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Book Beat: November 2002

The Graying of the Raven

The Graying of the Ravenby Aida Bamia, Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures
(The American University in Cairo Press, 2002)
Available through Amazon

When Aida Adib Bamia became a professor at the University of Constantine in eastern Algeria, she was happy to have the chance to teach a class in her area of interest, Algerian folk literature. But while planning the course, she ran into a problem-none of the work had ever been published.

"We had no text," says Bamia. "So we had no material to use." Bamia came up with a plan that would not only enable her to teach the course, but also preserve the country's oral history-she required the students, as part of their coursework, to travel around Algeria collecting oral folk literature. This led Bamia to a man who spent decades gathering this kind of literature, Mohammed Hadj-Sadok.

Aida Adib BamiaAs the inspector of education during the latter half of French colonial rule of Algeria, Hadj-Sadok took an interest in the oral poetry of the time. He was particularly fond of poet Muhammad bin al-Tayyib Alili and followed him around for years, scribbling down his poems as they were recited. He gathered the only known collection of Alili's poems and entrusted them to Bamia to introduce to the world.

In her new book, The Graying of the Raven, Bamia has published every Alili poem Hadj-Sadok gathered, thereby ensuring that the deceased oral artist's work will not disappear. "I like Alili because his poetry is so vibrant and modern in its outlook," she says. "He wrote it before the independence of Algeria in 1962, as if he could predict the end of the French colonial period."

Hadj-Sadok was smitten by the peasant poet, a farmer by trade, who was inspired by his rural surroundings to create stark metaphors predicting the future of his country. "Hadj-Sadok had collected a great deal of Algerian folk poetry, but had become too old and too sick to continue working on it," Bamia says. "He offered me a collection of not only Alili, but everything he had collected."

Bamia hopes to publish the rest of the collection, including the works her Algerian students gathered, in textbook form. She says researchers in many different fields can use this literature as a key to understanding the French colonial period in Algeria and how the Algerian people were affected by colonialism. "The French feared this literature because it could circulate without censorship," she says. "They could control what was written, but not what was said orally. The danger that oral literature faces is unless it is written down and published, it will become extinct."

—Buffy Lockette

Bayesian Methods: A Social and Behavioral Sciences Approach

Bayesian Methods: A Social and Behavioral Sciences Approachby Jeff Gill, Department of Political Science
(CRC Press, 2002)
Available through Amazon

This book presents the basic principles of Bayesian statistics in a treatment designed specifically for graduate students and professionals in the social sciences and related fields. It first introduces Bayesian statistics and inference with detailed descriptions of setting up a probability model, specifying prior distributions, calculating a posterior distribution, and describing the results. Explicit guidance on assessing model quality and model fit follows, using various diagnostic techniques and empirical summaries. Finally, hierarchical models are introduced within the Bayesian context, which leads naturally to Markov chain Monte Carlo computing techniques and other numerical methods.


Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation and the Spatial Histories of Modernity

Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation and the Spatial Histories of Modernityby Phillip E. Wegner, Department of English
(University of California Press, 2002)
Available through Amazon

Drawing from literary history, social theory, and political critique, Imaginary Communities explores utopian literature as a medium for understanding modernity. Phillip Wegner considers the genre from its earliest manifestation in Thomas More's 16th-century work, Utopia, to some of the most influential utopian works of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Notable for its breadth of literary, cultural, and historical engagement, this book invites us to rethink the history of modernity, so that we might begin to imagine anew the space of our own present and future.


Jane Dominguez

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