Nicholas Wade writes in “Before the Dawn” that in 1970 when the linguist Paul Newman visited the London School of Oriental and African Studies was told that “it was quite safe for him to go into the common room, as long as he did not mention [Stanford linguist Joseph H.] Greenberg”. The Africanists there were quite upset at Greenberg’s attempted unification of the African languages into related families, even as that eventually became one of the least controversial of Greenberg’s ambitious syntheses (his reduction of Amerindian languages to three families caused the most dispute). I recalled hearing that name before, when in “The Bottom Billion” Paul Collier complained about a Christian NGO in England relying on a non-peer reviewed publication coming out of there in an attack on globalism. Then I recalled Henry Farrell‘s exasperation at that fine institution’s Ben Fine and his “hack job” on Elinor Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons”. This could just be my unrepresentative reading, but they don’t seem terribly popular. Oh well, may a thousand flowers bloom provided we may simply observe and then ignore them.

People occasionally talk about the past (in a vague manner that gives one little confidence in their recollections) that the State department used to be full of “Arabists”, which depending on your perspective denotes extensive knowledge or excessive sympathy with regard to Arabs. Edward Said got famous for criticizing “Orientalists”, apparently a more European phenomena, for exotifying/simplifying/degrading “the Other”. What, if any, was the connection between Orientalists and Arabists?

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