Brinkley Messick

Dec 2018

Brinkley Messick is not a helpful or supportive teacher, his lectures were just him speaking about his own research. He did not ask students questions, or if he did, he asked them really briefly and then continued with his own research. He would ask a question about the readings and then no one would IMMEDIATELY answer and then he'd go back to going on and on about his own research. Like two people were engaged in the lectures. It seems like his research was super interesting, but it didn't feel appropriate to the class that he just talked about it and didn't try to teach us really. He didn't facilitate discussion, he just forced people to talk randomly sometimes after not engaging them in the classroom, and then people felt embarrassed, upset, hurt, and not like students trying to learn. I really think a new professor would teach this course so much better, or an improvement needs to be made to help Professor Messick understand. I'm sure he is a kind, smart, good person, but he did not teach us well --- it felt really alienating to hear him talk only about his own research, and then to feel not comfortable asking questions. It also felt really upsetting to think that he didn't really care about us learning or struggling, he just wanted to talk at us and then tell us we didn't know enough. When we turned in our midterm project proposals, he prided himself on explaining that there, "were no 5s!" (5 meaning a perfect score). This was so frustrating, because so many of us are really motivated, engaged, students who had no clue what he wanted us to write (there was literally no prompt it was just write about anything which can be okay in seminars but we had no guidance), and then he had each student share their proposals and essentially ridiculed them for it. It was the opposite of what we would think of as an empathetic, supportive, learning environment. Don't take this class unless it's with a different Professor or unless he really changes his style.

Dec 2017

Completely awful. Avoid. Worst professor.

Jul 2017

In my first semester at Columbia University(Fall 2016), I enrolled in Professor Messick's "Arabia Imagined" class since it partially fulfilled Global Core requirements. I never ceased to be impressed by the breadth of Professor Messick's knowledge on rural Arabia. His lectures were priceless. He taught us the most intricate details about Middle Eastern societies and always shared a wealth of his personal experience while he was serving as a Peace Corp in Yemen. I have to say I was apprehensive about this 4-point course because the syllabus contained a lot of reading but Professor Messick's continued support throughout the semester helped me understand the basics of this subject. We had to write a brief proposal for the Midterm which he graded generously. He always gave me feedback on my papers and granted me appointments outside his Open office hours. I was surprised at how he gave me appointments as many times as I needed during the semester because as the head of the Department, I knew he was a very busy scholar. I not only earned my first A grade in this class but it was the most rewarding experience to learn from someone as knowledgeable and experienced as Professor Messick. Several of my classmates I met afterwards told me they also did remarkably well in his class. A number of students in Professor Messick's class received A+ in this course. Personally I would recommend this class to both new and current students. It is relaxing, rewarding and allows for an easy A. I was convinced I wasn't going to do well in his class because one his TA, who was Japanese, used to grade my weekly response papers and no matter how detailed responses I handed in, I never received more than 3/5 or 3.5/5 in those papers. However, despite the poor grades, Professor Messick gave me an A in my final grade. Even though I initially struggled with my midterms, Professor Messick allowed me to change my topic for the final paper several times. Although the final paper was supposed to be only ten pages long, I was worried because I had written over fifteen pages. But as always, Professor Messick was flexible and allowed a concession. When I spoke to some other students here, some said they had Professors who failed them for writing ten extra word over the word count. I feel that I was extremely blessed and lucky to have someone as brilliant as Professor Messick as my teacher. Despite his unparalleled knowledge, Professor Messick's humble demeanor was disarming. He valued the opinion of his students highly and let the students speak their minds. Overall his class was fun and engaging.

Dec 2016

Well, it's Fall 2016 and not a thing has changed with Professor Messick and his droning lectures and his fascination with himself. His never read a paper, never give a straight answer modus operandi is still in effect and I think it will never go away. He simply cannot be bothered to give a coherent answer to a simple question. My "what would you like us to focus on in evaluating the readings" (2 pages every week, read and graded by the TA) was met with a blank look and an "Oh, just give me your take on it." before he moved away from me (clearly ending the not yet started conversation) to fiddle with the podium he likes to stand next to. The man continues to be super impressed with himself and most of the assigned readings are either from his oeuvre, such as it is, from someone he knows (and likes, he never once mentioned another anthropologist without acting as if they were besties) or from someone who cites him. He remains entranced with Yemen and regularly speaks of his time there, even showing slides of pics he took while there - in the 80s! By mid-semester, myself and at least two classmates were entirely disgusted with the class. Frankly, if this course wasn't satisfying a global core requirement, I'd of dropped the course and taken the W. He did read our mid-term papers, but he provided such scant feedback you don't know if you were on track or not. He didn't touch our weekly papers ad I haven't the faintest clue who is reading our finals - this review is being the typed prior to finals being over, nor have grades been submitted. I don't even care what grade I got, I'm just sooooo very happy to be done with him, and I will make damn sure that I never take another class from him. If you are wise, you will make sure you never take the first class from him.

Nov 2014

Let me just start by saying that Professor Messick is obviously incredibly intelligent and knows a lot about Arabia. BUT....and this is a BIG but....He is incredibly pompous and unapproachable. When I did approach him for office hours, he was completely uninterested and unwilling to give any sort of guidance. He is a terribly boring lecturer and no one really pays much attention in this class, and he doesn't really care. There are people who do work out of textbooks on their desks during class right in front of him (we don't even have anything that resembles a textbook for this class) and he either doesn't notice or doesn't care enough to say anything. All he talks about is himself and his experiences in rural Arabia (which can be interesting, but not when its for two hours every single class and has nothing to do with the actual material of the course). This guy is clearly not very into teaching, since he's invested in neither his students nor the course. As previous commenters have mentioned, he doesn't read his students work and gives extremely limited and nonconstructive feedback. His grading scales are also extremely strange; he grades out of 5 for weekly papers, but when asked if that then translates into the numerical grade (i.e. 4/5 means 80, which is a B-) he said no, and that he didn't exactly know how he'd scale it in terms of our letter grade, just that a 5/5 is "very good" and a 2/5 is "not so good." Also graded our midterm out of 10 (which is worth 30% of the grade) but didn't say what that would translate into it's hard to know where you stand in the class. Overall, not difficult to get an okay grade (whatever that means?) but its extremely frustrating when a professor only gives nebulous answers to things and can't (or won't) even define his own grading scale. It's also frustrating not knowing where you stand in the class if you aren't on either extreme side of the grading scale. The readings aren't too long or too difficult, they're fine. Overall the class is just fine. You learn more from the readings than from his two hour lectures. This is the first class I've taken with him, but you don't even have to go to class to do perfectly fine in the class. Your grade is based on weekly reading response papers (due in class on the readings for that day), a midterm proposal for the final paper, and the final paper that can be on any topic you want. He doesn't take attendance and there's no class participation grade. Take this class if you don't want to have to do any of the readings (besides what's required to write the 2 page response papers), don't need to go to class, and don't care about having a good professor. The TA was awesome though, totally approachable, nice, and knowledgable.

Apr 2010

I was wary of taking this class because of Messick's negative reviews, but turned out to be an easy A and wasn't nearly so bad as I had expected. He could be rather pompous at times (some story about how he saved some ancient fatwas from being lost forever stands out in my mind) but overall he was well-spoken and fairly engaging. Lectures covered very general but surprisingly interesting themes from Muslim societies throughout history and the world; the final asked extremely broad questions as well. He does constantly write the names of dead old anthropologists who wrote books about harems and stuff on the board, but you don't have to read them. I did sometimes wonder if the material we were covering was outdated in focus. My class was not full of curvy "doe-eyed" suck-ups and I never really got the sense that he was creeping around or anything; he actually was most engaged with the GS grandpa types. Overall offers a very broad, occasionally interesting survey of the subject for next to no work besides the few horrible days you spend realizing that you shouldn't have procrastinated on the papers. Nothing to complain about.

Jan 2009

This is true that Messick cannot help with Arabic and law. In addition to not reading closely his student papers (though the help rendered through his close reading is doubtful in any case), he cannot help with social and anthropological theory (simply because he himself does not seem to know any). The gazillion books that he assigns on his syllabi is a joke as all of them are from before 1980 and almost all of them are not connected to anthropological theory. His pathetic attempts at flirting (mentioned in detail by other students here) with his (very 'nice' and 'sweet') female students make him into a total joke. His constant disappointments from his (trophy) female students explain his bitter, vituperatively sarcastic, and sadistic personality. It's his own fault though for prioritizing 'sweetness' over 'smartness' and ignoring the brilliant students. Read some of the dissertations he has passed and you will see why he has become this laughing stock. And he must know this too. Poor, sexually deprived, morally depraved, pathetic thing! Messick is more interested in hoarding more and more students (of female nature, mostly wide eyed stupid does) than in serious mentoring of serious students. He found excuses to email me and I almost felt coerced to see him (given his powerful position as chair) and I felt sort of pressured to ask him to be my adviser. He uses his power to "collect" students without giving any intellectual support i return. For this reason (and because I am interested in serious scholarship) I did not ask him to be my adviser, though for a while he was (or thought he was) on my committee. Run Run Run far away from him. I agree he never reads what the students write. Plus he seems to say yes to everyone for everything: writing recommendations, becoming adviser, joining committees, which ends him making utterly useless as he adds zero value. Moreover his colleagues know this and thus his support is useless. However, unfortunately, most male professors in anthropology abuse their power to "get in" with female students and the 2 middle eastern female professors (nadia and lila) are known to be really bitchy towards the straight and smart female students. So if you must prostitute yourself, do it for someone who would at least read your work such as Daniel or Taussig and can also help with anthropological theory.

Dec 2008

If this professor really has a lot to "learn and enjoy" it is interesting that one of the previous reviewerers could not mention a single attribute of Messick that would lead to "learning and enjoying." Truth be told this professor is the most arrogant and unpleasant person I have seen at Columbia, who creates a toxic atmosphere in the classroom. He is unaccessible and unpredictable and very flaky in his inside and outside classroom etiquette.

Dec 2008

Words can not describe my contempt for this man and his teaching style. He was my MA thesis advisor and I want my money back! He NEVER read a SINGLE word of what I wrote, though kept giving As and Apluses to all my papers. But when I confronted him in office hours, he would have NOTHING insightful to say about my writings, as if he had never read them (his PhD students have told me, far too late, that indeed he never bothers to read anything). He also seems to fetishize Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular. This leads to very arbitrary standards of who he "likes" and who he does "not like." Like a student noted for his wife's (Karen Seeley) Culpa review, his classroom conduct is highschoolish at best. Since he never reads what his students write, how can he prioritize students? He cannot! This leads to huge frustrations and confusions for his unfortunate students. We can never tell how to impress him (though again he seems to have a "soft spot" for pretty middle-eastern women). I also think (and some other women students agreed with me) that he is a damn chauvinist! Even if he is good to the some students (mostly women), it is in the most patronizing and condescending manner. This man really nauseates me, and I hope I never encounter him again. What a nasty, patriarchal bastard! Just an unpleasant person and teacher. He is definitely threatened by smarter students and especially smarter women and seems to get along with "nice" women. As his MA advisee, I would constantly have to hear this over and over again: "I don't know about her work, but she is very 'nice.'" Who knows what "nice" means, and not sure why such a value is placed by an instructor on "nicety." Personally, I would suggest that if you are at Columbia to learn something, then avoid this man at all costs. Not only does he not care about learning, his sour, unpleasant, and nauseating personality drenches any enthusiasm that the student may have. PS: He is the chair of anthropology (although cross-listed as a faculty in MEALAC as well),and almost all the courses he teaches are listed under anthropology.

Jan 2008

I am writing because I think the previous review was unfair- while class could be disorganized, if you gave the lectures and him a chance you could learn a lot. Plus, the books assigned are great and if you actually read them, they are very interesting to discuss and the TA for the class was excellent. If you enter Muslim Societies thinking its a stupid puff course, it will be one- if you do not allow negative reviews to bias you against it, there is a lot to learn and to enjoy about Brinkley Messick and the subject. He is very accessible and open to taking criticism on board and changing the class accordingly.

Oct 2007

If I had to sum up the class and professor in one word, it would be HORRENDOUS. Professor Messick is the WORST professor I have taken at Columbia (and I have taken a lot of classes with a lot of bad professors here). I have been reading Culpa since I first came to Columbia and I must say never has Culpa been more right than it has been about this professor (thought now the bad reviews have mysteriously disappeared!). This is the FIRST time I am writing a review (and then re-writing it!): never have I felt so compelled to write about a professor. This professor is the worst experience ever. Unfortunately, he does not seem to care at all about his students. He never comes prepared to class to teach, never lectures, just talks about what he feels like for that day (mostly about himself, his time in Yemen, his last book, his forthcoming book) in a low, dull, monotonous drone. He is extremely pompous and IN LOVE WITH HIMSELF. He frankly does not care about anyone else (expect a little about the students who kiss his ass). He taught us NOTHING for the Muslim Societies class; he would just keep mumbling on and on about his book. He has NO KNOWLEDGE about any other country or “Muslim Society,” in the Middle East , other than Yemen so I think it is an injustice to the students for him to be teaching this class, as he is so narrow, provincial and parochial in his lectures. Another reviewer noted that he might have assigned books where he has been footnoted so as to come across as a genuine expert or to satiate his ego and I couldn’t agree more. Even though Middle East is such a wonderfully diverse region and there can be so many exciting and interesting aspects to cover, he never had any insightful comments or interesting observations to share about the readings and kept yapping about irrelevant stuff that no one cares about or will ever care about (like stamps, pottery, weaving). He does not know anything about anything; his whole life revolves around his only book. He doesn’t seem to be an expert of the Middle East by any stretch of imagination; plus he is so dry and boring that he is impossible to listen to. Apart from the fact that he is a HORRIBLE LECTURER, he has a truly UNPLEASANT PERSONALITY as well and is atrocious in office hours or outside the classroom (where he’ll either ignore you or pretend not to recognize you). I went to see him one time in his office hours and he was LITERALLY closing the door on a student while the student was standing in the doorway talking to him. Needless to say I never went again to see him. He has a huge ego based on one (largely irrelevant) book that he has written. He is so conceited and pretentious and keeps droning on and on about his only book, that it is seriously difficult to be in his presence. I know this review might be getting repetitive but I really want to emphasize how unpleasant my encounter with this man has been. His lectures were not related in any meaningful way and the class had ZERO structure. I believe this is mostly because of his conceited and self-important personality and a lack of interest in and respect for his students that he didn’t care to organize the lectures and class. I am so disappointed that I wasted my time on this class when there are so many amazing, smart, inspiring, thought provoking, compassionate professors at Columbia . By the end of the semester I was still trying to figure out what the goal of the class was as he didn’t communicate anything about his expectations for the class or the paper (which predominantly determines your grade). In retrospect, I wouldn’t have taken this class and this professor if my life depended on it and would rather have stuck needles in my eyes or set my hair on fire. Be highly skeptical of this professor.

Jul 2007

This was a really unfortunate experience. Not only did I not learn anything from the readings and the professor, but I had to sit through 2 hours of useless, mindless dribble as graduate students kissed up to him (something he obviously enjoys and clearly encourages). Many times I got sickened as I listened to this one 6th year graduate student as she praised him to the sky (specific things she said, “Only someone with your powers could have written this chapter,” “clearly a scholar who is so great as you could write all this in only one paragraph.” Blah blah blah. Seriously, why the hell were PhD students who are writing their dissertations taking undergraduate seminars (does this say something about his skills as a dissertation supervisor??)? You quickly get tired and sickened of this BS, as graduate students struggle to outdo each other to feed his ego (I am afraid that he was encouraging women to do this more and he is clearly a chauvinist to be enjoying such nonsense). Unfortunately this was only PART of the problem. It seems that Mr. Messick is a fairly mediocre scholar or else he would not be so insecure as to need such kissing up from his students. I have heard bad stories from my friends who dared to venture into his office; the only time I went to see him, he was barely civil but it was obvious he couldn’t wait for me to leave (and I am one of the students who got an A in his class, imagine those who actually needed help). He is very quirky and has a weird infatuation with things no one cares about or will ever care about (such as the position and location of a stamp on a 200 year old document). I wish he was nicer to his students (or at least pretended to be civil) as this would have made the class a little more tolerable. What a bad experience, period!

Jul 2007

I took him for Islamic Law, and I am (or at least was) very interested in the subject. Never has a professor been so successful in eliminating any passion, interest and enthusiasm for a subject. Maybe this makes him special. His lectures were not structured at all; he never even bothered to lecture. Student presentations were a little better, though he gave zero feedback, or sometimes did not even listen to what the student was saying. The whole syllabus was based on his forthcoming book and Schacht (who is a really bad source for Islamic Law by the way), with his previous book, Calligraphic State, as a major reference for the class. Granted the syllabus was full of long lists of readings for each class but there were so many books that it was virtually impossible to read all the “recommended readings,” as we struggled to barely get through the assigned ones (which again were only chapters from his own yet unpublished book and Schacht). I honestly feel bad for any student who was relying on this class to learn something about law, Islam or Islamic law. Plus the whole weight of the class is based on this one paper that he gives zero guidance on. Just an unpleasant guy and an unpleasant class. Huge waste of time and money.

May 2007

Contrary to the other reviewers, I thought this class was incredible. Sure, the lectures can be disorganized and definitely do not relate to the reading, But Messick clearly states on the first day of class that the readings are not supposed to coincide with the lectures. The lectures generally stem from his personal experience researching abroad. He creates insightful slide shows to further the students understanding of the people and places he is talking about. At times he can seem pompous, constantly reiterating how he spent time with so and so in so and so places, but who cares. He did. and because of it he is able to share this information and experience with his students first hand. The reading is covered in discussion section. I had a particularly wonderful TA. Of course, discussion sections and grading can be arbitrary, which often depends on how cocky the graduate student, and they do tend to be very fond of themselves. My TA she was very connected to the material, which ranged from Muslim communities in California to media and youth in Iran. Certainly, a diverse look at the many Muslim communities in the world. Utilizing such a framework is extremely important in a time when most people associate Islam only with the Arab world. We should all want to know how to communicate to others how ridiculously ignorant this is. The readings focus on specific people and places - anthropological research about the inner life of different communities. Some of the books are more dry than others, but he incorporates many different styles of writing. Not only do you learn about different Muslim societies but the places where they are located. The reading brings life to the specifics (which of course can sometimes give you the yawns) that he addresses in his lectures. He also structures the reading list so the student is exposed to how the science of anthropology has evolved over the last several years. The lectures tend to focus on the places Messick has been to, especially Yemen, and expose the viewer to the architecture, rituals, and everyday life of the community, who happen to practice Islam. The workload is not bad, a take home midterm and final, and a typed 10 page paper of your journal entries on the reading. This can be done the night before. So, basically I just think the other reviewers were wrong. If you are interested in anthropology or learning more about Muslim communities this is a great class, and I definitely reccomend it.

Dec 2006

Contrary to the many negative reviews of Professor Messick, I actually enjoyed this class. The readings were for the most part interesting, and the TA sessions were solid. Truth be told though, I think that if you want a good grade in this class, then you have to attend. Professor Messick's lectures may not have the best possible organization, however, he does not really expect that you write down everything that he says. He tries to give you a general idea on several topic areas within Muslim Societies. As for his law related lectures, I think the point was that you were supposed to take bits and pieces out of them -- more broad themes than anything else. Personally I thought this class was very interesting, but if you want a good grade then you have to know what happens in class as he will expect that your essays contain information from class. Not the easiest course at Columbia, but definately one of the more interesting.

Sep 2006

this class was the worst experience of freshman year, period. Professor Messick, though having written books and having been cited in many others, seems to know nothing about anything, least of all teaching. By 3 weeks into class, I would have rather thrown myself out the window than gone to class. Seriously. Sections were slightly better - a poor saving grace for a poor class that I had had such high expectations of. The almost SOLE grade of the class is a 20 page research paper on whatever you want with absolutely no real guidance or feedback, so basically your grade is totally hit and miss. Point is: if you're gonna take it, don't bother going to class because you will regret it. Just do the reading, which is decent.

Dec 2005

Unfortunately, it would be difficult to describe Professor Messick's Muslim Societies class as anything but dreadful, primarily due to his lecturing style and the course organization. The lectures were never related in any meaningful way to the reading material (which was actually rather interesting) and were wildly tedious and repetitive. The entire first half of the class consisted of Professor Messick repeating the same suggestions about research papers over and over in a soporific monotone. The second half of the class consisted of him giving what appeared to be the same lecture on Islamic law interspersed with trivial anecdotes about Yemeni life, once again, over and over again. He is obviously a smart man and a distinguished scholar, but is a terrible teacher. Whats worse, it swiftly became clear that the course material was fairly irrelevant, because the 15-20 page research paper was worth 80% of the course grade and the lecture stuff was never covered in any kind of test format. The course was mildly vindicated by his highly competent TAs, but overall, I would strongly, strongly recommend one to stay away.

Nov 2005

Professor Messick's class is quite frankly a huge waste of time for everyone involved. It seems to me that even the TAs think he's a joke. Lectures rarely contain useful information, and even if they did the lack of an exam would make paying attention largely besides the point. Not that there isn't work for the class -- in fact any work would be more than too much, given the fact that we've yet to actually learn anything.

Nov 2005

I took this class mostly because it fulfills the Major Cultures requirement, but also because the Middle East seems like arguably the most relevent region in the world today, as far as social and political strife, the War on Terror, so on and so forth. In retrospect, however... I would've avoided this class like the plague. It's theoretically interesting, but in practice, Prof Messick spends way too much time pontificating about his however-many years in Ib, Yemen, tapestry weaving (he has a REALLY FUNNY story about this he will tell you a million times, as well as yammering on about his book, The Caligraphic State), and all sorts of other shit for you to really care. True, he is one of the first anthropologists to intensively study Yemen, and he is very well-known (he is cited in almost every book we were assigned to read, though that was likely intentional, judging by the size of his ego), but he is so pompous and in love with the sound of his own analysis, you really get sick of his bullshitbullshitbullshit fast. He also spends about 1/4 of every lecture recommending other books for you to read, as if you would ever have time with the colossal burden of work he gives you. Also, since there is no midterm or final, his lectures are entirely irrelevent, after he explains how he wants you to write your paper (which makes up 80% [!] of your grade). The only reason to go is that his highly competent TAs learn names quickly, and will likely notice your not attending his lectures. Basically, you end up with a shitstorm of work for a class that serves no practical function. Each book is about 200+ pages of self-indulgent analysis, but it's highly unnecessary to read any more than the first 2 chapters of any of them because the response papers are so short and that's all you actually end up talking about in discussion sections. If you're really really into self guided research, I mean, go for it, but the luxury of no examinations not only gives his lectures an undeniable sense of worthlessness, it puts an inordinately large sense of pressure on you for the paper. Be highly, highly weary of this course...