Literacy: Letting Our Students See the Past for Themselves
As soon as my copy arrives in the mail, I hurriedly rip off the plastic covering and sit down quickly to languidly revisit one of my favorite regions of the world. I can tour majestic mosques and admire exotic palaces, review the impact of medieval Islamic science, recall the arresting sounds of regional folk music, plan tasty exotic meals, sail along the Niger River or into the Indian Ocean, admire beautiful silken clothes, shop for spices and natural remedies, or plan upcoming lessons on many other topics. I am referring to Saudi Aramco World which is a bimonthly magazine published by the 75 year-old Aramco Services Company. The stated goal of this richly designed resource is to "broaden knowledge of the cultures, history and geography of the Arab and Muslim worlds and their connections with the West." It is available to all world history teachers free of charge by subscription after request at http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/about.us/subscriptions and can also be accessed online at http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com. Classroom sets are also available by request at SAWorld@aramcoservices.com. Since all world history courses cover the region, it is a valuable resource for instructors interested in taking advantage of the varied thematic content and the enlightening photographs and illustrations which accompany many articles.
Although I was fortunate enough to personally walk through the splendid mosque of Ibn Tulun in Egypt (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200501/a.city.adorned.htm), through Saudi Aramco World my students also can see those minarets. In addition they can easily travel overseas to Turkey and take a 360 degree virtual walking tour of "The Suleymaniye Mosque" ( September/October 2006 http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200605/) from their laptops.
The "spherical panoramic photographs
that place you inside the image" are as magnificent as the audio tour
is informative. If you cannot get to Istanbul next year on a field trip,
this is the next best thing. Anyone wanting to go to Spain for just one
classroom period easily can visit "The Alhambra (July/August 2006 http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200604/).
This is Granada's "greatest masterpiece of Islamic architecture" whose
history goes back to the year 711. Students can just click a mouse and
take the trip of a lifetime with another virtual walking tour from their
school computer lab.
The most recent edition of
this publication (May/June 2007 http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200703/
) features articles that cover "…mathematics, astronomy, medicine, optics,
physics, chemistry and even evolutionary theory…" written in Arabic from
scholars in Samarkand to Shiraz, Bukhara to Baghdad, and Cairo to Cordoba.
The illustrations that accompany the text are excellent visual documents
perfect for composing portions of DBQ's (Document Based Questions) for
students who are studying the intellectual underpinnings of the European
"Saudi Folk Music: Alive and Well" (March/April 2007 http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200702/) brings the sounds of 50 men gathered at an oasis surrounded by date palms in the desert. They are performing a traditional song and dance on a soccer field that establishes a poetic melody which varies by town and region all over Saudi Arabia. Photographs of the men in traditional dress can be seen as students simultaneously listen to the audio recordings. (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200702/saudi.folk.music.alive.and.well.htm)
An entire class can emulate
Leo Africanus's journey and sail "The River" (March/April
where "some of Africa's greatest empires rose and fell." This historic
region of West Africa is described and illustrated by detailed maps and
informative photographs of the current inhabitants of what Henry Barth,
a European explorer, called "the great river ….whose name under whatever
form it may appear…means nothing but "The River."
Another volume that is almost priceless for world history teachers is July/August 2005, which is dedicated to The Indian Ocean and Global Trade. (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200504/default.htm) Teachers can introduce lessons based upon this topic by the online Trade Routes map which can be enlarged and manipulated easily in the class or at home. "The Seas of Sinbad" (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200504/the.seas.of.sindbad.htm) features a map from the first printed edition of Islamic cartography .
Young navigators and future traders may also tackle "Monsoons, Mud and Gold" http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200504/monsoons.i.mude.i.and.gold.htm).Our current dollar currency can be compared to that of the Middle Ages by looking at Venetian golden ducats struck in 1282 or silver Turkish dirhams struck in the 1240's.
many other articles and images make this copy nearly as precious as the
commodities traded in the Indian Ocean.
Feeling a bit under the weather? Check out "Natural Remedies of Arabia" (September/October 2006 http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200605/natural.remedies.of.arabia.htm) and discover the folk medicines available from vendors in suqs that mothers have long used for natural healing practices. Detailed historical overviews, advice and wonderful images make this article the next best thing to walking through the bazaar and asking the experts yourself.
I can only just begin to introduce this resource to classroom instructors and students. I suggest, however, that readers take their own personal journeys through the index of this magazine, which is easily accessed online. (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/index/BackIssues2000.aspx) Wander the region at your leisure with this publication which truly lets students see both the regional past and present in print or online in all its visual glory.
Biographical Note: Wendy Eagan teaches world history at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland.
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