Like digging through archaeological layers, documenting the development of language and writing provides important clues about historical events. Recent discoveries in the deserts of Syria and Jordan are yielding clues not only about the origins of the Arabic writing system, but also about the rich history of the Arabs in the periods just before and after the rise of Islam. A new archaeological find seems to provide the first contemporary evidence of a major figure in the early history of Islam–and even more fascinating, it appears to have been written by a loyal Christian Arab subject.
Ahmad al-Jallad, the incoming Sofia Chair of Arabic Studies at the Ohio State University, discusses his work in the desert of Jordan, and describes recent finds that paint a picture of a vibrant Christian Arab community in Syria, decades after the Islamic conquest.
In the summer of 2015, an obscure Qur’ān manuscript hidden in the far reaches of the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham grabbed attention worldwide when carbon dating revealed that the book was one of the oldest Qur’āns known to exist. In fact, it might have been written during the lifetime of the Prophet Muḥammad … or might it even have been written before Muḥammad’s lifetime?
Guest Christopher Rose (yes, our regular co-host) has been following the headlines and puts the discovery of the Birmingham Qur’ān within the larger field of Islamic and Qur’ānic Studies, and explains how the text might raise as many questions as it answers.
Host:Christopher Rose, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UT-Austin Guest:Leonard Greenspoon, Professor of Near Eastern Civilizations and Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, Creighton University
Any student of a foreign language knows that the process of translating a text can be laden with unexpected choices about words, sentence structure, and phrases that don’t make sense in the target language. Now imagine the added pressures of translating a sacred text whose language is well known and imbued with religious significance and symbolism. Our guest Leonard Greenspoon from Creighton University has done just that with translators of the Jewish Bible over the centuries.
In this episode, Dr. Greespoon takes us on a fascinating journey into a Jewish perspective on how and why translating the Bible is necessary, and how and why it matters.
Host:Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies Guest: Stephennie Mulder, Assistant Professor of Art History and Middle Eastern Studies, UT-Austin
After the decline of the Fatimids, the medieval Middle East entered a period called the Sunni Revival, in which Shi’ism was officially discouraged and Shi’i institutions were closed and replaced with Sunni institutions. Or, at least, that’s what the official chroniclers tell us. The buildings themselves tell us a different story–one that tries to bring decades of conflict to an end by accommodating different beliefs.
Art Historian Stephennie Mulder has spent the past decade working in Syria and shares a new look at history of Sunni and Shi’a in Syria during the medieval period; and how both histories are threatened by ISIS and the Syrian Civil War.
Host:Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies Guest:Shainool Jiwa, Head of Constituency Studies, Institute for Ismaili Studies, London
Around the first millennium of the Christian era, a small group of Ismaili Shi’i Muslims established a dynasty that rapidly conquered North Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. At the height of their power they conquered Egypt, where they founded the city of Cairo, and their Imam-Caliphs had their names read out in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, rivaling the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. And yet, despite three centuries of rule by a powerful Shi’i empire, North Africa remained—and remains—Sunni with nary a trace of its Shi’ite past.
In this episode, guest Shainool Jiwa from the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London illuminates an often overlooked chapter in the history of Islamic sectarianism, one in which religious differences were used to unify diverse populations under the rule of a minority government, rather than to divide and alienate them.
In 7th century Arabia, the Islamic community was nearly torn apart by a civil war over the assassination of the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (d. 656), and the accession to the caliphate of Muhammad’s adopted son Ali, supported by Uthman’s assassins. The events of the first fitna, as it is known, are often portrayed as a struggle over the right to rule the Islamic community, but it was much more—a power struggle between Muhammad’s wife Aisha and Ali, and a dispute over who had the right to avenge the murder of Uthman.
In picking up where Episode 57 left off, guest Shahrzad Ahmadi describes this tragic turn of events that sent shockwaves through the nascent Islamic community, and that continue to reverberate today.
Nearly every world history textbook on the market explains the origins of sectarianism in the Islamic world as a dispute over the succession to Muhammad. Sunnis, they say, wanted an egalitarian society in which the leader was chosen from the people; the Shi’a, however, wanted the leadership of the nascent Islamic community to remain within Muhammad’s family. It seems simple—but is it really?
In the first of a series on the origins in Sectarianism in Islam, UT’s Shaherzad Ahmadi expands on this vastly oversimplified version of the story to introduce us to the key players involved—and to the intense rivalry between Aisha, Muhammad’s favorite wife, and his adopted son Ali.
Host:Joan Neuberger, Editor, Not Even Past and Professor, Department of History Guest: Francesca Consagra, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and European Paintings, Blanton Museum of Art
Our first episode of season 3 features the curator of the exhibition In the Company of Cats and Dogs. We consider some of the inherent personalities and temperaments of these animals as well as those imposed or projected by humans onto them. Throughout history, these animals have been viewed and represented as family members, hunters of prey, strays, and as figures and symbols in mythological, religious, political, and moral images.
Guest Francesca Consagra helps us make connections across centuries and genres and underscores our complex relationships to these animals, revealing the many ways in which they say as much about us as we do about them.
Host:Joan Neuberger, Editor, Not Even Past and Professor, Department of History Guest:Ann Twinam, Professor, Department of History
It’s become more and more widely known that, before first contact with Europe, the Americas were populated by advanced civilizations with complex systems of writing, government, and technological innovation. A number of these civilizations were clustered in the area known as Mesoamerica, which presented geographic difficulties for its inhabitants due to its harsh climate and environment, and yielding few natural resources. So, how did Mesoamerican civilizations thrive?
Guest Ann Twinam from UT’s Department of History discusses three of the major Mesoamerican civilizations: the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec (Mexica), and their once-forgotten contributions to human civilization.
Host:Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UT-Austin Guest: Fred M. Donner, Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Chicago
The story of Islam’s beginnings have been told and retold countless times. The traditional narrative says that the Prophet Muhammad, an illiterate orphan from the town of Mecca, became a prophet of God and founded a community that conquered much of the known world in little more than a century after his death. But what do we really know about Muhammad and the time in which he lived, based on historical evidence? How has this led some to reinterpret the origins of Islam?
Our guest, Fred M. Donner from the University of Chicago, has spent much of his career studying the earliest history of Islam. He offers his hypothesis on what the early Islamic community may have looked like, and describes an exciting new find that may shed new light on an old puzzle.
Every American schoolchild knows that Columbus sailed west to reach Asia with the hope of finding precious metals, expensive fabrics, and exotic spices: all goods that were being traded in the Indian Ocean, and had been for millennia. Ancient Greek texts describe an active Indian Ocean economy. Some scholars have even linked the peopling of Australia to a slow, methodic collecting of resources along the coastal route from east Africa.
In the first of a two part episode guest Susan Douglass, author of the Indian Ocean in World History web site, describes the murky beginnings of trade and travel in the Indian Ocean basin, and the cultural exchanges and influences that the trade had in the days before the Europeans arrived.
Over the past two thousands years, the Turkic peoples have migrated and expanded from a small group of pastoral nomads in what is now western China to form Islam’s longest lasting empire, six modern nation-states that bear their names, and large minorities across Eurasia. But … who are the Turks? Do they even form a coherent social category? Where did they come from? And what makes them “Turk”ish?
Guest Carter Vaughn Findley has spent a career working on the Turkic peoples and their history, and helps us trace their long migration from the Gobi to the Bosphorus, adapting, absorbing, and transforming themselves and the societies they interact with along the way.
Host:Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies Guest:Thomas Garza, Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies & Texas Language Center
Long before Bill and Sookie, Bella and Edward, there was the upyr’, a mythical creature that caused crops to fail, infants to die in their cribs, and plagues to spread throughout the Slavic lands of eastern Europe. How did we go from upyr’ to Vampire: the creature of the night who survives by drinking on blood and sparkles in the sunshine? And, more importantly, what can we learn about medieval Eastern Europe by talking about vampire myths and mythology?
Guest Thomas Garza takes us on the trail of vampires from their eleventh century origins to the days of Stoker, Harris, and Meyer, and helps us learn a thing or two about how society copes with its deepest fears along the way.
The Ottoman Empire has long captured the public imagination in a way that few other royal houses and empires have managed to do. From the days when its armies threatened the gates of Vienna, its long-rumored decline as the “sick man of Europe,” and the Taksim demonstrations of 2013 when Turkish Prime Minsiter Erdo?an was accused of “neo-Ottomanism,” the legacy that the Empire left is long and vast. But who were the Ottomans? Why were they so successful? And why have they lasted so long in the public’s imagination?
In the first of a two part series, guest Barbara Petzen helps to shed some light on the origins and rise of the empire that rivaled Europe for centuries. Turkish in origin, the Ottoman state at its best reveled in its diversity and played up the strengths of its multi-confessional multi-ethnic population.
The Spanish Inquisition has cast a long shadow in the public imagination, with Inquisitors playing the role of villain on stage and screen. But what was the Inquisition-really? Established in 1480 to deal with heresies under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Spanish Inquisition was a highly regulated institution with enormous political and legal power whose influence reached all the way to the Americas for over three hundred years.
Guest Miriam Bodian from UT’s Department of History separates truth from legend and reveals the intricacies of the Inquisition’s processes and inner workings.