Many scholars of the Middle East follow, with grave concern, and some modest hope, the fate of Stanford University Press (SUP). Initially, Stanford University Provost Persis Drell announced the school’s intention to cut the 1.7-million-dollar annual subsidy to the press. The amount, according to some estimates, constitutes 0.2 percent of the university’s annual budget. In the face of intense public criticism, Drell committed to providing the subsidy for the 2019–20 academic year. However, the Provost claimed, “the press, once it has a model that is sustainable, may request incremental general funds in the FY21 budget process.” In other words, the press has one more year of guaranteed subsidy, but beyond that is anyone’s guess.
These unnecessary challenges faced by the press jeopardize vital scholarship in the humanities and the social sciences. They also endanger Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures, (series editors: Joel Beinin and Laleh Khalili; SUP editor: Kate Wahl), a series which has changed our field in the last decades.
The list of authors in the series is extremely diverse; they come from different places, and engage in different fields: history, comparative literature, political science, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy. The authors, however, also share some things in common. Many entered the field in the 1990s, as undergraduate and graduate students. They wrote their papers, theses, and first books in post-11 September 2001 United States, as wars raged in Afghanistan and Iraq. They came from leading departments, and were supported by an earlier generation of scholars, who paved the way for the generation of the 1990s and the early 2000s, debunking Orientalist and essentialist narratives which spoke of decline and promoted narratives of Arab and Islamic failures. The series’ authors continued unsettling old norms, narratives, and categories. They offered new paradigms and modes of analyses. Their works reflected pathbreaking and exciting directions: postcolonial and subaltern studies, global histories, network theories, and transregional and transnational studies.
Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures is a global series. It is global in how its authors consider the relationships between global phenomena—such as capitalism, colonialism, print-capitalism, and world literature—and Middle Eastern societies, cultures, and peoples. Likewise, the series is global in the composition of its authors. Many were born in the Middle East, and their acknowledgment sections often include beautiful expressions of gratitude to many people in the region, from beloved family members to revered mentors and intellectuals who shaped their visions and deft understandings of the Middle East. The authors of Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures discussed, often with passion, theories by Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, Edward Said, Joan Wallach Scott, and Gorigio Agamben (to name a few). However, more than their theoretical framing, it is their commitment to the region itself that helped many formulate new questions about the Middle East, its temporalities, and its spaces.
Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures brought to the fore new voices and silenced histories, often of marginal and marginalized groups: ordinary Egyptians and their ‘amiyya culture (Ziad Fahmy); women and children (Amy Motalgh, Sara Pursley, and Beth Baron); prisoners (Laleh Khalili); slaves (Eve Troutt Powell); ethnic and religious minorities (Luare Guirguis, Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh,and Janet Klein); workers (Joel Beinin). Many publications dealt with colonized peoples and colonized societies, like Palestine (Shira Robinson, Maha Nassar, Rochelle Davis, and Sherene Seikaly), Algeria (Osama Abi-Mershed), Iraq (Omar Dewachi), and elsewhere in the Middle East—examining modes of colonial oppression and cooptation, on the one hand, and resistance, on the other. These authors examined various spaces, from urbanized locales in modernizing Turkey (Begun Adalet) to the notion of the home in nineteenth-century Lebanon (Toufoul Abou-Hodeib). They reminded us of how borders are set, but also how peripheries come into being and the ways in which borders are crossed, reconfigured, and challenged (Arbella Bet-Shlimon, Matthew Ellis, and Darryl Li). Finally, the series reflected on the art of writing itself: from the history of our field (Zach Lockman); to how governments produce their histories (Laurie Brand); to how one barber in Damascus conceptualized early modernity (Dana Sajdi). Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures spearheaded the thinking in the field about Jews in the Middle East, seeing them as vital parts of local communities, and reconstructing lost worlds in which Jews played a role in Muslim empires and Muslim states (Michelle Campos, Lior Sternfeld, Aomar Boum, Sarah Abrevaya Stein, and myself).
Kate Wahl has led the series with grace and professionalism. Over the years, the authors noticed how, during MESA’s annual conference, the line of authors seeking her advice and mentorship grew longer and longer—attesting to the series’ reputation and standing in the field. Kate Wahl also visited the region, attempted to learn its languages, and remained relentless in maintaining the extremely high standards of the series.
The events that took place at Stanford this past week are deeply upsetting. If an exceptionally affluent university such as Stanford considers deadly measures against its own press, other universities might follow this model. Equally troubling is the characterization of the SUP as “second-rate” by one of the university’s top administrators. I profess that I do not have the scientific metrics that led to this conclusion. My criteria are slightly different; they include the appearance of the series’ books in syllabi in classes on the Middle East, the books’ bibliographies that attest the many archives its authors visited, the newspapers, novels, and court records they read, their command of several Middle Eastern and European languages, the clarity and complexity of their arguments, and the great deal of time they spent studying the topics in question. My criteria likewise take into consideration the many awards the authors of Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures received (Yonatan Shapiro Book Prize, National Jewish Book Award in Sephardic Culture, Albert Hourani Book Award, Nikki Keddie Award, Roger Owen Award, Palestine Book Award, Political Economy Award, Choice’s Outstanding Academic Title Award); the books’ lucid prose, and the curious and enthusiastic readers shopping for its books at book exhibits in academic conferences.
When I wrote my first book, a colleague suggested I cover a longer period and focus more on politics. I felt he did not understand why I chose to write on intellectuals he deemed insignificant. Kate Wahl and Joel Beinin, however, believed in the project. Moreover, the thoughtful advice of my readers inspired my next two books. Today, after dozens of talks about my books, that took me to Istanbul, Tokyo, Kyoto, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Berlin, Montecatini, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and many places in the United States (from Jewish community centers to Harvard University), I still remember Kate’s first visit to my campus and Joel’s invaluable advice on each of my projects. I also remember the sensation, anxiety, pride, and gratitude I felt when I saw my manuscript turn into a printed object. These feelings emanated from a sense of personal accomplishment and the gratitude for the many who have helped me. And they originated from knowing I published in an outstanding series, and that my book was part of a network of exceptional scholars. I hope Stanford University will not rob other scholars from the pride and honor of being a SUP author.