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Mdeii Life - Anand Krishnamoorthi's blog

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Meandering thoughts roughly guided by UCSD, Ibn Battuta, and others

The University of California at San Diego runs this absolutely fascinating course called Making of the Modern World. Apart from a very interesting interdisciplinary (literature, history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, political science, and the fine arts) approach to understanding the world and its history, it boasts of some utterly engrossing lectures by Prof. Matthew Herbst.

I first got to know of this when JK wrote about and linked to the MMW4 (fall semester) lectures that were being podcast. I promptly subscribed to the feed and was immediately hooked. Of course me being a slightly clumsy git, forgot to heed JK's warning, and only managed to get lectures 1 through 9 (plus 19 courtesy iTunes automation) before the podcast was killed and all its traces Stalinized. If anyone is reading this at all, I would be happy if you could help me get hold of the rest of the lectures. Thanks in advance.

The early lectures of MMW4 that I have listened to now have kindled my interest in the 13th century Islamic world. I now want to go to Morocco and follow Ibn Battuta's travels. Would even love to go take that course at Eleanor Roosevelt College if I could (Alas I need to earn my booah no?). Have been advised by the lovely Adrianna that I should go to Turkey at least. Though I think learning Arabic and smoking up with some Sufis might only be a remote possibility.

The other great history podcast I listen to is a vestige of my Radio 4 listening days in Bristol, In Our Time with Melvin Bragg. It is through this wonderful programme that I first got a deeper glance at the contributions of the medieval Islamic world. Heck, no Avicenna and Averroes, then no Thomas Aquinas, which means no Latin or Enlish Aristotle nor Plato, down to no Karl Popper even. So much so for western civilization Dr Pandey rightly calls it names! (OK that is a simplistic version of probable events, but you get the implications).

Recently I have been putting some gyan on the Satin mailing list about fractals and religion and state and law and ideas and Jefferson and Iannaccone. Once I clarify my thoughts I might even blog it, but I now have a better understanding of the 13th century Islamic world. Contrast it with how things are today, and it is sad indeed how history has turned out to be.

Meandering further on that thought, I recently finished reading William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal. The first thing that book taught me was a gentle questioning of Edward Said's critique of Orientalism, in the spirit I first encountered in Trautmann's Aryans and British India. Yet, the most important thing I took from Dalrymple's brilliant book was its Burkean warning about learning from history. And talking about books and history, Chapati Mystery has put together a mouth-watering list.

Now, trying to cleverly reconnect my bibliophilic detour back to Prof Herbst's lecture, here is an interesting book he refers to: Before European Hegemony by Janet L. Abu-Lughod. (psst, dont be put off by words like subaltern and hegemony, yes it gets quite irritating after undergrad in places like Loyola or DU, but an open mind is always good). For someone like me who likes to dabble in economics, trade, politics, and their history, this book should be a very good place to spend some time in.


(the curious punctuation above points to a general drought of any more clever ways of connecting the next random series of thoughts to the ones before)

Interestingly, today's lazy afternoon TV watching yielded via Dan Cruickshank the knowledge of a Hindu Temple in Azerbaijan. Wikipedia says that:


Inscriptions in the temple in Sanskrit (in Nagari Devanagari script) and Punjabi (in Gurmukhi script) identify the sanctity as a place of Hindu and Sikh worship. These inscriptions date from Samvat 1725 to Samvat 1873, which though unambiguous references to the Hindu calendar, cannot be precisely dated since there is more than one Samvat calendar. Samvat 1725 could thus be either c. 1646 CE or c. 1782 CE. However, "local records say that it was built by a prominent Hindu traders community living in Baku and its construction coincided with the fall of the dynasty of Shirwanshahs and annexation by Russian Empire following Russo-Iranian war [of 1722-1723]."


Who would have thunk eh?

I guess all my knowledge-gathering reflected in this post is a desperate attempt to understand and appreciate the region before something dreadful happens. Somehow recent (and protracted ancient events) have left me with ugly premonitions of the whole shithouse from the Middle-East through Central-Asia to the Indian subcontinent going up in flames. Maybe I'm just projecting my own recent anxieties on a part of the world (probably falsely) considered to be always volatile. On that note, Happy New Year!

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8:05 pm


Comments to Meandering thoughts roughly guided by UCSD, Ibn Battuta, and others


Travels with a Tangerine by Tim Mackintosh-Smith is the travelogue of someone who followed Ibn Battuta's footsteps. Naturally I hate him.

posted by Anonymous JK 

5:34 am, January 02, 2009

I saw a part of it on TV. Major envy comes!

posted by Blogger Anand 

10:46 am, January 02, 2009

Do you think you could post the "Making of the Modern World" podcasts somewhere from where I could download it. Thanks.
- Slo

posted by Anonymous Anonymous 

6:31 am, May 31, 2009

Slo, let me see. I shall post an update if that is possible.

posted by Blogger Anand 

4:31 pm, July 26, 2009

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