Brinkley Messick

Writing and reading, considered as cultural and historical phenomena, have figured centrally in my research on Islamic societies in both Arabia and North Africa. This work considers the production and circulation, inscription and subsequent interpretation of Arabic texts such as regional histories, law books, and court records. I have sought to understand the relation of writing and authority, events such as the advent of print technology in the Middle East, hybrid contemporary practices of reading, and local histories of record keeping and archiving. Much of this work dovetails with my general interests in legal anthropology and legal history, and with my specific interests in Islamic law. One current project is an historical anthropology of the administration of shari’a law in an agrarian-era Islamic state, based on close readings of mid-twentieth century court records from Yemen. Another project involves a critical review of anthropology’s early disinclination, as a matter of disciplinary identity, to deal with written sources.