Manan Ahmed

Dec 2020

If it was not taught by Professor Ahmed, I would have ranked CC class as the worst I have taken at Columbia. I have already learned that the Columbia Core is extremely whitewashed and the concept of "Western Philosophy" inherently is a racist concept. Without Professor Ahmed's additions to the syllabus, this class includes no philosophical works by people of color or women. CC, as taught by the university, is not a collection of iconic works, but iconic works that have aided in the colonization and justification of genocide of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities all over the world. This class needs more diversity and perspectives. I loved this class solely because of Professor Ahmed, my wonderful classmates, and our willingness to deconstruct the severely problematic nature of CC, its texts, and the ideas it promotes. I would 10/10 recommend Prof Ahmed, as he has been the best, especially during COVID!

Jun 2020

This class was exactly what I needed in my premed life -- I'm genuinely interested in the idea of the global core & ofc I want to learn, but, ya know rather short on time to adopt the guise of an anthropology major for the sake of my GPA. Manan gets that, he is wonderful. I feel that I walked away from this class having genuinely gained some perspective. The readings are interesting, Manan is very knowledgeable and I found his lectures engaging. He brought us donuts once if you're into that & needed further convincing. Take this class!!

Nov 2019

This is an incredibly terrible Professor. We did a whole semester of courses which were nominally about history, and never actually taught about history, because apparently things like “dates are a racist and colonial endeavor. Professor Ahmed is touchy, easily angered, and cares very little about the opinions of others. If Fox News creates a caricature of a Ivy League professor, that would be Professor Ahmed. It’s an absurdly easily class, that’s true - but you’ll be driven insane before the semester is up. Do you want to learn about South Asia? Don’t take this. Do you want to hear Professor Ahmed complain about politicians he dislikes? That’s this. That he is still employed by Columbia is a travesty.

Sep 2019

The Worlds of Mughal India covers the history of the Mughal Empire through biographies and autobiographies written by the Mughal Emperors themselves. Progressing from Babur to Jahangir, the class spans several hundred years of history across Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, focusing on these personal accounts, while incorporating slides for context. The class is reading intensive for Emperor Babur, as Prof. Ahmed assigns a project tracking Babur's exploits in his autobiography, Baburnama. Students will have to track via spreadsheet where Babur goes, what he does, and where across the entire book, which thankfully excludes about 20 years of Babur's life. It is time intensive, but easily the most difficult section of the course. The museum/art exhibit review, movie review (of a 3 hr Bollywood movie), and visual final essays are all easily done and very easily graded. It should be very easy to earn high marks in this class with minimal effort. Prof. Ahmed is very laid back, and at times can seem to be dismissive, but this can work in your favor as well. Class will sometimes be cut early or be put off entirely. The final visual essay project was meant to have a presentation component, but Prof. Ahmed changed it to be submission based entirely and cancelled the day of class for presentations, and included a day to go eat off campus, trying out the Mughal cuisines. Overall the class is a good summer course, able to be completed with high marks for only some effort, an arrangement that seems mutually beneficial.

May 2014

I think I will look back on Lit Hum with Prof. Ahmed as one of the seminal experiences in my intellectual development. I’ll try to refrain from hyperbole and sentimentalism, as well as overly academic-speak, but I have strong feelings about this class and Prof. Ahmed as a teacher. This class was everything that a Humanities class is supposed to do: (re-)instill the love of reading and literature; give you a sense of how Western literature came to be (and, more importantly, why); develop critical thinking, of course; and above all--and this may be controversial to some--help form a political consciousness through the critical awareness of the patterns of discourse formation within the social, cultural, and political realms that we inhabit. All of this is to say: the class was fucking awesome, and it blew my mind almost every single day. I’ll admit: our class was extra-ordinary, and much of the class dynamic was a result of the students in my class. Basically, I was lucky enough to have a class full of cool and fucking smart people, all of whom had unique perspectives and interesting things to say. But I feel indebted, in a way, to Prof. Ahmed’s teaching; he challenged and inspired us (me, at least) to think critically about the texts we were reading and the idea of canonicity itself. He couldn’t care less about pop-quizzes or memorizing plot details; from day one, he challenged us to consider what is meant by the very practice of interpretation itself--hermeneutics--and had the class come up with strategies of reading. We often came up with readings that differed significantly from conventional readings but didn’t feel crazy and were completely grounded in a close reading of the text; our readings changed, too, over the course of discussion, illustrating the power of communal reading (which Lit Hum ostensibly serves to institutionalize). Over the course of the second semester, we delved into the worlds of the texts themselves; when and where they came into being, and the relationship of that embedded history to the text. We looked at practices of literary production and the material circulation of the texts. It was awesome. That said, some of the criticisms in the review before mine are valid. There was definitely a tendency in my class to reify him, but he was not a perfect professor: - Grading was somewhat erratic. First semester standards felt exceedingly demanding; and second semester ones, exceedingly generous (probably to compensate). - Comments and feedback on papers were limited and often not helpful. My friend received a paper that literally just had “decent”, with a grade. That’s unacceptable, and something he’ll have to improve upon if he takes teaching as seriously as he says he does. - With regards to intelligibility: I think my class went in being exceptionally good at Humanities to begin with, but even still, sometimes Prof. Ahmed pushed a little too hard trying to get us to understand some theoretical stuff. Often, he would assume that we understood what he was talking about and plow on with some really nutty, but obviously smart stuff. I think he’s a really fucking brilliant man who might not always know how to dumb down some ideas to engage freshman. I don’t really know. Often, this tended to divide the class between those with stronger theoretical humanities backgrounds and weaker humanities students, with the latter barely participating at all. With that said, towards the latter half of the year I think he did a really good job getting everyone to participate. My experience with other seminars and discussion sections points to this class being the exception rather than the rule, in this regard. - Organization: the structure of Lit Hum left little room for poor organization, but I can see why one would charge that of him. He’s definitely not a type-A dude. - While he claimed we were engaged in a practice of communal reading, there were definitely more than a few texts where he had very specific places he wanted us to go with them. Overall I don’t think this was a huge problem; he’s not like, for instance, Prof. V. Rosner who will either condescend to you or look at you like an alien if you challenge her own readings. However, I’d like to rebut some of the other criticisms. I don’t think he was condescending at all; on the contrary, he was remarkably encouraging of everyone speaking up, and gently criticized problematic or bullshitty views. Just because you couldn’t get away with obvious bullshit doesn’t mean he was condescending. He genuinely cared about getting each of us to grow intellectually, and really believed that we could. I don’t know what to say about his nutty readings of continuity discussed in the other review. I feel like his more “against the grain” readings were pretty backed up by textual evidence. Bear in mind, too, that this is one of his first years teaching (his second, I believe). I think he'll get even better with time. So take it as you will: the review before mine claims that he embodies everything that’s wrong with humanities classes; I think that his class demonstrated everything that’s right with them. Well, I can’t speak for others, but for me, at least, Prof. Manan Ahmed was one of those few, maybe two or three teachers in your life that really leaves a lasting impression on the way you think and see the world. One might even say, changes your life--but nahh, that would be too sentimental. (Strongest recommendation for a gold nugget in my opinion.)

Nov 2013

This class epitomizes everything bad about humanities classes. For one, 10% of our grade is participation, but the professor is condescending towards people who do actually participate. For example, he asked a student to read, and he stopped her, laughed (of course with the TA, Tania, dutifully laughing with him) and told her to read it “like a novel.” He then picked someone else to read. In another instance, a student used the word “appropriate” to answer one of his questions, and he immediately mocked the use of that word without giving any reason. A different student asked what was so bad about the word “appropriate,” and Manan laughed at him and gave some very long winded, confusing response. For another, his lectures are impossible to follow and not informative. He has slides that he goes through to, supposedly, show examples of different themes he’s talking about. In the couple of times I actually understood what he was trying to prove, those examples definitely did hold, and it showed he actually did prepare for class. However, many times, he will start a sentence or idea about a topic and then just not finish it. For example, he’ll say, “There are two things I want you to get from this example. One is, xyz…” and then forget completely about two! Additionally, the way the class is organized is horrendous. It’s organized based on themes, rather than time. I understand he’s trying very hard to make a statement with this organization method, but it’s just confusing for the individual student and not helpful. You want us to see these four themes? Then give us history, definitions of these themes, and let us find them in each time period. That’s the way to connect these time periods. Not some crazy cyclical view of time through these four different lenses. For another, most parts of the readings are irrelevant to what he’s trying to show in class, and some of them are theoretical historiography articles. If I had wanted to learn history methods, I would’ve taken a methods class. I wanted to learn the history of South Asia. For another, he espouses this view that we should look at the history of South Asia as not Muslim versus Hindu, but as a continuous area were people are constantly mixing in and out, creating fusion of cultures. He mocks people that use the terms “Hindu” and “Muslim,” but then he, and many of the writers he assigned for us to read, use those terms to describe people. If there was no such thing as Hinduism as we define it, how can you call a 4th century Vasnaviate Hindu? Additionally, isn’t the whole point of the Columbia Core to see opposing viewpoints? If we interpret every piece of evidence under this thesis of continuity, we’re failing to see the full significance of these pieces of evidence! Yes, they can symbolize continuity, but they can also symbolize different groups of people who are divided – not necessary oppositional, but just separate. Many times, too, his interpretation of evidence under this thesis was incredibly generous to the thesis. My last point is that the themes he talks about (sacral geography, political theology, literary cultures) are not ever clearly defined. We asked him to define them, and he made us, as a class, come up with an imprecise definition of a term that he made up! That’s not very helpful for a student who is approaching this literature and area of the world for the first time. I can’t use some vaguely defined term to understand my studies. In sum, I think this class was taught by a condescending professor (and one TA, Tania, who was equally condescending) in a confusing and imprecise manner and only looked to support the idea of continuity rather than teach history. I wish I had never signed up for this class.