Abd al-Hamid, al-Ghazali
Born in 1058 to a family of spinners and sellers of wool in a small village in eastern Iran, Ghazali became one of the most prominent expounders of Islamic theology of his day. Traveling widely, from Persia to Baghdad to Damascus, he mastered a wide range of disciplines, and he energetically engaged in arguments with those he considered extremists. When he died in 1111, he left behind a series of treatises, many of them incorporating autobiographical material, particularly the discoveries he had himself made and was fully capable of defending.
Abū Hāmid Muhammad al-Ghazzālī, The Alchemy of Happiness, trans. Claud Field (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1991), 6–7 and 11–13.
A vision of the “American Century” is powerfully conveyed by this 1930 road map produced by the Gulf Oil Company. The map spins an idealized vision of America just before the Great Depression. Leisure opportunities,—boating, golf, and badminton, an d for both men and women—are all easily accessible by miles of paved roads. There is nowhere an automobile can’t go.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
World Economic Forum
The Global Gender Gap Report was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 to analyze disparities between genders in a worldwide context. It assesses national gender gaps in political, economic, health, and education-related areas and ranks countries according to data, allowing comparisons across regions, time, and income groups. According to the report’s introduction, these rankings “are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them.” This excerpt looks at women’s impact on economic growth through increased education, participation in the labor force, and women’s role as consumers, or the “power of the purse.”
From “The Global Gender Gap,” World Economic Forum, 2010. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2010.pdf (downloaded November 20, 2012).
The Janissaries constitute the most famous and centralized of the Ottomans’ military institutions. A feared and respected military force, the Janissaries were Christian-born males who had been seized from their homes as boys, converted to Islam, and then trained as future soldiers and administrators for the Turks. Under the direct orders of the sultan and his viziers, the Janissaries were equipped with the latest military innovations. In the early fifteenth century, these units received cannons and matchlock muskets. The muskets continued their evolution in the Janissaries’ hands, becoming the standard equipment for Ottoman and other armies.
© INTERFOTO / Alamy
An Italian astronomer, physicist, and mathematician, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) made many significant contributions to science—such as improvements to the telescope and work with sunspots—but is remembered for his support of a heliocentric model of the solar system. His conviction led him into conflict with the Catholic Church; he was accused of heresy and finished his days under house arrest. Aside from his astronomical texts, Galileo also corresponded with leading figures of his day. This letter, to the Benedictine mathematician Benedetto Castelli, addresses one of the main articles of the problem with Galileo’s heliocentrism: how to reconcile observable scientific fact with the words of the Bible, held to be literal and inviolable in 17th-century Italy.
From Galileo Galilei, Selected Writings. Trans William R. Shea and Mark Davie. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 55–61.
This famous letter is often cited as an early sign of Galileo’s inevitable conflict with church authorities over the Copernican system of planetary motion—and the theory’s theological, as well as its scientific, ramifications. Galileo (1564–1642) would be condemned to house arrest in 1632 and forced to make a public repudiation of the heliocentric theory first advanced by Copernicus in the sixteenth century. However, Galileo’s connection to the renowned Medici family of Florence was also cause for comment—and caution—from 1610, when he received an appointment and an implicit endorsement from them.
Constructing a telescope in 1609 (which he proudly claimed could “magnify objects more than 60 times”), Galileo trained it on the moons of Jupiter, which he tracked over several days in 1610. Having named these objects for the Medici family, he rushed these and many other astronomical observations into print in the Sidereus Nuncius (The Starry Messenger). Inviting other scientists to “apply themselves to examine and determine” these planetary motions, Galileo demonstrated a preference for the Copernican theory and elicited sharp responses, particularly from church officials. In 1615, the dowager Grand Duchess Christina, mother of his patron, Cosimo II, expressed her own reservations about the implications of the Copernican theory for a passage in the Old Testament. Galileo’s response attempts, or seems to attempt, to reconcile experimental science and received religion.
Galileo Galilei, The Essential Galileo, ed. and trans. Maurice A. Finocchiaro (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008), §4.2.5—4.2.6, 140–144.
Trained as a painter, architect, and goldsmith, Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) practiced various artistic trades, but is most renowned today as the first art historian. His Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, first published in 1550, is the principal source of information about the most prominent artists of the European Renaissance. Having studied under the great artist Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), Vasari was particularly keen to tell this story. In these scenes from his biography of Michelangelo, Vasari draws attention to his master’s early training, as well as the prominent roles Lorenzo il Magnifico de’ Medici and ancient sculpture played in his artistic development.
Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 418–420; 427–428.
Thomas R. Trautmann
Few things are more tantalizing to historians than an undeciphered script. Hundreds of broken and intact Harappan seals have been discovered in numerous sites throughout the Indus Valley, many that combine a line of symbols assumed to be text with an image of an animal. Denoting them seals, historians have determined that most were used to identify someone involved with an object (owner, craftsmen, or merchant). It is also possible that the seals, and other examples of the Indus script, were protective in nature, operating as a talisman. However, without the ability to read the symbols, how the seals and other objects with writing were used to convey information is a matter of speculation. It is hard to understand how a text is used if one cannot read the content. In the excerpt below, historian Thomas Trautmann, a leading specialist on ancient India, provides an overview of the mysterious Harappan seals.
The most intriguing artifacts of the Indus sites are rectangular steatitei seals, because of the writing on them. These seals, little more than an inch square, generally bear an incised image, beautifully carved, of which the humped bull is a common type. Other animals (tiger, elephant), composite mythological beasts, and the rare human form are figured on other seals. They also bear a short inscription across the top, in a script that has defied many attempts to decipher it. This script contains more than four hundred signs, too many to be purely alphabetic or syllabic because no language is known to have more than a hundred phonemes. Although many of the signs are obviously pictographic, other elements act as modifiers, perhaps as word endings, and others are clearly numerals. The seals were meant to be pressed into soft clay as a mark of ownership, in all likelihood. The inscriptions are short, presumably recording little more than the owner’s name. The language of the script is unknown; a Dravidian language would be our best guess because of islands of Dravidian language in the Indus and Ganga valleys, but other languages cannot be ruled out. We do not have a bilingual inscription, like the Rosetta Stone by which the Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered, or the Greek and Prakrit inscriptions on coins by which the inscriptions of Ashoka were read. However, because the Indus people were involved with seagoing trade with other literate people, especially the Elamites and perhaps the Mesopotamians, there is a chance that a bilingual inscription will be found one day…
From India: Brief History of a Civilization. Thomas R. Trautmann. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 22-27
Charles Darwin (1809–1882), a British naturalist, propounded the theory of evolution in his famous work On the Origin of Species (1859). With this theory, Darwin launched a massive debate concerning the spiritual repercussions of belief in natural selection—such as the contradiction inherent in the evolution of humans from apes and the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. This second work, The Descent of Man, explores the physiological connections between mankind and what Darwin calls “lower animals.” This selection examines the notion of sociability and how it plays out in various associations of animals; Darwin even makes a case for “lower animals” (like dogs) having characteristics that would be called “moral” in humans. Consider the impact of such “scientific discoveries” on a society that views humans as an elevated creation modeled on God.
From Philip Appleman, Ed., Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, Second ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980, pp. 196–203, 208.
In his essay The Painter of Modern Life, the French poet Baudelaire (1821–1867) lays out his vision of modernism, which became perhaps the closest thing to a “manifesto” the movement had. In discussing the work of the painter Constantin Guys (1802–1892), he argues that the habit of contemporary painters to look for truth or beauty in antiquity is senseless; instead, painters should, like Guys, be looking to capture the specifics of the modern age, as new techniques of painting would surely uncover new perspectives on reality. Looking to the past for technique or inspiration, therefore, results in not only historically inaccurate work, but also artistic failure. But in attempting to capture the modern moment, the painter, he said, was in search of something indefinable, “something we can perhaps call modernity.”
From Charles Baudelaire, Selected Writings on Art and Literature. Trans. P. E. Charvet. New York: Viking, 1972, pp. 395–422.
Oscar Wilde, an Irish poet and writer, became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the 1890s. Trained as a classicist in Dublin, then at Oxford, Wilde became a journalist in London and made a name for himself as a flamboyant proponent of the new philosophy of aestheticism. After several popular stage plays, he wrote his most famous work, The Importance of Being Ernest, in 1895. The same year, Wilde was put on trial for homosexuality, a crime in England at that time, and imprisoned for two years. Upon his release Wilde immigrated to Paris, where he died in 1900 at the age of forty-six. In The Soul of Man, Wilde explores the manner in which socialism, allowing people to realize greater individualism, will provide the best context for art—Wilde’s ultimate goal. The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.
From Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” New York: Humboldt, 1891.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
The best Spanish source on the Aztec–Spanish encounter was written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, an old campaigner from Cortés’s army. Born and raised in a poor family in Spain, Díaz began his military career as a common soldier. In 1514, he went to America to serve with the Spanish forces opening up the “New World,” and he made two previous expeditions to the Yucatan prior to the one led by Hernando Cortés in 1519. According to his own accounts, he took part in over one hundred battles and was present at the surrender of Tenochtitlan in 1521. After having read a published account of the conquest that he considered a distortion, Díaz set about writing his own account during the 1560s, when he was already an old man. He finished it when he was seventy-six years old. Though he had sent a copy to Spain, the work was not published until the next century, well after his long and eventful life had ended in 1581. The drama of the events and the intimacy and novelty of his observations make this a remarkable historical source.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, vol. 1, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, XXIII (London, 1908), 132–35; vol. 2, Hakluyt Society, Second Series, XXIV (London, 1910), 4–18, 37–38, 39–40, 44, 55–58, 59–60, 69–79, 84–88.
This “upside down” map is oriented so that south is up, north is down, east is on the left, and west is on the right. The Southern Hemisphere is thus at the top of the map, instead of at the bottom. “Upside down” maps are not new. It was only in the sixteenth century that the convention of orienting maps with north on top became standardized in Europe, and for millennia Islamic maps were oriented with south on top. But with decolonization, globalization, and the end of the Cold War, it has become popular in Australia, New Zealand, and South America to show the “Global South” on top, literally.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi served in turn as prime minister between 1966 and 1977 and again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. She was the third of the country’s prime ministers and the first female to hold the position. Gandhi pursued many of the same policies as her father, supported the Non-Aligned Movement, and was especially concerned to promote the interests of the women and girls her nation and of the world,. This speech, delivered to students in a women’s college, reveals her concern to combine women’s rights with India’s drive for modernization.