What is a Dictionary of the Revolution?
A Dictionary of the Revolution is a project to document and archive change in Egypt since 25 January 2011. The project measures change through spoken language, in the voices of hundreds of Egyptians talking about a "revolutionary" lexicon. The book and archive are "a snapshot of a country undergoing immense flux." (The Guardian)
In 2014, my team and I interviewed nearly 200 people across Egypt—in the Delta, Upper Egypt, Cairo, Alexandria and the Sinai peninsula—using handmade boxes of vocabulary cards. We worked with a lexicon of 40 words in each of 4 categories: a total of 160 terms related to the revolution. We recorded hundreds of hours of interviews.
Each participant chose an average of 7 terms to define from the lexicon, including neologisms like felool (remnants of the old regime) and hezb al-canaba (Couch Party) and older terms like irhab (terrorism) and inqilab (coup) that have shifted and taken on new meanings.
Since October, I've been reviewing this immense collection of material: sorting, editing, and organizing. I'm creating libraries of voices for each of 160 terms. To compose the book, I'll work with transcriptions of these recordings to cut and paste a conversation from a multitude of perspectives: a sort of fabricated national dialogue.
The research and book production phases of the project are supported by a grant from the Arab Fund for Arts & Culture. But not everything in the archive will make it into the book: that's why I'm launching this campaign.
I'd like to make this collection of material available to the public, in its raw form. I've designed a prototype of a web archive that has some minimal material on it. In order to make a complete text and sound archive, the project needs more support.
Why does a memory archive matter?
Between January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2013, Egypt witnessed an unprecedented clamor: the voices of long-silenced citizens engaged in political debate. Whereas public space before the revolution was veiled in political silence, enforced by ever-present security forces and reinforced by citizens' self-censorship, after the revolution one could pass through the streets amongst loud and unrelenting conversation expressing ideologies previously relegated to very private spaces.
Since June 30, 2013, public speech has changed again. A couple of infamous events have been covered in international media: the imprisonment of Al-Jazeera journalists and the arrest of journalist Alain Gresh for a conversation he was having in a Cairo cafe. You may also know that Egypt's Protest Law of 2013 effectively removes people's right to protest in public space, and that some of the activists who participated in the 25 January uprising are in prison for violating it.
With the re-emergence of censorship and silence, the task of documentation has become more urgent. A Dictionary of the Revolution makes space for viewpoints that are no longer represented in the media or in the Egyptian public. The book and archive preserve the memory of a moment in Egyptian history when many voices could be heard.
What will your contribution support?
What's the timeline for the project?
Where can I find out more about the project?
You can visit the prototype archive site at www.qamosalthawra.com.
A number of newspapers around the world have shared news of the project. Click on the logos to read more in English, Spanish, Portuguese or Arabic.
Thank you for your support!
Risks and challenges
When I first publicly announced this project, I expected that I would complete it in less than a year's time. Embarking on research, a friend warned me: "It's a dictionary. It's going to consume your life."
I love the work so much, I wish it *could* consume my life. But art doesn't always pay the bills. The biggest challenge I face in this project is balancing work-for-pay with creative work. The fact that I haven't finished the project within my originally projected timeframe is due in one part to the collection of material growing larger than I expected, and on the other hand due to this delicate balancing act.
That is to say: the projected timeframe in this campaign is subject to delays caused by real life demands.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)