Collaborative Learning in History and Anthropology

project abstract​

A bit of context in Cairo: the humanities in (post-)revolutionary Egypt

In 2014, historian Khaled Fahmy took part in a roundtable organized in the framework of the Columbia Global Humanities Project. In his intervention published two years ago, he lamented the dismal state of the humanities in Egypt (Fahmy 2017). While his assessment carries some truth, it starkly contrasted with what we encountered that same year, as we began engaging with the humanities at the Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CILAS), an alternative higher educational project based in the Egyptian capital since 2013 and in Alexandria since 2018. What we experienced then allowed us to draw a strikingly different picture: a multiplicity of reading circles dedicated to works as varied as Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, or Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddimah; a dozen alternative educational projects (including CILAS) aimed at promoting the humanities and social sciences generally and from a wide variety of perspectives; and a few additional projects focusing on one discipline, such as the “history workshops” (“Ehky ya tarikh”) created to encourage Egyptian citizens to challenge the nationalist master narrative of the state by re-appropriating and creatively reinterpreting archives. For all of us engaged in this movement, the moment of “crisis” of the humanities was, and is still, a moment of “opportunity.”
Between 2014 and 2016, the three initiators of this project worked within the framework of CILAS on a revision of the core curriculum deemed too Eurocentric, a broad translation project that eventually led to the creation of a translation lab, and an experimental course entitled “connected humanities” inspired by Subrahmanyam’s “connected histories” (Subrahmanyam 2004). The three of us were also involved in the creation phase of Mubtadaa’, an initiative launched in 2016 with the aim of “introducing high school students to critical humanities and social sciences in Arabic, and to have them experience how beneficial the theories and methods associated with these disciplines can be on their path to acquiring knowledge about themselves and the world”.

A bit of context in Bern: The THoR Initiative and the Co-Lab “Engaged Connected Practice”

Since 2016, when Anne Clément-Vollenbroich joined as assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Bern, our collaboration evolved. Co-hosted by the institute of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, we joined the Taking the Humanities on the Road (THoR) initiative at the Walter Benjamin Kolleg Bern, co-founding the Co-Lab Engaged Connected Practice.

In this Co-Lab, we recognized the vibrant revival of the humanities outside established university systems. Emphasizing the need for an “engaged connected practice,” we shifted scholarly focus to the margins, engaging with community concerns and challenging knowledge politics. Inspired by Subrahmanyam’s “connected histories,” we initiated dialogue across humanistic traditions and disciplines.

Collaborative Learning in History & Anthropology between Cairo & Bern (“Collaborative Learning”)

Our first concrete project was “Collaborative Learning in History & Anthropology.” This teaching experiment facilitated courses simultaneously for students in Bern and Cairo. Participants engaged in shared readings, exchanged perspectives through weekly sessions, and culminated in a collaborative workshop. All participants were regarded as co-producers of knowledge, with courses conducted in English and Arabic, utilizing Self-Directed Education and alternative pedagogies.

project leaders​

Anne Clément-Vollenbroich

Anne Clément-Vollenbroich

Middle Eastern Studies, University of Bern

Hussein El-Hajj

Hussein El-Hajj

Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Nariman Moustafa

Nariman Moustafa

Former Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Echidna Global Scholar at Brookings

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