and exiles into our understanding of global cultural formations.
In the first phase of the project, PalREAD’s focus was on building its team and setting up internal standards for data acquisition and processing that are transferable and interoperable. Several fieldtrips allowed PalREAD to map the availability of sources despite general access difficulties due to high fragmentation of collections and the political climate throughout several countries in the Middle East. The PI and her project team have presented the PalREAD project and their research at numerous national and international venues, and the project hosted several events at Freie Universität Berlin, such as the Mapathon with Majd Al-Shihabi (Palestine Open Maps). Furthermore, in addition to the successful implementation of a Digital Humanities infrastructure has been the creation of the project ‘showcase’, i. e. the website connected to further Social Media activities in conjunction with Arabic Deparmtnet colleagues of the ERC Advanced Grant Project AnonymClassic.
The challenges faced in analysis of PalREAD’s source material are best reflected by looking at the figures. We are dealing with a massive amount of different types of sources, literature, related material such as that on: Authors; first editions; literary periodicals and magazines; memoirs and autobiographies; book art; pamphlets, booklets and brochures; political party publications; literary festivals and events; ephemera; literary awards; literary cafes/salons/spaces; speeches and lectures; manifestos; photos; letters; images; radio and TV broadcasts; bookshops; publishers; intersections with film and art;
Material collected so far includes over a thousand entries, in 7 different languages, cataloged through circa 75 different key grouping of selected standards, covering the time span of over 70 years and scattered across more than 80 different libraries and archives in the world.
Scope and variety cannot be tackled by the traditional methods alone, but require a combined philological and digital approach in which both dimensions are closely interwoven. This point is key to capture a source that is “on the move” due to historical changes and the dispersion of a culture.
The sheer volume of data, and variation of the materials themselves, make it necessary to implement structured procedures, and complex workflows with the support of digital tools.
The main focus has been shifted onto Arabic language sources of Palestinian origin as they are being used to decide on methods through a holistic approach of the material.
One major object of the project is to create a virtual open-access cultural heritage research website, including detail documentation of the project itself but that will also provide access to previously thought lost material and texts. The digital output will be in Arabic and English and will provide a place for a community which cultural identity is as dispersed and scattered such as their materials.