January 2011



I recently started a thread on a school geography book from 1879. At that time the idea of “civilization” was fixed in a hierarchy. According to Lesson XXI (States of Civilization), there were degrees for separating out the inhabitants of the earth. Here is the sequence, with the student no doubt informed in the classroom that the United States was the most enlightened:

1. Nations, with regard to the degree of their civilization, are divided into five general classes: Savage, Barbarous, Half-civilized, Civilized, and Enlightened Nations.
2. Savages
dwell in tribes; they live in caves, dens, or huts, and are chiefly occupied in hunting, fishing, or war.
3. Barbarous Nations live in larger communities than savages, practice some rude arts, attend to the rearing of flocks and herds, and in some cases, till the soil.
4. Half-civilized Nations
have organized governments and dwell in cities, occupy themselves in agriculture and mechanic arts, but are without education, refinement, or morality.
5. Civilized Nations are such as have made considerable progress in knowledge and morality, have good governments and generally wise laws.
6. Enlightened Nations
are such as hold the highest rank in intelligence, scientific progress, and moral, religious, and social culture.

Excerpt from: Colton’s Common School Geography (New York: Sheldon and Company, 1879), 17.

to be continued

The recent revolution in Tunisia has exploded across the blogosphere, with pundits talking about a popular tsunami that may promote democracy out of the ashes of a lifelong dictatorship. In yesterday’s New York Times, Roger Cohen provided an optimistic view from his journalistic perch in Tunis: “These are heady days in the Arab world’s fragile democratic bridgehead.” Cohen, and others, are wondering aloud if Tunisia can become the new Turkey, a more or less secular democracy in which the “Islamists” are moderate members of a political mosaic. If so, then he warns that the “tired refrain of all the Arab despots that they are the only bulwark against the jihadists will be seen for the self-serving lie it has become.”

Perhaps, but one does not have to go far back into the regime of Saddam Hussein to realize that his Ba’athi party did not tolerate religiously motivated sectarian violence. Brutal as it was, his regime was a bulwark (if such a metaphor really makes sense politically) against the continual round in “liberated” Iraq of sunni killing shi’a and vice versa. But then Saddam was not brought down by a popular street uprising. (more…)


Once upon a time Geography went right along with the three r’s in the school curriculum. I have a copy of the geography text my great, great Aunt Ida used. This was Colton’s Common School Geography illustrated by numerous engravings and twenty-two study maps, drawn expressly for this work, and specially adapted to the wants of the class-room, to which are added two full-paged railroad maps, showing the chief routes of travel, and a complete series of twelve commercial and reference maps of the United States. It was published by Sheldon and Company, located at the time on 8 Murray Street in New York, in 1879.

In 1879, when my discipline of Anthropology was still in academic diapers, Geography was defined as “that branch of science which describes the surface of the earth, the divisions and inhabitants” (p. 3). Apparently back then it was still important to show why we knew the earth was not flat. As the text explains:

We know that the earth is not a plain, because 1. Navigators have sailed around it; 2. The upper portions of objects at a distance, as a ship at sea, are seen before any other part; 3. The shadow of the earth, as seen at the time of an eclipse of the moon, has always the form of a circle or a segment of a circle. (p. 3)

In discussing land divisions some 20 different kinds are listed, including a desert (“a tract of land nearly or quite barren”) and an oasis (“a fertile spot in the desert”) with both of these rating an illustration as shown above.

to be continued


Which of these is the real loonie?

So here is late breaking news from the BBC: Terry Jones is banned from entering the UK. As it happens, of course, there is more than one Terry Jones out there and it is obvious that one of them is a loonie worthy of Monty Python satire. So which one is it? The one on the left or the one on the right (so far right he is off the end of a flat earth)?

The BBC clears up the confusion:

Controversial US pastor Terry Jones has been barred from entering the UK for the public good, the Home Office says.

The pastor, who last year planned a Koran-burning protest in the US, had been invited to address right-wing group England Is Ours in Milton Keynes.

The Home Office said Mr Jones could not enter the UK as the government “opposes extremism in all its forms”.

Mr Jones told BBC Radio 5 live he would challenge the “unfair” decision and his visit could have been “beneficial”. (more…)


Photo of Khawla Hadi, Kimberly Wedeven Segall and Marwa al-Mtowaq. Iraqi Voices Panel, March 2009; photo by Luke Rutan, Seattle Pacific University.

Iraqi Voices Project: Poetry Workshops, Alternative History, and Community Awareness

by Kimberly Wedeven Segall

The dead . . .
come in shifts . . .
in our dreams . . .
over the houses we left behind.

–Dunya Mikhail, The War Works Hard

How can universities work alongside communities to build understanding of the Iraqi refugee crisis? Historically, Iraq as a state was established in 1920, centered on Baghdad, and controlled first by the British and then by Iraqi governments. As the force of the state made demands upon the people, it caused its residents “to rethink existing political identities, values, and interests,” to engage in “strategies of cooperation, subversion, and resistance,” [1] as Charles Tripp argues, and to construct narratives “to understand and to justify their political engagement.” [2]

How do memories challenge the narratives the West has presented on Iraq? How does family memory record and preserve history, after so much history has been destroyed in the post-occupation loss of valuable historical records and objects from Iraq’s museums?

The Iraqi Voices Project, 2008-2009, was designed as a workshop forum. Reading and responding to Iraqi poetry, the workshop created a forum for telling stories of displacement in Iraq and building awareness of the challenges in relocating in Seattle, Washington. (more…)

One of my most admired paintings by a Yemeni artist is the painting shown above by the Adeni artist Abdulla al-Ameen. I purchased the painting a decade ago at an exhibition sponsored by Yemen’s Ministry of Culture. Al-Ameen received an M.F.A. in 1984 from the Fine Arts Academy in Moscow. In addition to illustrations in books, he has designed stamps for the Yemeni government. In 1987 he received Kuwait’s “Golden Dhow Medal” for his artistic achievements.


Grand Mosque in Bahrain

Tabsir contributor El-Sayed el-Aswad recently published an article entitled “The Perceptibility of the Invisible Cosmology: Religious Rituals and Embodied Spirituality among the Bahraini Shi’a” in Anthropology of the Middle East, Volume 5, Number 2, Winter 2010 , pp. 59-76. The article is available to subscribers of the journal or for purchase. The abstract is cited here:

This article analyses the relationship between the seen and the unseen in the cosmology and practices of Bahraini Shi’a. Rather than contrasting the visible and the invisible, the study delineates the hierarchical relations between them, within a whole or cosmology, as reflected in various discursive and non-discursive actions that are supported by the religious beliefs of Bahraini Shi’a. Issues of the Hidden Imam, concealment, dissimulation and other unseen dimensions of the cosmos are discussed. The article finds that the Shi’a construct the invisible in their social world by using visible ways of creatively enacting their hidden thoughts and beliefs, as represented in their religious discourses, rituals and body symbolism. Their belief in a divine higher power provides a source of emotional, spiritual and socio-political empowerment.


There are times when a picture needs no words. This photograph by Mohamed Kacimi provides such commentary on the current violence in Tunisia and all such dictatorial mentalities.

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