João José Reis
Although slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888, slave revolts were frequent and remarkable for their ambitions, success, and diversity of participating elements. Two urban revolts of the nineteenth century were especially significant. First, the Tailor’s Rebellion of 1798, in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, drew on the assistance of freedmen, people of mixed race, and even craftspeople of Spanish descent. The second was a Muslim-inspired and Muslim-directed uprising of slaves in Bahia in 1835, organized by African-born freedmen and slaves who had attained an Islamic education in West Africa before enslavement. This Muslim revolt is particularly fascinating because of the role of written documents, here deployed as protective amulets, among the members of the slave resistance. This excerpt from a book by a Brazilian scholar attempts to demonstrate the role of the written word in this rebellion, illustrating another, and less frequently recognized, “power” within historical documents.
João José Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, trans. Arthur Brakel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 99–103.
The British activist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), mother of author Mary Shelley and the bearer of a tainted reputation, wrote a letter called “Vindication of the Rights of Man” (1790) to Edmund Burke criticizing his Reflections on the Revolution in France (Document 16.1) for its support of the aristocracy. Two years later, she altered the title for a feminist letter that argues for education and respect for women as valuable and contributing members of society. Now considered a founder of feminism, Wollstonecraft advocated on behalf of her fellow women in her dedication to a fellow pamphleteer, the enigmatic diplomat Talleyrand (1754–1838). Here, she outlines her main quest for education and provides a glimpse into her charm and energy.
From Mary Wollenstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women. London: J. Johnson, 1792.
With a change of Ottoman sultans in 1839, the government issued the Rose Garden Edict, the first of three reform edicts which are collectively known as the Tanzimat (reorganizations). With this edict, the government bound itself to basic principles with respect to relations between it and its subjects, and it carefully avoided a definition of the position of religious minorities in the empire. The document also enumerates basic human rights, drawing on ideas from the American and French revolutionary declarations of the eighteenth century. Accordingly, it reflects the adaptability of the Ottoman Empire to Western ideas, at least in the general context of the Tanzimat reforms.
Herbert J. Liebesny, The Law of the Near and Middle East: Readings, Cases, and Materials (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975), 46–49.
Ismail ibn ‘Abd al-Qadir
The religiously inspired uprising against the British in Sudan during the 1880s is associated with the figure of the self-styled “Mahdi.” However, the primary motivation of Muhammad Ahmad Ibn Abdallah (1844–1885), who took on the title Mahdi (“rightly guided” or “messiah”) was to reform Islam from within. Similar to other early modern Islamic reformers, beginning with ‘Abd al-Wahhab in eighteenth-century Arabia, the Mahdi aimed to eliminate Sufi brotherhoods and remove the (to his mind) abominable medieval aberrations from Islam. The Mahdi’s anti-imperialist stance against the British was thus incidental: the British happened to occupy Egypt and to be moving on the Sudan in the midst of his anti-Sufism campaigns. The British focused on the siege of Khartoum in 1883, but this contemporary biographer of the Mahdi focuses on the renovation of Islam.
Haim Shaked, The Life of the Sudanese Mahdi: A Historical Study of ‘Kitab Sa’adat al-Mustahdi bi-Sirat al-Imam al-Mahdi’ (The Book of the Bliss of Him Who Seeks Guidance by the Life of the Imam al-Mahdi) (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1978), 66–68.
Tokugawa Nariaki (1800–1860) was one of the leading Japanese political and military leaders of the nineteenth century. As possessor of the Mito territories, he was one of the most powerful and influential daimyo, or feudal lords, and a member of a collateral branch of the Tokugawa family. Nariaki was a very forceful and polarizing personality. Although a confirmed believer in the superiority of the Japanese way of life and of the imperial tradition, he was not an unreflective or “knee-jerk” conservative. Already in 1841 he had established an academy in his feudal domain for the study of useful Western knowledge, and it was there that the phrase “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians” was first used publicly. He was an adviser on maritime defense, and, when Commodore Perry and the Americans demanded change, he penned an aggressive and sharply defined response, which urged resistance.
G. Beasley, trans. and ed., Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853–1868 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), 102–06.
Ernst Renan (1823–1892) was one of the leaders of the “Higher Criticism” school of religious scholarship, and his Life of Jesus (1863) is one of the best-known works of that school. This reading presents excerpts from that book’s 16th chapter, on the phenomenon of Jesus’ supposed miracles.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
A German scholar and reforming rabbi, Abraham Geiger (1810–1874) examined the fundamental effects of Judaism on Christianity and Islam—even writing an award-winning essay entitled “What Has Muhammad Taken from Judaism?” (1833), translated as Judaism and Islam. The theory behind his argument was that the two later monotheisms were different methods of spreading Jewish belief to non-Jews by adapting and adopting new cultural elements to appeal to new ethnic groups. In the following passage Geiger outlines the means and motives of the Jews who produced, revised, and translated the biblical text over the centuries. His letter to a colleague laments the misunderstanding that keeps Jewish and Christian biblical scholars at odds with one another.
From Max Weiner, Ed., Abraham Geiger and Liberal Judaism. Trans. Ernst J. Schlochauer. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962, pp. 216–8, 220, 228–30, 135–7.
Matthew Arnold (1822–1888), the son of a famous English headmaster, grew up with a reforming mindset. He wove his Victorian concern for proper regulation and stability into poems and essays that guide the reader through his various social critiques—such as, of course, education reform. Originally a set of essays, the writings of Culture and Anarchy were compiled in 1869 and given an oft-quoted preface. The selection reprinted here marches through several working definitions of the idea of “culture,” trying to connect it to the ennobling qualities that Arnold optimistically envisions as an English ideal.
From Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1869
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.
Wassily Kandinsky is often credited with producing the first wholly abstract works of painting. He was born in Moscow, and after attending university in Odessa, he spent most of his adult life in Germany and France. He gave up a promising career as an economist to go to art school and taught at Germany’s Bauhaus School of Art from 1922 until its closure by the Nazis in 1933, whence he moved to France. Some of his paintings were exhibited by the Nazi regime as examples of “degenerate art” along with Paul Klee and Franz Marc, before being destroyed. Kandinsky’s writings theorized on the nature of art, exploring, among other things, the relationship of sound and color and the innate properties of geometric designs. His Concerning the Spiritual Element in Art is a meditation on how art can elevate the soul, especially in an era of spiritual malaise. Like Nietzsche, Kandinsky suggested that art had taken the place of religion; the only transcendence available to us, he claimed, is that experienced through aesthetic bliss.
From Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual Element in Art. 1912. Translation by Clifford R. Backman.
The name of Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is inextricably linked to the earth-shattering and (even today) controversial theory he proposed in 1859. However, it is also important to remember that he was a writer of exceptional skill and a best-selling author—even though many of his observations and conclusions were certainly too difficult for nonspecialists to appreciate. The 200th anniversary of his birth—and the 150th anniversary of the appearance of The Origin of Species—in 2009 resulted in a series of commemorative events around the world, a brief sample of which can be viewed online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/2009.html. Among the most famous elements of the book is the tangled-riverbank image introduced in the long book’s final paragraph, and Darwin’s stimulating view of the “grandeur in this view of life.”
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (New York: Modern Library, 1936), 353, 372, 373–374.
Josiah Strong (1847–1916) was an eminent Congregationalist minister, head of the influential American Evangelical Alliance, and a leading spokesman of a movement for social activism among white Protestant Christians known as the Social Gospel. In essence, Strong believed that a Protestant America was destined to lead the world to an earthly Christian Kingdom of faith, prosperity, and social justice. He held that American superiority was based on its Anglo-Saxon “race,” its pure, spiritual Protestant Christianity, its love of civil liberty, and its material abundance. Hence he supported a specific ethnic and cultural view of who constitutes a good American, and he combined this with a social Darwinist and imperialist view of America’s racial and cultural superiority and its world mission. The work excerpted here, Our Country, was published in 1885, republished more than once, and translated into numerous languages.
Josiah Strong. Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, rev. ed. New York: American Home Missionary Society (1891): 15, 20, 44–45, 54–61.
Boxers United in Righteousness
The nineteenth century saw an accumulation of disasters for China. In two Opium Wars in the 1840s and 1850s, British invasion forced the trade concessions demanded earlier. These conflicts helped to prompt the immensely destructive Tai-ping Rebellion (1850–1864). Various official reform movements encountered too many internal obstacles to effect much change. China lost a war to Japan in 1894 and was forced to accept a series of “unequal treaties” and agreements that granted “spheres of influence” to European powers. In 1899 internal disorder escalated. This time a portion of the imperial court headed by the Empress Dowager backed the opponents of western domination. The Boxers, drawing recruits from throughout the north China plain, killed western and Chinese Christians and besieged the embassies of foreign powers in Beijing itself. In July 1900 an unprecedented multinational army of British, German, American, Russian, French, Japanese, Austrian, and Italian troops entered Beijing to restore order and rescue the hostages. The International Expeditionary Force smashed the native army, looted Beijing, and, under the watchful eye of the international press, engaged in “punitive picnics” to exterminate opposition in the countryside.
China had a long tradition of secret societies and popular support for “social banditry” to help the poor. The Boxers United in Righteousness, who arose in Shandong province during the famines described earlier, followed ancient forms of aid and famine relief for their recruits. But the Boxers combined their appeals for social justice with calls to “Support the Qing, destroy the Foreign.” Like resistance movements in other parts of the world, they saw their country’s disasters as caused by its toleration of foreigners, especially the Christian missionaries whose numbers were increasing as western control of China became more pronounced. Recruits to the Boxers undoubtedly believed the terrible rumors of bizarre western religious practices requiring mutilation of women and children. They used magical charms and physical exercise rituals to invite the gods to inhabit their bodies, making them invulnerable to the guns and explosives of western armies. As with other resisters, this faith proved illusory. The Boxers were easily dispatched by the soldiers of the West, as were countless Chinese peasants who were innocent of any role in this conflict between cultures.
Joseph Esherick, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. University of California Press (1987): 299–300.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento
The journalist and eventual Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811–1888) is most famous today for his novel Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism (1845), a sharp and daring satire of the caudillo Juán Manuel de Rosas. His indictment of Rosas, thinly disguised as the biography of another brutal dictator (called Juán Facundo Quiroga), was written while Sarmiento was an exile from the regime. Representing the government of Chile, Sarmiento traveled throughout Europe, North Africa, and North America, observing local political and social conditions closely and comparing them with what he knew of Argentine society. The result is a fascinating travelogue of his impressions of and reactions to the people of the United States, with vivid descriptions of many of its manmade and natural wonders. Nevertheless, his hopes for his native Argentina were never very far from the foreground, as this excerpt reveals.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’, Travels in the United States in 1847, trans. Michael Aaron Rockland (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1970), 164–166.
Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) are best known for their collaborative work The Communist Manifesto (1848). However, the two had been observing the real consequences of industrialization for factory workers, particularly in Manchester, England, for many years before this. Working in his father’s cotton factory in England, Engels had witnessed the inequities imposed by industrial systems, and he composed a scathing attack on these systems in his Condition of the Working-Class in England (1845). When Marx befriended Engels in Manchester, he too came to see how local conditions could lead to wide-ranging theories about labor, wages, and the measurement of “costs.” In this lecture, delivered in December 1847, Marx took his audience through the most basic elements of the philosophy that would culminate in Das Kapital (vol. 1, 1867).
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/, first published in German in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (April 5–8, 11, 1849), and edited and translated by Friedrich Engels for an 1891 pamphlet.
The novelist Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1828–1889) believed that even the emancipation of serfs was insufficient to reform Russian society, since its authoritarian and patriarchal institutions had rendered it unequal and backward by every measure. An educated elite had emerged in Russia in the mid-nineteenth century, and this group felt alienated both from the larger culture and the traditions of Russian society. Chernyshevsky advocated a top-to-bottom restructuring of Russian society, and he was particularly drawn to the idea of liberating women from their subordination within the Russian family. Arrested on largely fabricated charges in 1862 and awaiting trial in St. Petersburg, Chernyshevsky produced his last significant and most influential work, the novel What Is to Be Done? In early 1864, he was convicted of subversion, and he spent the next eighteen years in prison or in exile in eastern Siberia. What Is to Be Done? offers a fascinating portrait of intelligent young people attempting to reform a society that seemed in desperate need of change.
Nikolai Chernyshevsky, What Is to Be Done?, trans. Michael R. Katz (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 278–279, 280–281, 283–284.
In 1844 a young merchant from Shiraz in Persia began to teach a new faith, and he was given the title of the Báb (“the Gate”). Preaching against the hypocrisy of Muslim religious leaders, he proclaimed the beginning of a new spiritual era. When he was arrested and executed in 1850, his work was continued by Mirza Husayn Ali, who was given the title Bahá’u’lláh (“the glory of God”). Despite arrest, exile, and other forms of persecution from governmental authorities, Bahá’u’lláh composed a series of revelations and meditations. He sent letters of proclamation (generally following the same template) to a host of Western leaders, including Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX, and even American presidents. The Bahá’í faith that resulted from his teachings was organized around the central principle that the human race is one and whole, and should be united in brotherhood. Needless to say, this message did not appeal to everyone in the nineteenth century.
Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, trans. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1952), 73–76, 79.