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Centuries before the dawn of the modern age, the world was already a surprisingly interconnected place. Readings for this theme introduce a way of understanding the past in which Islam and the West are seen as products of a shared, cosmopolitan, and inextricably intertwined past. These books help envision the world of our ancestors, which was as complex and dynamically interconnected as the world we live in today.
Developed by Giancarlo Casale, University of Minnesota.
When Asia Was the World by
Call Number: DS5.95 .G67 2008
Publication Date: 2009-01-06
Stewart Gordon uses the narratives of nine travelers to tell the story of Asia’s diverse economy and cultures between 500 and 1500 CE. During those thousand years, the world’s largest continent was the hub of global cultural and economic activity. Throughout Asia, and even to points elsewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere, goods and ideas moved along far-reaching trade routes traveled by religious figures, diplomats, merchants, mariners, and warriors. The travel narratives collected in When Asia Was the World portray the Asia first encountered by European explorers as a vibrant, ongoing enterprise, from which they both learned and profited.
The House of Wisdom by
Call Number: Q127.A5 A4 2011
Publication Date: 2011-03-31
The House of Wisdom in Baghdad stands as a symbol of the great synthesis of Greek science and philosophy, Indian mathematics, and Persian literature brought about by their translation into Arabic in the eighth century CE. Jim Al-Khalili details scientific advances within Islamic civilization that resulted from this burst of intellectual activity and experimentation. The story told in The House of Wisdom is not an isolated one, as the author ties scientists who worked in the medieval period in Muslim regions to their counterparts in other times and places, and traces the pathways this knowledge took across the Mediterranean world until it reached Europe’s growing universities in the twelfth century. Al-Khalili provides fascinating insights into the process through which Islamic civilization stimulated the European renaissance.
The Ornament of the World by
Call Number: DP99 .M465 2002b
Publication Date: 2003-04-02
The Islamic empire of al-Andalus was known in its time as “the ornament of the world.” In particular, its capital city, Córdoba, was widely noted for its cosmopolitan culture, diverse population, and artistic achievements. In this masterful and entertaining history, Yale University professor María Menocal explains the great successes and turbulent times of al-Andalus, which embraced much of the Iberian Peninsula from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries. To explore the varied culture of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians who lived together under imperial Andalusian rule, Menocal takes the reader to the vaults of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, onto battlefields outside Paris, and to King Ferdinand’s tomb, inscribed in Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Castilian. The Ornament of the World conveys the richness, complexity, and continuing influence of this culture in poetry, architecture, politics, and religion.
Leo Africanus by
Call Number: PQ3979.2.M28 L413 1992
Publication Date: 1992-07-01
This 1986 novel, originally published in French as Léon, l’Africain, is the imagined autobiography of real-life geographer, adventurer, and scholar Hasan al-Wassan (ca. 1494–ca. 1554), whose far-reaching travels in the sixteenth century were a precursor to the cultural interconnections we associate with modern globalization. After fleeing with his family from Granada to Fez, Morocco, to escape the Inquisition, Hasan made many commercial and diplomatic journeys. These took him throughout the Islamic Mediterranean, from North Africa to Arabia, and across the Sahara. Captured by a Sicilian pirate, he was taken as a gift to Pope Leo X in Rome. There he acquired the Latin name by which he is best known in the West. The writings of Leo Africanus served for some 400 years as one of Europe’s principal sources of information about Africa and Islam.
In an Antique Land by
Call Number: DT56.2 .G48 1994
Publication Date: 1994-03-29
Moving between past and present, anthropologist Amitav Ghosh presents a lyrical portrait of life in Egypt, as well as broad histories of that country, Tunisia, and India’s Malabar Coast. Ghosh weaves strands of his own life in rural Egypt into the story he is researching of a twelfth-century Jewish merchant and his slave. Exploiting an extraordinary cache of medieval documents in Cairo, Ghosh is able to piece together a fascinating story illuminating the reach of medieval Egyptian trade and cross-cultural interaction; he also tells of a form of slavery very different from the one familiar to most Americans. Especially for readers seeking an understanding of the complexity and interconnected nature of the lands and cultures on the periphery of the Indian Ocean, there are few better reads than In an Antique Land.