Dustin Cowell

2014-15 Research Report

My research over the years has focused upon a stylistic appreciation of poetical texts, on the one hand, classical texts — represented by the poetry of Arabia of pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, of Syria and Iraq in the Umayyad and cAbbāsid periods, and of North Africa and al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) up until the end of the fifteenth century – and on the other hand, the lyrical compositions of the oral poetic tradition of the Ḥassānīya dialect of Mauritania of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Unifying these traditions across the centuries are motifs and imagery that find themselves at the core of a multitude of compositions, taking on new meanings through their employment in differing contexts. A good example is the pre-Islamic motif of the weeping over the traces of an abandoned encampment and its power to evoke nostalgia for a time of bliss in the proximity of the beloved in the distant past. In the early Abbasid period at the hand of “modern poets” in early ninth century Baghdad, this theme is turned on its end through parody by the famous Abu Nuwās. Later in early eleventh century at the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate in Cordova, we see how Ibn Shuhayd weeps over the loss—in both physical and cultural terms—of Cordova as the center of a vibrant culture. This tradition has continued to live on in the poetry of the nomadic peoples of contemporary Mauritania, in which poets link specific landscapes to the remembrance of good times in the company of their beloveds.

My second interest is in the area of developing pedagogical strategies effective in the teaching of Modern Standard Arabic with the aim of enabling students to communicate both orally and in writing with ease using appropriate forms of the language, in addition to helping them gradually acquire an ability to analyze texts — both classical and contemporary — on the stylistic level. How to use selected literary texts as a way to illustrate structures enhancing the power of the word is one of my central concerns. I am also interested in developing strategies for presenting elements of culture through songs and storytelling, this being an area representing one of my current projects.