In our last Digital Islamic Law Lab (DILL), Professor Najam Haider from Barnard College of Columbia University joined us to discuss how textual sources, with the proper computational power, can self-generate maps and geographic designations. Haider’s interest in geography and maps began during his graduate career where he reconstructed legal practices in cities such as Mecca, Medina, Basrah, and Kūfa. In Islamic sources, such as biographical dictionaries, the tradition tells us that geography is important because the scholarly affiliation of an individual is linked intellectually to a city, regardless whether the individual is physically there.
Haider examined Hajj pilgrimage manuals as an example of sources that can help reconstruct how Kūfa might have looked like, spatially. Doing so allows us to gain insight into how certain communities were distributed geographically, how they were organized, and how they functioned. Looking at adjacent genres of scholarship and correlating them with various sources to then piece together different data points creates a visual map, including locations of neighborhoods and mosques. Haider’s project in creating visual representations of networks of scholarly transmission of knowledge and mapping intellectual lineages garners endless exciting possibilities. For example, forming scholarly connections of people to cities, and configuring what these cities looked like, researchers can begin reconstructing the unique linguistic colloquials of cities. This leads to understanding how information is presented in a scholarly corpus, and constructing how a tradition colloquially sounded in a certain region. Specific cities, such as Kūfa, have linguistic registers to speak about particular subjects or objects. These exciting possibilities can help us create an idea of how society functioned as a whole not only on a spatial level, but also on a more detailed level where we can begin to understand linguistic registers and spatial distribution, through textual excavation and linguistic archeology.