Born on the Golden Horn and raised in the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul, Çelebi traveled throughout Ottoman domains between 1640 and 1680. He published an account of his travels and experiences as the Seyahatname, or Book of Travels. In the first of his ten books in the document, Çelebi provides a lengthy description of Istanbul around the year 1638, including a panoramic view of 1,100 artisan and craft guilds. The numbers and diversity of trades represented underscore the extent of Ottoman commerce—as well as the pride of place each of the city’s working people claimed as their due.
Robert Dankoff, An Ottoman Mentality: The World of Evliya Çelebi, 2nd ed. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2006), 86–89.
Ibn Wahab was an Arab merchant from Basra (Iraq) who sailed to China via the Indian Ocean around 872 CE. His travel account includes a description of his interview with the Chinese emperor. Wahab's visit at the height of the T'ang dynasty (618-907 CE), with its flourishing trade and efficient civil service, provides a first-hand account of China when its influence extended throughout all of Eurasia.
Fitzgerald, C.P. China: A Short Cultural History (London: Cresse Press, 1930), pp. 339-340.
The attitudes of British colonial authorities towards their subjects are reflected in Oginga Odinga’s memories of his childhood in a Kenyan village. The British government took over Kenya in 1895 after the privately sponsored East Africa Company failed to keep order or find sufficient revenues to reward investors. Although Kenya became one of the few African colonies to receive a large number of white settlers, Oginga Odinga’s village in the remote southwest Nyanza region seldom saw white people. By this time (shortly before World War I) the British had perfected a system of administration that required fewer costly European functionaries and placed responsibility for carrying out government policies in the hands of natives. In this process of “indirect rule” the British appointed headmen or chiefs to serve as intermediaries between villagers and remote district or provincial administrators who were British. Odinga’s memoir describes some of the complexity in the roles of these natives who received enhanced opportunities, wealth, and status from the government, but at the risk of being isolated from their own people.
Oginga Odinga estimated that he was born in 1911 or 1912. He was educated at an English school and became a teacher. In the 1940s he emerged as a leader of the Luo people in his native Nyanza district, pressing for economic development and political rights for Africans. He was the first vice president of independent Kenya, but quickly parted from nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta because of his insistence that Kenya should have a multiparty political system. After his death in 1994 Odinga was honored for a lifetime of involvement in nationalist and democratic politics in Kenya.
Oginga Odinga, Not Yet Uhuru. New York: Hill and Wang (1967): 1–3, 15–16, 20–22.
Calico was a fine printed cotton cloth first imported to England from Calicut, on the western shore of the subcontinent, by the British East India Company. A domestic manufacture of calico-inspired textiles followed, as English artisans attempted to mimic the bright colors, careful weaving, and intricate designs of Indian cloth. This example commemorates Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, a great British naval hero of the Napoleonic Wars and the American War of Independence. Nelson, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1806, was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral after an elaborate funeral service.
National Maritime Museum, London
This remarkable account of a merchant’s travels throughout Eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and India resulted from the singular obsession of a monk in retirement. Determined to prove that a proper understanding of earth’s geography would confirm God’s creation—and that the earth was a flat, oblong table surrounded by the ocean—the monk Cosmas reflected back on his extensive voyages, which had probably been undertaken to further a spice-import business. Cosmas commented on the trading practices of the Aksumites and on their wealthy culture, providing one of the few outsider glimpses of Aksum that are now available.
Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christianike Topographia, Book 3, trans. and ed. Christopher Haas, Villanova University; available online: http://www29.homepage.villanova.edu/christopher.haas/cosmas_indicopleustes.htm<
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four terms as President marked a turning point in American history, establishing the principle of the federal government’s responsibility for public welfare and creating the federal governmental system that continues to the present day. It also established Keynesian economics (named after the British economist John Maynard Keynes), which calls for greater governmental expenditures in times of economic recession to compensate for lower spending by the private sector. FDR would go on to be reelected three times. He led America through most of World War II but died in office in April 1945, just three months before the end of the war. In the selection that follows, FDR lays out the general lines of his vision for America.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol. 2 (New York: Random House, 1938), 11–16.
Although his novels are beloved as works of fiction today, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was also an acute observer of the ways in which industrialization fundamentally transformed economic conditions in England. Fully aware of the costs of economic dislocation (as a boy, Dickens had been confined in a debtors’ prison with his family), the novelist described the residents of a fictional “Coketown” in one of his lesser-known works, Hard Times, published in 1854. The main industry in this town is a factory, owned and operated by the blowhard (and, it is ultimately revealed, self-created) Josiah Bounderby, and the people who work in the “manufactory” are the “Hands.” The novel opens in a schoolroom, where children are being drilled, literally, in the acquisition of “facts, facts, facts.” Their teacher is Mr. “M’Choakumchild” (Dickens was never very subtle in his nomenclature), and the director of the school is Mr. Gradgrind. The Gradgrind method will ultimately be proved a failure within Gradgrind’s own family, but Hard Times reveals the actual “hardness” of conditions for so many in industrial Britain.
Charles Dickens, Hard Times, for These Times, ed. David Craig (New York: Penguin, 1969), 65–66.
In 1807 most of the countries involved in the centuries-long Atlantic slave trade signed an international agreement to abolish the shipments of Africans to the western hemisphere. The British Royal Navy established a west Africa duty station to intercept smugglers of contraband human cargo. Africans freed by the British were returned to Freetown in Sierra Leone. Surrounded by strangers and often far from their native lands, many stayed to be educated at schools set up by the Church of England’s Church Missionary Society (CMS). Often they converted to Christianity, and their knowledge of two very different worlds helped European missionaries to reach peoples of the interior.
Perhaps the most famous African to follow the path described above was Samuel Crowther (c. 1806–1891). As a young teenager Crowther was captured and sold to Portuguese slave traders. Leaving the Nigerian port of Lagos, the ship carrying him to South America was spotted by a Royal Navy squadron, which took Crowther and his fellow captives to Freetown. There Crowther was one of the first students at the Church Missionary Society’s Fourah Bay College. He became a teacher and evangelical Christian with strong ideas on the value of the Christian message for Africans. In 1841 he joined the First Niger Expedition to explore commercial and missionary opportunities away from the Nigerian coast. The mission is usually considered a failure. As was frequently the case, most Europeans could not survive the diseases they encountered in the African interior, and many of the party died. But Crowther proved himself to the British as a translator and intermediary with the village peoples. In 1842 he was sent to England for training and ordination in the Church of England.
When Crowther returned to Africa, the mission he established among the Yoruba people became a model for others. As much as possible, each mission community became self-sufficient, so that it would not be dependent on the villages around it. The residents grew cash crops that authorities hoped would replace revenues lost with the abolition of slavery, ran schools for the young, wore western clothes, and accepted any tribal peoples who wished to receive education and learn of the Christian religion. Crowther was so successful in managing the Yoruba and Niger missions that he was invited back to England to be consecrated as bishop of the Niger territories, a huge tract reaching from Nupe in the north to the Niger Delta along the coast. He was the first African to reach such a position in the Anglican Church.
Samuel Crowther, Journal of an Expedition up the Niger and Tshadda Rivers. London: Church Missionary House (1855): xiii–xviii.
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
Tang Taizong (d. 649), a founder of the Tang dynasty, was determined to create an empire that expanded upon the consolidation achieved under the Sui dynasty. The result was a large empire of people diverse in language, religion, and culture; it was also economically diverse: the south was more productive and more prosperous than the north. Taizong recognized that these were all challenges to his dynasty, and that the Sui had faced similar problems and failed. Determined to be more effective, Taizong identifies what he sees as the weaknesses of the Sui and how he planned to prevent those some weaknesses from hampering his dynasty.
Translated by J. Dun Li, 1925
Drawing on the conclusions of his “Western” education, Japanese economist Honda Toshiaki (1749–1821) advocated a three-pronged plan of action to level the playing field between the Tokugawa Shogunate and European powers. Having studied mathematics as a young man, Honda learned the Dutch language and studied Dutch medicine, astronomy, and military science. The choice of Dutch was fortuitous, since these were the only Europeans permitted to remain in Japan after 1639. Nevertheless, it was the prowess of these particular Europeans in shipping and trade, dependent on a scientific and mathematical knowledge of navigation, that most interested Honda. This section of his “Secret Plan” addresses the need for the emperor to control ships and shipping in order to ensure Japanese prosperity.
Ryusaku Tsunoda, William Theodore de Bary, and Donald Keene eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), vol. 2, 51–53.
A Scottish historian and writer, Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) turned the difficulties of his life—a sickly nature, a crisis of faith in the Christian Church, and a tempestuous marriage—toward writing a harsh-toned and often argumentative series of works. Friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Carlyle was an important mouthpiece for a dissatisfied Victorian generation. His essay “Signs of the Times,” first published in the Edinburgh Review, examines a 19th-century “mechanical age” that fundamentally altered the role of man in his “modern” society.
From G. B. Tennyson, ed. A Carlyle Reader: Selections from the Writings of Thomas Carlyle. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 32–3, 34–6, 37, 40–1, 46–7.
With the possible exception of the Qur’an itself, no other work of Arab–Muslim culture is as widely known in the west as is the Arabian Nights. The story presented here, “The Story of Ali Cogia, a Merchant of Bagdad,” is included to represent the culture of the Arab Muslim world before 1000 CE. This era is one of the golden ages of the Arab Islamic zone, a time when a sophisticated, vibrant, and cohesive culture permeated much of the Muslim world, the dar al-Islam. Within a hundred years of the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, the region from Persia across North Africa to Spain was under the control of Muslim rulers. Most of the former Persian and Byzantine empires were Islamic in faith and governance, and Islamic thinkers absorbed the Persian and Greek intellectual and cultural legacies. Its dynamic economy included some of the richest and most productive portions of the Persian and Mediterranean worlds, and the Islamic world enjoyed high levels of both urbanization and literacy. The region was far in advance of Western Europe. Caliph Harun al-Rashid, who figures prominently in many of the stories in the Arabian Nights and who is famous for a magnificent and enlightened reign in the late 700s and early 800s, is emblematic of the brilliant, culturally synthetic intellectual life of medieval Islam.
The history of the text of the Arabian Nights is a long, complex story in itself. By 1000 CE a version of the Arabian Nights existed, though we do not know what its exact contents were. The current version consists of stories that were versions of older, pre-Islamic tales and some that were added after the year 1000 and even from other collections. As a result, it has been called a “book without authors,” and we cannot assert with any certainty either the individual author or in many cases even the origin of many stories in the Arabian Nights.
Arabian Nights’ Entertainment, ed. Robert L. Mack. Oxford University Press (1995): 787–96. Copyright © 1995 Oxford University Press, Inc.
Johann Georg Eccarius
Johann Georg Eccarius (1818–1889) worked as a tailor until he became a dedicated Marxist in the 1840s, after which he worked in journalism and as a Communist organizer. In 1851 he moved to England in order to work directly with Marx and Engels; ultimately he joined the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association and became its leader. In the 1850s he helped edit “The Friend of the People,” a Marxist newsletter, and contributed many articles to it; one of those articles here follows. (Eccarius’ British spellings are retained.)
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
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.