During World War II the Smithsonian Institution issued a number of “War Background Studies.” I recently came across #18 in this series entitled Peoples of India by William H. Gilbert, Jr. (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, April 29, 1944). I was struck by the archaic presentation of images and the overtly Orientalist writing of Gilbert, who is billed as a “Specialist in Sociology and Anthropology, Legislative Reference Series, Library of Congress” and posted an excerpt from his Introduction in a previous post. The following comments are in reference to this earlier post.

First, the old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words is as apt today as ever. In the last post the image provided there (and again above) of a British “sojourner” in a palanquin shows the Brit, prone and pith helmut at his side, staring outside his box of privilege, while there are two bare-chested bearers in front and two behind. What a compelling metaphor for the colonial view of India. There is no direct engagement between the foreigner and the people; they are merely there to take him from place to place by hand. Ironically, the caption notes that the palanquin is no longer used since the arrival of the railroad, so this image becomes a vestigial reminder of how the present occupies the past for its own comfort. Int his case the white man’s burden is turned upside down; the white man is quite literally the burden here.

Second, notice the adjectival mode in the paragraphs cited in the previous post. (more…)

The Third MECA Seminar on early Iranian and Central Asian Numismatics will be held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, this Sunday, April 10, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm in 106 Breslin Hall. This seminar has been organized by Prof. Aleksandr Naymark and is open to faculty and students of Hofstra University and to the public, free of charge. For more information, check out the conference website.


Session I: Early Islamic Coinage
10:30 am to 12:00 pm

• Konstantin Kravtsov (State Hermitage Museum)
An Obscure Period in the History of Tabaristan (760s AD): Analysis of Written and Numismatic Sources

• Stuart Sears (Wheaton College)
Crisis on an Asian Frontier: The Countermarking of Umayyad Dirahms in Khurasan in the Early Eighth Century CE

• Luke Treadwell (Oxford Univeristy)
Aleksandr Naymark (Hofstra University)
The Very Last Sogdian Coin

Lunch break
12:00 pm to 1:00 pm

Session II: Classical Age of Islamic Coinage
1:00 pm to 2:15 pm

• Michael Bates (American Numismatic Society)
The Second Muhammadiyya, the Mine of Bajunays

• Arianna d’Ottone (La Sapienza University of Rome)
From Russia to Rome: the Stanzani Collection of Islamic Coins

• Aleksandr Naymark (Hofstra University)
Byzantine Anonymous Folles from Qarakhanid lands in the Ferghana and Chu Valleys

Coffee Break
2:15 pm to 2:30 pm

Session III: On the Borders: India and Yemen
2:30 pm to 3:30 pm

• Waleed Ziad (Yale University)
Islamic Coins from a Hindu Temple: Reevaluating Ghaznawid Policy towards Hinduism
through new Numismatic Evidence from the Kashmir Smast in Gandhara

• Daniel Martin Varisco (Hofstra University)
Rasulid Coinage in the Daftar of al-Malik al-Muzaffar: A Preliminary Textual Study

Coffee Break
3:30 pm to 3:45 pm

Session IV: Mongols
3:45 am to 5:00 pm

• Stefan Heidemann (Metropolitan Museum of Art B Bard College Graduate Center)
The Coin Finds from the Heart of the Mongol Empire: Qaraqorum Results of the Bonn University Excavation

• Necla Akkaya (Selcuk Universty)
Coins of the Ilkhanid ruler Abu Sa`id Bahadur Khan

• Olga Kirillova (Orel, Russia), Aleksandr Naymark (Hofstra University)
A Copy of the Seal of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan II Asen from Samarqand

General Discussion
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Dinner in Brooklyn – 6:45 pm

Café Uzbekistan
2170 86th St. Brooklyn, NY 11214 (in the first block east of the crossing with Bay Parkway; parking on the sides streets)
Tel.: (718) 373-9393

“Palkee or palanquin and bearers, Calcutta. Although the palanquin is no longer used for travel in India, in the days before the railroad it was of primary importance. The Kahars and other castes of palanquin bearers are thought to have been the prototypes of the bearers who are assigned to European sojourners in India today.”

During World War II the Smithsonian Institution issued a number of “War Background Studies.” I recently came across #18 in this series entitled Peoples of India by William H. Gilbert, Jr. (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, April 29, 1944). The image on Plate 6, reproduced above, sets the tone for this non-war zone. I was struck by the archaic presentation of images and the overtly Orientalist writing of Gilbert, who is billed as a “Specialist in Sociology and Anthropology, Legislative Reference Series, Library of Congress.” The Introduction (pp. 1-2) sets out in words the image vividly portrayed above. Read this for yourself and consider the various ways in which the author’s rhetoric both romanticizes India and justifies the colonial enterprise. I will make my own comments in a succeeding post, but I welcome comments posted here.


Hardly any other country in the world can make a stronger claim on man’s inherent desire for the unique and the romantic than India. (more…)

As noted in a previous post, I recently went through a late 19th century scrapbook that belonged to my great, great aunt. She had cut out pictures that interested or amused her. Several of these have Orientalist themes. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words; other times the picture says enough for itself. In this series, I leave the image to speak for itself. If you would like to comment on what you see or imagine, please do so in the comments section.

For #3, click here.

Kimball Tobacco Company Factory (1846-1905) in Rochester, New York, published a series of “Dancing Girls of the World.” These appear to be from the late 1880s. Several of these purport to depict women dancing in the Middle East. But it seems the artist had never actually seen ladies of the exotic harem. Take a peek for yourself.


Area: 219,000 sq. mi
Population: 2,750,000
Government: Absolute Monarchy
Scenes: Morocco Leather; City of Morocco; Street Scene in Morocc

previous post I began a series on coffee advertising cards with Middle Eastern themes. One of the most colorful collections is that provided by the Arbuckle Coffee Company. In my great, great aunt’s album there were several Middle Eastern and North African nations represented, but she did not have all the cards. Here is a final potpourri from Arbuckle’s 1889 series, starting with Morocco above. (more…)

Kajol Devgan and Shah Rukh Khan

On Sunday I finally saw the new Bollywood film with Shah Rukh Khan, “My Name is Khan.” It is well worth seeing, although the minimalist dancing and singing in the film make it more Hollywood (not Fred Astaire’s) than Bollywood. Add to this the fact that many parts of the film were made in San Francisco and California and the Bollywood connection is even more estranged. The plot of the film has gaping holes, but it is not meant as a documentary. I walked away feeling good about two aspects of the film. First, it is a stirring educational lesson in Asperger’s Syndrome. One of Bollywood’s most glamorous male stars provides a moving performance of this disability, disabling those critics who dismiss the victims of the syndrome as dumb or retarded (neither of which they are).

Second, given all the Islamophobic films out there, where jihad is the only plot associated with Islam, it is refreshing to see the tables turned. While most Americans did not use 9/11 as an excuse to go out and beat up Muslims (or Sikhs or anyone who was not “white” enough), a number of prejudicial people did. The hate was real and most Muslims have felt it, even if only the cold stare. Finally here is a fantasy that goes the other way, while making Muslims heroes and lovers of peace. (more…)

Anyone who is interested in issues of Islam in America must certainly go see the new Shahrukh Khan film My Name is Khan. Despite all of its Bollywood silliness and melodrama, the film is surprisingly discerning on the experiences of Muslims in American society. Though it is set almost entirely in the U.S. (beginning in San Francisco and ending in Georgia), this film will go down as one of the most important Bollywood movies Shahrukh Khan has ever done.

Most obviously of course, the film reminds audiences all around the world that Bollywood’s biggest star ever is in fact a non-violent Muslim (the film’s most repetitive line is “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist”). But it also does a number of other absolutely fascinating things, such as performing a reinterpretation of the Qur’anic Abraham-Ishmael story, and in a surprising turn, it spotlights the U.S.’s government abandonment of poor African-American communities. (more…)

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