Student voices: Iftikhaar Aziz’s North American Travel Scholarship
Last summer, I had the privilege of traveling to New York and Boston, supported by Exeter’s North American Travel Scholarship. Over five weeks, I conducted research crucial to my MPhil thesis, which examines the intellectual history of the influential postcolonial scholar Edward Said since the late 1970s and early 1980s, particularly around the time Said published Orientalism. I spent a considerable amount of time at Columbia University, where Said taught for four decades until his passing. The Butler Library, situated at the heart of Columbia’s Morningside campus, houses the bulk of his archival collection. With the assistance of the curators there, I was able to examine many of his journals, diaries, correspondences, and unpublished works.
I expanded my research by traveling to Boston. There, I visited Cambridge, Massachusetts, to explore the archives within Harvard University, where Said completed his master’s and doctoral studies. A non-research-related highlight was the Harvard Film Archive, which happened to be hosting ‘Ozu 120,’ a retrospective honouring the pioneering Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu on the 120th anniversary of his birth. I was able to attend several screenings, including one of his silent films, Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?, which featured a live piano accompaniment.
To complement my archival research, I surveyed the rich museological offerings in New York City and Boston. On days without archival appointments, I visited numerous galleries and museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston—sometimes multiple times to fully appreciate their extensive collections. These visits afforded me a unique perspective on American artistic and cultural portrayals of the Middle East and Islam, subjects to which Said devoted much of his work. As I commence writing my thesis this year, the findings and field notes from this journey will prove invaluable for crafting a distinctive investigation of knowledge production around the Middle East.
Iftikhaar Aziz on his research trip to the United States
Memorial Church of Harvard University