Ep. 4 | Podcasting and the Islamic History Classroom | Chris Gratien and Dana Sajdi

Chris Gratien Dana SajdiIn this collaboration between the Harvard Islamica Podcast and the Ottoman History Podcast (OHP), we discuss OHP's new series called "The Making of the Islamic World," using podcasts in the classroom, and engaging in public-facing history in the changing landscape of scholarship in the humanities. Chris Gratien, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia and producer and co-creator of OHP, shares his experiences as a long-time producer of public-facing scholarship through OHP and how he created and used the 10-part, multi-vocal series on "The Making of the Islamic World" to expose his students to diverse methods and perspectives on a millennium of Islamic history in his remote teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Dana Sajdi, Associate Professor of History at Boston College, talks about her course on Ottoman history, "Podcasting the Ottomans," and the importance of scholars adapting to the new realities of how the internet is changing the academic profession.

Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.

Dana Sajdi is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern History at Boston College. In addition to authoring The Barber of Damascus: Nouveau Literacy in the 18th Century Levant, she is editor of Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee: Leisure and Lifestyle in the Eighteenth Century (I.B. Tauris, 2008; in Turkish, Koc University Press, 2014).

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Credits

Episode 4
Hosts: Meryum Kazmi and Harry Bastermajian 
Audio elements (in order of appearance): "Moferubude" by Mello C, "We are Stardust" by Ketsa
Transcription: Otter

Transcript

Dana Sajdi  00:03

And now the humanities are being undermined by even intelligent people. And it's not that history is going to die. It might be dying as an academic profession, but it's actually everywhere and there's a lot of thirst for it. And so as it fragments, I think it's necessary to understand that we have to fragment ourselves with it, and at least keep the quality high.

 

Chris Gratien  00:28

There is a lot of pessimism about our profession as historians or in the humanities and being publicly engaged is the one thing that has given me consistent joy and optimism because there is so much untapped interest out there.

 

Harry Bastermajian  00:50

Welcome to the Harvard Islamica Podcast. I'm Harry Bastermajian,

 

Meryum Kazmi  00:54

and I'm Meryum Kazmi. In this episode, we're partnering with the Ottoman History Podcast to talk about the new series, "The Making of the Islamic World," and using podcasts to teach Islamic history in the university classroom. Our guests are Chris Gratien, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia, and a producer and co-creator of the Ottoman History Podcast. He is also the creator and narrator of the new series called, "The Making of the Islamic World." We're also joined by Dana Sajdi, Associate Professor of History at Boston College, who has taught a course called "Podcasting the Ottomans," through the Ottoman History Podcast. Thank you both so much for joining us.

 

Chris Gratien  01:33

Thanks for having us.

 

Dana Sajdi  01:35

Thanks for having us.

 

Harry Bastermajian  01:37

We wanted to get started with learning a little bit more about the series and how you came up with this idea, Professor Gratien, if you could tell us a little bit more about that.

 

Chris Gratien  01:48

Sure, absolutely. Thanks for agreeing to talk to me about this, because, you know, it's a podcast about podcasts, but I think maybe we can focus on sort of, methodologically and pedagogically, what this format does for Islamic studies. And I'll start by saying that Dana is very integral to the making of this, even though she wasn't involved in this series, because when I realized I was going to have to teach a class that I've never taught before, in a pandemic, I remembered Dana's "Podcasting the Ottomans" class, and said, "Well, maybe what I should do is make a podcast as asynchronous material for my students." So the entire thing was an accident caused by the pandemic but I was able to employ some of what we've learned working on the Ottoman History Podcast to build the series, in addition to what Dana had told me when she was teaching her class, which is that our normal scholar interviews are a little too elevated and don't give enough background for undergraduate students. So I knew going in that the style needed to be, I interview people, combine their voices together, and then I fill in the context so it's a little bit easier to follow for a larger audience. So that's the origin of the series. I collaborated with my UVA colleagues, Josh White and Fahad Bishara, who were very generous. In total, there's about 20 voices and there's really a large number of people who gave a lot of energy during the semester, because I was producing these week by week. So all of my contributors were basically champions of history doing this because they really care about it and wanted to create this resource. And I think the result was something I'm quite happy with. It's a multi-vocal, 10-part series that gives a great overview of a millennium of Islamic history and does so in a way that you can't really get from the survey course that just has one professor.

 

Harry Bastermajian  03:44

So just putting my sort of teacher hat on here, classes, sometimes jump around. Students say, "I'm really-- this is fascinating, can you tell us more about the Janissaries" or whatever it is. But how has sort of the selection of topics and how you employ them, if you will, worked for you?

 

Chris Gratien  04:04

So I will say also that this was intended to be used alongside readings, mostly primary source and discussion. So I did have companion materials for all of these. And the idea was that this would be-- the series would plug in well to many instructors' classes and all instructors have different preferences of what they'd like to focus on. So it is meant to be sort of plug and play in that regard that, you get a little bit of the background information that, quite frankly, I think a lot of instructors are sick of explaining the Mongol conquests year after year, especially if that's not what they focus on. And so to be able to have that work done for you, and focus on what you focus on in the classroom, is really the aim of the series because that's what I needed to do as well. So it is not meant to be something that's rigid and gives like sort of a rigid overview, but really opening a series of windows for the students, as well as for the instructors that, depending on the course, you can take it in different directions.

 

Meryum Kazmi  05:05

I was wondering if you can talk more about how you chose which regions of the Islamic world to cover and which scholars to incorporate.

 

Chris Gratien  05:14

I'll mention here in saying this, that I am somebody who works on the 19th and 20th centuries. So when I approach the earlier history of Islam, I'm thinking about the dimensions that are most critical to understand later periods, and that's the bias of my own work that I do. But I think that's also useful for the undergraduate courses where this is often taught in sequence. And I think that many of the people teaching this kind, of course, are actually people like me, because in history departments, you don't always have a specialist for all these different periods of history. So in framing it, one of the things I wanted to deliberately do is de-center really any area of the Islamic world to the extent that we can. Often a course is centered on the region that the professor who's giving the course is an expert on. So it's often the Arab world or even a part of the Arab world. Other times it will be different depending on the instructor. But really, I wanted to undermine that because, if we're talking 1000 years of Islamic history, within a century, you're dealing with most of that unit that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean into Central Asia. So that's how the series is arranged. I cast a spotlight on different periods in different places, and in doing so try to construct an overall narrative of the Islamicate world and really the diversity of historical experience that it represents, so to communicate that while this is an interconnected space, it's not a monolithic one. So for example, we have a week on episode three, the Persianate world so Turco-Persian culture, and how this became sort of a distinctive culture within the larger you know, Islamicate culture that was, of course, early on, dominated by Arabic and Arabophone scholarship and whatnot. We also have one on the Fatimid Caliphate, kind of trying to link the Islamic world to the Indian Ocean. There's a week, episode nine, putting West Africa at the center, rather than treating it as an appendage of the Islamic world as it often does. There's of course, a week on al-Andalus, on Muslim Iberia. And we do make sure to cover some of the familiar topics like the crusades, Mongol conquests, which I've already mentioned, all of that is also in there. So it's a I think it was hard to figure out how to condense this all down into 10 episodes and still feel like you covered most of it. I don't know if we covered all of it, but we're definitely going for a balance.

 

Meryum Kazmi  07:51

Great, thank you. Dana, it would be great to hear from you about your course and your experience teaching the class on "Podcasting the Ottomans."

 

Dana Sajdi  08:01

Thank you. First of all, I really, I don't know how to express the level of gratitude that I have for Chris since the beginning and throughout the process. And I think collectively, we're starting to understand how important the Ottoman History Podcasts has been. So in the earlier period, perhaps it was like a fun thing to listen to, to add to your class, but now, especially after we're hit by the pandemic, and as I recognize more structurally what is happening in the world in terms of how knowledge is being re-assembled or reconstituted, I am even more grateful, so not to make you blush, Chris, but really, I think the time has given me hindsight to see how important the series has been. So to start with, when I thought about "Podcasting the Ottomans," to offer the course for the first time, I had several ideas in mind. One, it was a cheap ploy to get students who are not historians to be interested in the course. And so the idea of a podcast appealed to them at the time, which was like four years ago, I think, and indeed I got people from economics, people from biology, you know, and so I managed to get a full class with students who had I've never done-- some of them may be history buffs, but most of them were podcast and sports podcast buffs. And so it really worked beautifully with these students in the sense that it not only introduced them to a new topic, but what is great about the Ottoman History Podcast is, as a historian, you need primary sources, and the languages I read are not the languages that my students know. And then having a text or document-based kind of history course, would have been very difficult, or it would have been the same translated sources that everybody uses. So I thought that in going through the different episodes, some are art history, some archaeology, some you know, so there's the different fields. And for me, history does not have a method, it is anything that is applied to the past. So to me, it opened up an interdisciplinary discussion, and opened up ways of doing history that are not traditional. So we did a whole session on the sonic past, we did a session on archaeology in Anatolia, we did a session on architecture, things like that. So what happened is, we were able to understand the variety of primary sources, the variety of history, the variety of interdisciplinary ways of doing history, so it was pretty amazing as a course and how to introduce students to the idea of history is not just names and dates and sultan this, and sultan that. And with that, actually, Chris helped me actually curate the different episodes in such a way as to have some kind of chronological order with an idea of the fun ones, or some of them that were just unusual. So what also came across to the students is, so I would assign actually, if I could, a reading from the book or the article, of the historian being interviewed. So what happened is, we were able to compare the product of the scholar, sometimes dry, sometimes polished, sometimes this or that. And then talking to them and their journey and excitement about the primary source was a very nice contrast. So you give the historian this idea that it looks nice, kind of polished or dry, but there's so much happening at the back end. So that was great, we did a great job with it, I think. Chris came and podcasted us and helped us with a podcast workshop. And it was a really good course until in the end, for that final project called Stories Ottoman Objects Tell which we ended up publishing online, I think, I got too tough on the students in the end, because they were not used to writing so rigorously and with using the kind of secondary sources that were required of them. So I feel like I asked of them a bit more than what would have been expected for such an introductory course. So what I did to make the course accessible is I assigned kind of an introduction, I wrote some kind of basic introduction to the episode explaining all the technical terms that they will hear and they will not understand. So that was that. And then, when the pandemic hit, in the beginning, everybody wrote me emails about "Podcasting the Ottomans" and how I used it and things like that. I'm like, "It's not gonna make any difference. It's just interviews with-- so it's not really going to make any difference if you're going to meet, if you're going to meet students in the classroom, or even on Zoom." So I didn't take it too seriously until I had to actually do a course that was in person, but only to half the group one day and the other half of the group the other day, so I met them only once a week. So how am I going to lecture? How am I going to do this all by myself, right? So I had to rethink everything, and rethink my role as a teacher, which is, if you look on the internet, there's so many resources out there, why should you waste your time lecturing when there are people who have recorded everything for you? And you need to curate, put together, systematize. And even if it's bad quality, at least you can be the critic, right? And so what happened is the students and I would write these rough guides, which is literally my lecture in five points, to couch the materials. So the students would do all the work in advance and then come to class and we would have the actual time to do the analysis, the critical stuff, and the pedagogy. So what ended up happen[ing], the pandemic taught me how to teach differently and more effectively and more efficiently, right? And so when I realized that Chris was doing the series, I'm like, "Yay!" At least we have good quality Islamic history by the scholars who are speaking to the level of the students, and where there are areas that I know nothing about, I can bring them in and I can put a whole course around it without ever lecturing myself. And I think we have to understand that now with the structural changes that are happening, one, knowledge producers are not us only. There's so much knowledge production out there. Two, we're no longer the big authorities anymore, right? So what we need to do is get out there, put ourselves out there, and do public-facing history, and do the kind of lectures that are [the] kind of materials that Chris is producing for us to use in class and to prepare our students to do something similar. So I'm convinced now on so many levels, that my role as a lecturer has ended. It's so passe in our new kind of structural knowledge world, and the democratization of the knowledge, for good or for ill. My role right now is not to lecture. My role is to give the critical skills.

 

Harry Bastermajian  15:57

Some things I just picked up on, it was really what you said at the end about public-facing history, the societal and structural changes that are going on in terms of, you know, the way we interact, the way we learn, and also just how we get information, right? It's increasingly come from our phones, right? I mean, this is like a pure product of technology and podcasts come out of that. But how do you square that circle, if you will, with the question that I imagine older academics saying, "Well, doesn't this test the boundaries of what scholarship is?" So I'm not in that camp, I really believe that scholarship can be defined pretty broadly, but how would you respond to something like that? I'm just curious.

 

Dana Sajdi  16:39

To me, scholarship is how to launch a query. Right? And how to go about finding how to answer that question, right? And so whatever format it takes in the production doesn't matter, right? It's a video, it is a pamphlet, it is a dance. It is a work of art. I think this focus on the dissertation-- I mean, nobody reads monographs anymore-- the focus on the dissertation, as the only passport, or the only stamp in which you can test people, on their capacity as scholars is so, it's just not how the world is constituted right now. Right? So I am I'm loath to see that I'm not lecturing and the students are just making an effort to, kind of, get my knowledge and learn it and kind of learn the skills osmotically through me. I mean, it's this is my idea of knowledge, which is the intimacy in the classroom in a very pre-modern Islamic way, which is about companionship about talking about it, and about talking, you know, talking about the ideas. But I can be that conservative person who's sitting at the last coach of the train and missing everything, or I can be a pioneer and see what is happening and try to prepare my students for this brave new world. I mean, I am not very happy about the fragmentation of knowledge, because this is not how I was trained. But then I also have to understand that we're going to be losers, if we don't, you know, jump in the front. And now the humanities are being undermined by even intelligent people. And it's not that history is going to die. It might be dying as an academic profession, but it's actually everywhere, and there's a lot of thirst for it. And so as it fragments, I think it's necessary to understand that we have to fragment ourselves with it, and at least keep the quality high, as opposed to leave it to anyone to produce a podcast or, you know, or a video.

 

Meryum Kazmi  19:02

Chris, do you have anything to add to that? I was actually wondering if, for both of you, what kind of skepticism if any, you have encountered in using podcasts in the classroom, either from administrators or from other scholars.

 

Chris Gratien  19:19

I must say that University of Virginia is quite flexible in terms of what they allow instructors to do so, certainly, I haven't had any pushback on that at all. And I mentioned Fahad Bishara who contributed the series, he actually was already planning on doing podcast for his class. So this is something that, I think if you have the technical skills, this is a way to adapt to the remote teaching. But Dana raised the larger question of public scholarship. And there is a lot of pessimism about our professional historians or in the humanities. And being publicly engaged is the one thing that has given me consistent joy and optimism because there is so much untapped interest out there. And a few years ago, what I was thinking was very much focused on trying to emulate the practices of investigative journalism to do podcasting as scholarship, and I think that's a valuable thing to do. I've tried to produce some examples of how to do that. So original scholarship as podcasts that should be evaluated the way a journal article or a book would be. But then I also realized that the real public audience, if I had to map it onto anything, it would be the college university student, someone who has some background and is educated, has some interest, but is not professional in any way. My audience is not ultimately the scholars because there's too few of them. It's not ultimately the journalists because they're their own guild. It's the students themselves who just do not cease to be students once they graduate from college. And so to produce content that's at that level, is not the same thing as doing historical research but it's a valuable endeavor. And I think we underestimate just how much there is to be done there that hasn't been done that simply involves creating polished, edited, quality material, and how much scholarship that has been produced that hasn't really gotten the audience that's out there for it because it's never been furnished in a form where people can access it. So rather than seeing them as two different ideas, the new smartphone historian versus the old school historian, I think, the digital technologies provide a venue to do something that has always been lacking, and has always been a problem, which is that there's this gulf between a public audience who is the majority of people who actually, you know, have this thirst, these questions. They live all throughout the world if we're talking in Islamic studies, so they're not located in American academy only. So there's this gap between them and the scholars who are doing this great work. So that's what the medium has always been about from the beginning for me. That's the continuity, I guess, as my thinking has evolved.

 

Dana Sajdi  22:06

Can I add an example that is very illustrative of what Chris was been has been talking about? At some time in 2007, 2008, PBS, I think, produced a documentary on the Ottoman Empire called The Ottoman Empire: The War Machine. In it, they interviewed every famous important scholar, including Cornell Fleischer, you name it, everyone was on that, at the time, Donald Quataert, everybody was on it. And we had been already, for 25 years, as Ottomanists or as scholars of Islamic history, talking about this concept of decline that it's not, there's no-- we can't call it decline, you know, between the 16th century and the 19th century and we need to revise, and I remember that I was writing an article on the subject when the movie came out, or the documentary came out and then all the scholars who were interviewed were writing in saying that they were edited out. Their point of view was edited to reframe the whole thing as "the war machine." It's the Janissaries, it is, you know, the kind of the Ottoman army is going to Vienna, and there was nothing else left, right? So it's this juncture, between what we have been talking about, and hence every dissertation is like, "Oh, and there's decline, and there's no decline." I'm like, why are we writing dissertations on the subject? We have established that 40 years ago, right? It's because the outside world hasn't believed us, right? And hence, we need that kind of outreach to get it in the public imaginary that this is no longer a thesis to be even dealt with.

 

Harry Bastermajian  23:52

It's interesting how the podcast, or podcasting generally in the academic world, I'm sure this is probably our friends in sort of medieval studies and medieval European studies or something are probably experiencing similar things. And I actually have some questions about that I want to get to eventually but it also just seems to me that it sort of in terms of the audience, that public facing history, it sort of levels the playing field, if you will, you know, you have academics who are listening in you have students who are listening in you have your you know, your, your average, Jane and Joe, if you will, right, who are listening in. And I think that there's something there that you clearly cannot replicate through whether it's PBS or the just a physical classroom, or even, you know, the occasional lecture public lecture, which, you know, is an administrative program, that's kind of our bread and butter. That's what we do. But we've also realized, hence the need for this podcast of our own, it's branching out and leveling that playing field. So there was more of a comment, I guess. But I appreciate that. And I guess, so just sort of moving along here thinking about, you know, speaking to that broader audience, and I'm thinking about also, Professor Sajdi, how you said, you know, "I'm now the voice of the critic," after my students listened to this. So, has podcasting in the classroom sparked interesting conversations about the nature of historiography, and not just how it's changing now, but how we can think about historiography? I mean, stories being told by reading that article, you know, the product of the scholar versus, you know, having that critique and listening to them.

 

Dana Sajdi  25:46

Very much so, and I'll give you a very specific example. So the course that I was talking about in the fall, it's called, I co-teach it with a renaissance historian, and it's called "Odysseys in the Western Islamic Traditions," and we have texts starting from the pre-Islamic Arabic poetry and Homer, all the way to the 18th century that we compare, right? So of course, because it's the pandemic, everybody has to do something about the Black Death, right? And so our point was to talk about, why is it that in European historiography, the plague has changed everything, at least the way they've constructed their own narrative, while in Islamic historiography on how we write history, the plague comes and goes, it kills people, but our historiography has not rearranged itself around the plague? And that's where Nukhet comes in very, in a very important way in her work. And so, as we started watching these videos, and what they're talking about in terms of what happens in Europe, my colleague was critiquing how the whole idea of the separation of church and state happened basically at the time, and things of the sort. So of course, you end up taking these as examples and putting the Islamic world and Europe next to each other and look at what sources we have, and how come and what vested interest we have, and how come we wrote our history in the way that-- or scholars wrote the history and the way that they wrote it. So it ended up being an extremely important tool. Now, we didn't discuss the source itself as a medium as such, but that juxtaposition and the publicly-available stuff has allowed us to really speak about historiography in very important ways.

 

Chris Gratien  27:42

Maybe it's a segue, but I think that another point about historiography that my experience with this has raised is that there's a lot more we can do with multi-vocality in terms of just bringing people with different subjectivities, different expertise into the same conversation, and letting them have that conversation as a demonstration of something that doesn't need to be argued in such a sort of pedantic, top-down way. And to explain what I mean more concretely, so you have two huge audiences for Islamic studies in the university and beyond. One of them is the people who say, "I know nothing about Islam, and I want to learn something more about it." The other is people who say, "I am a Muslim, and I have a lot of questions about history, about my faith about our community" and they could represent various different viewpoints within that. And those two audiences are completely different in terms of their needs. So how do we have a conversation where both of their needs are met? I don't think you can do that as a single person, and totally expect it to go smoothly. I don't think you can resolve the the Orientalism debates of the 1970s if you're only one person. The only way to do this is to sort of overcome this idea of the monolithic historical voice, which all historians reject as a methodological point, but then at the end of the day, we all produce monographs. So I think that because podcast uses voice, it's excellent for doing that, because you have people who sound different and just their presence on the mic is an argument about who they are and how they see history that brings so much texture. But in doing that, it's revealed something to me that I don't think ends at the boundaries of the medium of the podcast or the spoken voice, which is this issue of multi vocality, more as a concept, as a way of presenting history. So that's definitely an argument of the series that I've produced is that I've tried to assemble voices that will be not in disagreement with each other, because we don't want to present history, as always, like, there's two sides to every argument and that's really what you need to know, but rather that have very different vantage points on a similar topic.

 

Harry Bastermajian  30:16

Has this helped you position Islamic history, or at least present Islamic history, not just differently, but just sort of helped uncover new ways of thinking of it in the sense of how it's placed in the students' understanding of global history? Especially, you know, most of our students have this experience of Western history, ancient history, you know, ends with the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, essentially, and then, you know, the rise of Europe, and the Americas. So has telling that story, thinking about how you will tell that story through a podcast of Islamic history, helped your students and just your audience think of Islamic history differently?

 

Chris Gratien  30:58

Well, I did have one, I have a very good student, Tyler Busch, shout out to Tyler, he's in my Modern Middle East class as well, who followed the entire series in the course the first semester I taught, "The Making of the Islamic World" and he just came with a comment. We don't address what is medieval, what is not medieval, I think these questions are important, but we didn't have time to address how we periodize Islamic history and see it linked to European history. I very much advocate seeing these as integrated histories, because those spaces are so intimately intertwined before the modern period. But he just came with a comment in classes said, "I think we need to start talking about a global medieval history" and I was like, 'This is the kind of comment that I want, this is the kind of discussion I want to have in a class about the Islamic world." I'm a little tired of having the conversation about like, what is Islam? What is it not? Is Islam this? Is Islam not like that? We don't really want to like, you know, have that conversation more than is necessary. We want to bring it into a larger way of thinking about history. And so I think that whether I was doing that deliberately, the series was, I guess, implicitly meant to convey that that. We can talk about world history with Islamic world at the center. And it's not, you know, a container. It's not that, you know, it's suddenly not world history because Islam is at the center. And that was sort of my one big lesson that I learned this semester, like sort of in thinking about undergraduate survey, representation of history.

 

But on the subject of pedagogy and students, I would actually like to talk to Meryum for a second or invite comment. I actually came to learn through doing this stuff that graduate students are really the people who can play this role of, let's be honest, some of the very busy senior scholars that don't have, you know, they don't know how to use a microphone or a computer or edit to the extent that you would need to produce a podcast, they're not going to be the ones who are bringing this who are bridging the gap between the academy and the scholars. It's going to be those who, you know, have that vision and can play that facilitating role. And I think that that's the graduate students. So I'm curious for Meryum, as someone who kind of started graduate school at the time that I was sort of just coming out of graduate school, how you decided to undertake this project or get involved in something like this, being that, you know, podcasts were much more widespread by the time you were starting, then they were say, in the early 2000s.

 

Meryum Kazmi  33:41

Yeah, that's a great question. This is I think the idea was originally from a consultant that that we had in our program, but I thought that it was a great idea and so this was something that I you know, kind of wanted to take on for-- I guess, because I would say that for the past few years, I have found podcasts to be a great way to expand my knowledge of you know, any topic that I'm interested in. I feel like I listen to podcasts more and more. And in my master's program, I did find them to be helpful, especially the History of Philosophy Podcast, by Peter Adamson, so shout out to him. I listened to that, especially when I was taking classes with Professor Khaled El-Rouayheb and I just found that podcast to be really a very helpful and convenient way of getting either like more insight or another take on a topic we were discussing. So if I wanted to know more about Ibn Sina or, you know, some other thinker, but also to get background information on maybe topics in Greek philosophy that were relevant. So yeah, it was just a really easy, convenient way to learn about something while I was, you know, walking to campus or, you know, doing something else. And so, yeah, and in terms of this podcast, we thought of this as a great way to kind of make the scholarship that's going on, that's being developed in Islamic studies, especially at Harvard but just in general, and more accessible to a broader audience since, as we've been discussing, those barriers are kind of breaking down.

 

Harry Bastermajian  35:28

To kind of build on that from the sort of instructor, postgraduate student kind of point of view, I guess, I mean, so you know, thinking back to graduate school at the University of Chicago, maybe podcasts were sort of a thing, you know, and I guess I'm aging myself. But anyway, the point is, is that the ability to absorb information, sort of, I don't want to use the word "passively," but it sort of is passively, right? I mean, you could be listening to a podcast while you're doing the dishes or walking to campus, or whatever it is. But there's something about that, that gets you it keeps you thinking, it keeps you engaged with the ideas. And I think there's something there that you can't, again, can't replicate from reading an article, or just sitting down and watching a documentary or attending a lecture right? And thinking about what you said about the multi-vocal nature of podcasts and it gets me thinking also about another thing that we had a seminar on here at the Alwaleed Program by Professor Kecia Ali from BU, Boston University, spoke on "Gender in the Islamic Studies Classroom" and so to take this a little further, has conversations about maybe not just gender, but also just underrepresented voices come up because of the podcast?

 

Chris Gratien  36:46

I can say that that was something from my experience on Ottoman History Podcast, that I knew was very critical to making a series like this that I needed to think about, you know, which topics in which voices would be featured, and for there to be a great plethora of people who are coming at it from all sorts of perspectives, but also to know that when two scholars say the same thing, it doesn't mean the same thing. It depends on who they are. So as a great example, we started off the series, I interviewed Saadia Yacoob, who works on the history of gender in Islam, and really is trying to further a sort of feminist perspective on Islamic history that still writes within, you know, the framework that Islam can be feminist. So that's different than maybe a different version of that. And, you know, the series starts off with her talking about what it was like to be a student in an Islamic history classroom around the time of 9/11, and coming from her, it's different than coming from me. I was a student in the classroom too. But, you know, I could say the same exact thing, which is that such and such conversation took place, but for my students to hear that coming from someone who was once themselves a Muslim undergraduate student, I think it was a much more elegant way of conveying that argument about how not to essentialize, how not to foreground the wrong questions when you're approaching a topic you know nothing about. To hear it coming from someone who's from that perspective, I think was something that was easier to do using a podcast than the written word, because even if the author of a written article is the same, you don't hear their voice, you don't get a sense of who they are. And so, you know, there's an objectifying, or there's a guise of objectivity, that comes with the font that's the same in every article in every journal, that, you know, you lose the sense of who that person is. So on the issue of gender, that definitely something-- and it's not only gender, but a lot of different topics, where we can think of that, you know, being a valuable lesson that comes out of the experience of producing a podcast.

 

Harry Bastermajian  39:05

Dana, did you have anything you wanted to add to that or to follow up with?

 

Dana Sajdi  39:08

I mean, not particularly about gender, although I'm very taken by Chris's idea of the multi vocality or the multiple voices in the same form in the same moment, and the time here is very important. You're not sequencing them, you're having them at the same time. I think this is extremely significant, but that led me to think about something that I think about all the time and I'm interested in academically, which is, you know, the change of form or the change of medium, something that I've written about, from the chirographic written to print culture. And now as we move from print to the digital, and it's not about only finding electronic resources, it's about voice coming in in a very big way that is, perhaps what Walter Ong would, if he were alive, he would call it another kind of secondary orality, to the production of knowledge. So I'm just very curious to be like 100 years from now or 200 years from now, to look back and see how we are cognitively changed by this.

 

Harry Bastermajian  40:12

So my last question, a little self-serving here, what would be some recommendations for other instructors, like maybe me, if I wanted to make a podcast for my courses? What would you put at the sort of the top of that checklist?

 

Chris Gratien  40:32

The number one recommendation is that, because it is audio only, you have to know that there are a lot of words that will be unfamiliar to the students, some of them being from foreign languages, or names, but also just words that like, concepts that we throw around all the time, that are actually like, it's very weird to hear somebody say that. My mom always made fun of me using the word century so much, for example. So it's like, you have to be cognizant of that, because there's no written word. I did notice that came up and that's why I strongly recommend creating a vocab sheet or something, as Dana mentioned she did. But the other is that production quality really matters. So editing, taking the time to smooth it out, taking the time to find the clips that really matter is the difference between something that everyone can enjoy and listen to, while they're tired or cooking or walking or doing something else and something that's kind of hard to listen to, in the way that, you know, few people can read an academic monograph when they're really tired. So if that's your standard, and that's important to you, and you want to find something that doesn't just replace the lecture, but does something the lecture doesn't do, it is on that production value side and putting in that time to make sure that every minute counts to the extent that you can control that. And the reason why I mentioned that is because, you know, if you haven't produced a podcast before, that's very time consuming, and that may catch you off guard. So I'll say as a last note on that, that the Ottoman History Podcast catalog, and there's other podcasts like it, are all published under Creative Commons license. With attribution, as long as it's for non-commercial use, you can excerpt from it, you can chop it up, you can do whatever you want with it, you don't have to get permission, you just have to have to attribute. A lot of podcasts are similar. You can find audio that's already out there on the internet, mine that, make your own narrative, give it to your students, you don't have to do all these interviews from scratch. There's a lot of material, YouTube videos that I would say is fair game, especially if you're not publishing it publicly, but even if you're publishing it publicly, there's a lot you can do.

 

Meryum Kazmi  42:39

Dana, you had mentioned that your students also produced podcasts. So can you also tell us about that.

 

Dana Sajdi  42:45

So actually, only four of the 30 produced podcasts at the time. So most of them what they did was write descriptions of the objects making an argument of some sort. So for the next time around when I teach this course, I have been thinking that we actually want to produce a series that is straight out of the course itself. And that the students, each one of them would produce or I still haven't decided whether it's in groups, or each one of them will produce something different. But we have to find some kind of theme or thematic that goes through it. So I still need to talk to Chris about this and pick his brain, but there's an idea of using the Islamic artifacts at the Museum of Fine Art, so the MFA. My new colleague, Emine Fetvaci, who just was hired at BC and who's an Ottoman art historian, we're thinking of joining together and to actually get the students involved in thinking about the objects at the MFA and producing a series about it. What other resources? Actually it's very easy to podcast, right? If you have a phone and you know, it's really easy. The issue is about how to tell the story and how to tell it well, and that's an art in itself, and that's where the difficulty is. So it's the technology surmountable. It is the form that is going to be a challenge. Just to reinforce what Chris said, I've used in that course that I talked about the Khan Academy website, Crash Course History, Crash Course Philosophy, PBS, BBC podcasts, because I found topics everywhere and it's just about putting them together and couching them in what I called a rough guide, which was literally one page of, these are the five points and these are the discussions. And so I think the students responded extremely well. So that's why I'm a little bit now, I'm rethinking the idea of teaching the students how to podcast and rather, it's about how to tell a good story.

 

Meryum Kazmi  45:11

That concludes our episode on podcasts and the Islamic history classroom with Chris Gratien and Dana Sajdi. You can find a link to the "Making of the Islamic World" series in the show notes for this episode. Please make sure to follow @OttomanHistory on Twitter for more updates on the Ottoman History Podcast and tips on using podcasts in the classroom. You're listening to the Harvard Islamica Podcast. We hope you'll subscribe for more episodes on developments in Islamic studies at Harvard and beyond. I'm Meryum Kazmi, thanks for listening.