Edwards, David B.
EDWARDS, David B.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Educator and author. Taught English in Kabul, Afghanistan, c. 1970s; Williams College, Williamstown, MA, professor of anthropology, department chair, and director of Afghan Media Project.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Humanities scholar, 1998–99.
Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines on the Afghan Frontier, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1996.
Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2002.
Contributor to journals, including Journal of Asian Studies, Anthropological Quarterly, and American Ethnologist; contributor to books, including Russia's Muslim Frontiers, edited by D. Eickelman, Indiana University Press, 1993.
SIDELIGHTS: Anthropologist and educator David B. Edwards taught in Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1970s, and a decade later wrote Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines on the Afghan Frontier, a study of Pakhtun society on the Pakistan border of Afghanistan. Edwards' study is framed around the lives of three prominent citizens. The first narrative is based on information told to Edwards by the son of tribal chief Sultan Mohammad Khan. The second, about Abdur Rahman Khan, king of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901, is based on that ruler's autobiography. The third, focusing on Muslim saint and worker of miracles Hadda Sahib, is drawn from tales and legends.
Edwards examines three separate, and often conflicting, traits of Pakhtun society as he discusses these three life histories; for example, Sultan Mohammad Khan's story features themes of revenge and honor. Mukulika Banarjee wrote in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute that "the narrative is rich in detail, emotion and mythic echoes. Edwards painstakingly analyses the issues which emerge from the story: ideas of relations between fathers and sons, friendship between men, men's vulnerability to the central role of women, games of honour and above all to the 'moral logic of honour.'" Edwards explores governance during the reign of Abdur Rahman and uses the story of the Mulla of Hadda to study Islam and its cultural influence in a tribal society.
Ian Bedford wrote in the Australian Journal of Anthropology that "Edwards approaches his stories with the aim of providing an ethnographic understanding while still respecting their character as stories. It is stories, giving rise to other stories, that he seeks to expound, rather than a dogmatic text; accordingly, he sets about contextualising each of his principal stories as a whole, and also in its parts, by commentary on particular events, observances or phrases. As there is not always the space to do this in large script,… the footnotes are as interesting as the main text."
Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad follows the history of Afghanistan from the 1978 communist revolution through the period of tribal rebellion and the proliferation of Islamic political parties following the 1980 Soviet invasion to the rise of the Taliban in the mid-1990s. Here again, Edwards explores Afghan culture through the lives of prominent leaders rather than ordinary people. His subjects include Nur Muhammad Taraki, the first president of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, after the 1978 revolution, whose murder the following year largely brought about the Soviet presence in that country. The second profile is of Samiullah Sari, who became a journalist, and who, according to Edwards, was tutored by an American political scientist in the ways of Western democracy. The third section of the volume explores two organizations, the pre-revolution Muslim Youth and the post-revolution Hizbi Islami Party.
In addition to writing and teaching, Edwards is director of Williams College's Afghan Media Project, founded in 2001 to collaborate with the Afghan Media Resource Center (AMRC) in Peshawar, Pakistan. Originally begun in the 1980s to train and assist Afghan journalists in documenting their country's conflict, the project has been responsible for bringing news of the area to the world through videos broadcast in the United States and Great Britain. An archive of videos, slides, and audiotapes is maintained by the AMRC, which also works with nongovernmental organizations in documenting other issues, including land-mine clearing.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Anthropologist, March, 2004, M. Jamil Hanifi, review of Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad, p. 185.
Asian Folklore Studies, October, 1997, Frank J. Korom, review of Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines on the Afghan Frontier, p. 439.
Australian Journal of Anthropology, April, 1998, Ian Bedford, review of Heroes of the Age, p. 104.
Current Anthropology, August-October, 2003, Gregory Starrett, review of Before Taliban, p. 613.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, December, 1999, Mukulika Banerjee, review of Heroes of the Age, p. 659.
Middle East Journal, spring, 2003, Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, review of Before Taliban, p. 324.
New York Times, October 2, 2001, Sarah Boxer, "When Afghanistan Collapsed," p. E1.
Williams Afghan Media Project Web site, http://lanfiles.williams.edu/ (June 3, 2005).