The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is holding its annual conference, one of the largest gatherings of scholars working on the history of the greater Middle East and North Africa region from Late Antiquity to the present, in the amazing city of New Orleans this November. Based on the conference program (available here or here), it looks like a particularly good year to attend, with excellent panels covering a wide range of topics and chronologies.
The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century is a shortened version of the three volumes of Igor de Rachewiltz’s similarly-titled work published by Brill in 2004 and 2013. It includes the full translation with a few notes, but omits the extensive introduction explaining the nature and origin of the text, the detailed commentary concerning linguistic and historical aspects of the text, and the exhaustive bibliography of the original. Included are the genealogical table and two maps from 2004, a shorter version of two indexes, and a very brief list of works cited.
The first Islamic manuscript to enter the Library was a copy of the Qur’an donated in 1631 by the Arabic scholar William Bedwell. Since that time the Library’s Islamic manuscripts collection has grown in size and diversity to over 5,000 items. They shed a light on many aspects of the culture of the Islamic world, its beliefs and learning. Such a collection was amassed over subsequent centuries either from scholarly collectors or purchased by skilled librarians to add more depth to the already impressive range of treasures. But this extraordinary collection has remained relatively unknown outside the Library. Today, the aim is to change this with a number of different approaches. We are creating a fully searchable online catalogue of the manuscripts and digitising a selection of the most beautiful and interesting texts to make them available to the international scholarly community anywhere in the world via the internet. At the same time, the practical care of the original items, carried out by our own skilled conservators, will ensure their long-term survival for future generations. The Islamic manuscripts collection is supported within the Library by a team of specialists whose knowledge and skills, whether academic, practical or technical, aim to bring them to the attention of researchers. But only with a sustained programme of scholarly co-operation with experts outside the Library can the full content and significance of these texts be realised and their place in the wider context of Islamic scholarship become established.
This may not be news to many people, but I recently found out that Kansas City has its own version of the Giralda of Sevilla. The Giralda was originally a minaret constructed by the Almohad dynasty during the late 12th century and was part of the Great Mosque of Sevilla. Following the Castilian conquest of the city in 1248, the mosques was transformed into a cathedral and the minaret was re-purposed as a bell-tower.
(Giralda, Sevilla. Source)
This structure has inspired many imitations across the world, including one in Kansas City. Its reflects the Spanish Colonial Revival Style, a phenomenon that witnessed the construction of buildings in the United States that were modeled on medieval and early modern Spanish styles. In 1967, the association between Sevilla and Kansas City was formalized when the cities became Sister Cities. For more on the history of this structure in Kansas City and the plaza where it’s located, see https://www.visitkc.com/2017/06/27/today-i-learned-history-behind-country-club-plaza
(The Giralda of Kansas City. Source)
Greetings everyone! It had been my hope to upload some new content, but life has been a bit busier than usual over the past year or so. After (finally!) completing my PhD in History at the University of Chicago, I’ve had the honor of being appointed as a Junior Fellow in the Dartmouth Society of Fellows (Dartmouth College) during the past year. It was both a pleasure and a privilege to spend time among such eminent scholars, from whom I learned a great deal. As a lifelong city dweller, it took some adjustment to appreciate life in western New Hampshire over the past year, but it quickly started to feel like home. The intellectual exchanges at Dartmouth, to say nothing of the excellent resources provided by the fellowship, allowed me to spend some much-needed time rethinking my various projects, and beginning work on my book manuscript. This helped make the last year among the most enjoyable and intellectually stimulating of my life.
These are some books I’m planning to read over the summer.
1) Joan A. Holladay, Genealogy and the Politics of Representation in the High and Late Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.
“Images and image cycles with genealogical content were everywhere in the high and later Middle Ages. They represent families related by blood as well as successive office holders and appear as family trees and lineages of single figures in manuscripts, on walls and in stained glass, and in sculpture and metalwork. Yet art historians have hardly remarked on the frequency of these images. Considering the physical contexts and functions of these works alongside the goals of their patrons, this volume examines groups of figural genealogies ranging across northern Europe and dating from the mid-twelfth to the mid-fourteenth century. Joan A. Holladay considers how they were used to legitimize rulers and support their political and territorial goals, to reinforce archbishops’ rights to crown kings, to cement relationships between families of founders and their monastic foundations, and to commemorate the dead. The flexibility and legibility of this genre was key to its widespread use.”
Il-Kantilena by the Maltese poet and philosopher Pietru Caxaro (d. 1485) is the oldest known literary text in the Maltese language, and dates to the late 15th century. Since its discovery in the 1960s, much has been much written about this text and the implications for the historical understanding of medieval Malta. Unlike modern Maltese, which has a large number of loan words from Italian and English, Il-Kantilena is notable for its extensive Arabic vocabulary, demonstrating its relationship and proximity to the Sicilian Arabic spoken in Sicily during the 11th-13th century. The earliest comprehensive study of the poem is G. Wettinger and M. Fsadni. Peter Caxaro’s Cantilena (1968).
(Manuscript of Il-Kantilena. Source)
While exploring the beautiful town of Burgos in northern Spain, the traveler will be struck by the many medieval sites, including the monumental Cathedral and the ruins of the fortress. In addition to the remnants of actual structure from the medieval periods, many plaques, street names, pamphlets, and books that one encounters throughout Burgos celebrates the medieval history of the town, with particular attention to the deeds of its past kings, nobles, and prominent citizens.
(Catedral de Santa María in Burgos, constructed between the early 13th and 16th centuries . Source)
(Interior of the Cathedral of Burgos. Source)
About two weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting the wonderful “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time” exhibit at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. It was a truly wonderful experience and the curator Dr. Kathleen Bickford Berzock should be congratulated on such a monumental achievement. As many observers have noted, this is the first major exhibition in the United States to closely consider the material culture of early trans-Saharan trade and to offer strong evidence of the central but little-recognized role Africa played in global medieval history. Among the materials on view are sculptures, jewelry, household and luxury objects, manuscripts and architectural remnants, all united by their connections to routes of exchange across the Sahara from the eighth to the 16th centuries. The exhibit includes an excellent collection of treasures and artifacts from West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East & Europe from late antiquity to the 20th century. It showcases the immense importance of trans-Saharan Africa as a pivotal part of the medieval world, and embodies the heart of the interconnected universe that many scholars are increasingly referring to as the Global Middle Ages. Weaving together art, archaeology, cartography history and literature to tell the story of an economically-vibrant and culturally-diverse medieval Africa, the exhibit has received an overwhelmingly positive reception, with one reviewer stating that
“Caravans of Gold” creates new points of reference by not only reveling in the beauty of the objects but also introducing viewers to the idea of a vibrantly interconnected global culture, including the sophisticated social, political, cultural, and economic systems of West Africa. So much of Africa’s relationship to Europe has involved defamation, appropriation, and control. Narratives highlighting the agency of West African people in the medieval period allow for a rediscovery of the continent’s rich history, cultures, and contributions to the evolution of global trade and culture. “Caravans of Gold” is an important gesture in helping people understand that Africa has always been connected to the world and can share its story on its own terms.
Another reviewer observes that the exhibit
doesn’t aim for less than decentering the idea that the medieval epoch should only be envisioned through a European lens, which are typically stories of feudalism, war, chivalry, and the Bubonic plague. These European sagas are the ones I grew up with, saw dramatized on television, and valorized in film. Caravans of Gold also seeks to put Islam at this reconstructed world’s fulcrum and regard it as a force which impelled cultural advance, rather than to associate it with iconoclastic destruction of historical patrimony — stories we know too well. Even more, it subtly raises up the entire African continent, which becomes through this retelling, a force of profound socioeconomic change at the global level.
The past week (March 23rd to be exact) marked the 650th anniversary of the assassination of Pedro I of Castile-León (r. 1350-1369), one of medieval Iberia’s most controversial, enigmatic and interesting sovereigns. For some, he represents a vicious tyrant whose repressive policies were catastrophic for Castile. Meanwhile, others have memorialized him as a sovereign who promoted a culture of toleration, employed Jews and Muslims in significant numbers within his administration, and sought to curb the power of the nobility. Far from attempting to grapple with or unpack his complex legacy, this post introduces the English-speaking reader to this complicated sovereign in order to encourage further inquiry into his life and times.
(Coin of Pedro I, minted in Seville. Source)