Bard College Berlin Presents
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Alumni Talk Series: What is Liberating about the Liberal Arts? 

Bard College Berlin Cafeteria, Waldstr. 70, Berlin - Pankow

At a time when the world is in violent turmoil, what can the university offer us that is central and essential to our daily struggles?

A talk by Alia Mossallam

What if learning was a process of unravelling, of opening up, rather than a layering of experiences and ideas, an accumulation of credits and credentials as one climbs a ‘ladder of life’? How can we find new languages for new ideas in a world that is rapidly changing through the constant threat to survival (the economy, politics and the climate)? How can the Liberal Arts be a space for the inspiration and articulation of ideas (better known as theories) and how can they lift us from the great impasses that politics and the world market impose on us?

I came to the European College of Liberal Arts (ECLA - the name of Bard College Berlin until 2013) from Cairo with a scholarship in 2002. I had just finished a Bachelor’s degree in Business, and as a reward for studying that, which would prepare me for the market, I spent three months in Germany studying what would ‘merely’ nourish me: a Diploma in Philosophy, Literature and the Arts. Coming from all over the world - most of us in our early 20s -  the question of what we wanted to do with our lives was persistent and relentless. And this is when it dawned on me: What if the preparation for ‘life’ was not a degree that prepared one for a world market? What if it was the drive for inquiry?

Over the next 15 years - a career change, a Masters and PhD, street politics leading to a Revolution, a marriage, two children and three cities later - the fields have been many and different, but the line of inquiry has been one and the same: How can learning, teaching and the production of ‘meaning’ be an opening up: an opening up of spaces that are more accessible to wider publics, and not only those who can make it through the market economy? How can the study of history and politics also be the study of philosophy and music? How can a space permeable to disciplines, to people, to nature, to passions and to world events be created through spaces of learning?

In this talk I will trace the effect of the experience in ECLA, and how it ran through my experiments in pedagogy in the creation of permeable, engaging education spaces from refugee camps, to streets, to experimental Liberal Arts schools to the University and beyond it, to remote Islands and villages through site specific History Workshops. Another world is truly feasible.

Alia Mossallam is interested in songs that tell stories, and stories that tell of lesser known struggles behind better known events that mark World History. Her PhD dissertation explored a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through stories told and songs sung by people who contributed to milestone events of the 1952 revolution (the building of the Aswan High Dam, and the 1956 and 1967 wars in the Canal area). She has taught at the American University in Cairo (AUC), the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts and Sciences (CILAS), Freie Universität Berlin (FU) and held a series of history workshops ‘Ihky ya Tarikh’ with students, activists and artists in governorates all over Egypt, as an experiment in history-telling. She has also explored playwriting with Laila Soliman and Hassan El-Geretly as attempts to bring stories (and songs) of historical struggle unto the stage.
Her publications include an article on youth activism in the volume Democratic Transition in the Middle East, a workers’ history of the Aswan High dam in the Journal of Water History, and an article on history workshops in Egypt in the History Workshop Journal. She has also written for Mada Masr, Jadaliyya and Ma'azif. In 2017 and 2018, Mossallam is a EUME-FU Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, where she is working on a book on a popular history of the building of the Aswan High Dam, and starting a new project on the experience of the Egyptian Labour corps in World War I – mainly through songs, theatrics and cultural articulations of their experience on the home and war fronts.

Date & time: Tuesday, October 16, 2018, from 12:30pm
Venue: Bard College Berlin Cafeteria
Waldstr. 70, Berlin - Pankow

Contact information:  communications@berlin.bard.edu

Location: Bard College Berlin Cafeteria, Waldstr. 70, Berlin - Pankow

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