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    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2009 edited
    So in the WC chat the past week, it seems like the conversations inevitably end up with me answering (or trying to) questions about history. So I thought I'd start a discussion up about it!

    Do you have any questions about history? Want to know more about something or find out if what you know is a historical myth? Ask away! If you're wondering, I'm a grad student (working on my doctorate). I specialize in Middle Eastern (particularly Turkish-Ottoman) history, but before that I focused on Roman classical history.

    So ask away! (and if you know the answer, go ahead and answer! I know a lot of you know more about a lot of subjects than me!)
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2009 edited
    One in your area of specialisiation

    We keep hearing how Sunni/shia conflict in Iraq was inevitable and was just the latest upsurge in centuries of sectarian bloodletting.

    My limited reading of Iraqi history suggests that that is largely incorrect, care to comment?

    Another one: given the limited democratic reforms introduced by the Young Turks prior to world War I, is it fair to say that the Anglo-French mandates actually reversed and retarded the development of democracy in the Arab world?
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2009
    Cool, thanks! I'll start on that book you recommended and get back to you, am sure I will have plenty of questions. :)

    (for the record so far, we have established that sifting through pottery chips in troy is boring, nero kicked his pregnant wife to death because she said his acting sucked, but emperors having people crushed to death by rose petals is an urban legend. Oh yeah and Looneynerd got shot at by Nazis while on a dig. He refused to answer whether or not he found the grail.)
  1.  (5230.4)
    Wow Kosmopolit, you go straight for the jugular!

    The first question is a bit complex, but I'll try to keep it simple.

    Sunni's are the vast majority of Muslims in the world, and inhabit all of the Dar-al Islam in reasonably large numbers. Shi'a adherents are a small minority, inhabiting parts of Iraq and Iran (mostly). The historical Islamic empires were normally divided based on what kind of Islam the subscribed to, but most of the empires were one or the other. There was fighting, of course (the early Turkish empire fighting the Sassanids, for instance) but within empires, violence was rare because of the complete ubiquity of religious freedom in the Islamic world. Christians, Jews, Sunni's, and Shi'ites all had most of the same rights in empires from the Sassanids to the Almohads. The ruling religious party always had a few extra rights (tax exempt status, for instance), but otherwise things were fairly equal.

    This became hugely true when the Ottomans took over most of the Arab world. They organized their empire into a system of semi-autonomous Millets organized around ethno-religious lines; Greek communities were governed locally by Christian Greeks and followed Christian law, while Muslim Kurd populations were governed by Islamic Kurdish law. As long as you payed your taxes, and supported the Sultan militarily, you were left pretty much alone.

    This all changed with the European colonization of the mid east. The concept of a "nation" was foreign, and dividing the Middle East into nations after the worlds wars was a huge mistake; suddenly, you had dozens of religious and ethnic groups who didn't get along trying to live together, normally ruled over by a group greatly opposed to their own beliefs. So the short answer is, kind of. You can't expect groups that are used to governing themselves to be ruled by somebody that strongly opposes their own beliefs in what they see as a non-democratic manner. I'd like to point out that radical Islam is a concept that didn't really exist until the 1800s; before that, Jihads were rarely called, and only when the Qu'ran warranted it. That is to say, a Jihad bil Salif (Jihad by the Sword). In all forms of early Sha'ria, this said that you only went to holy war when Muslims were being kept from worshiping (under the crusader states, for instance).

    Second question;

    That's one really really really complex. In short, I'd say no. It hamstrung the Arab world economically and led to much of the hatred now directed at the west, but it's effects on democracy are a bit more murky. Obviously, with the 1923 Turkish revolution, a result of the mandates, it helped to propel democracy forward. The rest of the Arab world? not so much. Outside of Turkey, other governments, like the "New Caliphate" led by Hussein bin Ali, were trying to become more tightly-centralized governmental systems. So It's a matter of opinion really; countries like Turkey became heavily democratic, others, like Egypt, became somewhat democratic, and others, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, became dictatorships and monarchies.
  2.  (5230.5)
    Can you recommend some good sources (preferably on the net) for the pre-colonial history of subsaharan Africa?

    The stuff I have read on the Ashanti and the Kingdom of Kongo for exaple just seems wildly at variance with the popular image of isolated tribes living in the middle of the jungle.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009 edited
    As far as net sources, I'm not sure. But if you're affiliated with a University (student, teacher, staff, etc.) you can get some good books through a lot of Inter-library loan systems. If you're really lucky, your local public library might have a similar system.

    As far as books, a great starting source is a texbook called "Africa in World History" by Jonathan Reynolds. It's a really nice look at Sub-Saharan African history.

    There are a few places online you can find good stuff. H-World is a message board for professional historians. It has a really good search system, to the point where it's almost like an academic-quality wiki! In the meantime, I'll look for some other stuff. The Wikipedia entries on the Songhai Empire, the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire, and the Aksumite Empire are all really good. I have several colleagues who have edited them, and I did quite a bit of the writing on the Songhai empire myself!
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2009 edited
    Looks like another thrilling Saturday night following Wiki links lies ahead.
  3.  (5230.8)
    Remember wiki has a reference section too ;)
  4.  (5230.9)
    I found this website via a Wikipedia reference.

    Any idea how good it is?
    • CommentAuthorJigsy Q
    • CommentTimeMar 7th 2009
    What attracted you to the Ottoman Turks in patricular?

    I'm interested in Turks too, but more the older, far-eastern states like the Gokturks and the Uighurs.
  5.  (5230.11)

    I have no idea. I've not heard of it.

    @Jigsy Q

    I wanted to stay away from Western Civ. I got too much of it as a kid. I visited Turkey on a Study Abroad trip one summer, and fell in love with the country. It just made sense! Plus, good job opportunity; not many middle east/ central asia specialists out there, so future prospects are good. The best part? they kept great records, making the job that much easier!
  6.  (5230.12)
    How many languages can you read/write?
  7.  (5230.13)
    That site's bizarre - most of it seems to be very well-written, well-researched mainstream history. Then you get to the Middle Eastern stuff and realise the author's a young Earth creationist and biblical literalist. Stills lots of interest stuff though.
  8.  (5230.14)
    The Alphabets I can read are:
    Latin, Cyrillic, Devanagari (What they use to write in Sanskrit), Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and Persian (These last three are all pretty similar).

    The languages I can speak well are:
    English, German, Arabic, Ottoman Turkish

    I can also "get by" with modern Turkish, and I'm trying to learn more of it, but I wouldn't say I'm great at it or anything. I've also picked up key phrases in Japanese and Spanish (Spanish will be the next language I hit hard).
  9.  (5230.15)
    lol hey, I'm home on a Saturday, so I'll throw my hat into the ring as well. Premodern European specialist here (I know I know, so banal)- if you've any questions, hit me, and I'll do my best to answer or tell you "I don't know" truly.
  10.  (5230.16)
    Wow, I'm only 1/2 way to a MA at 34- I feel like I'm waaay behind.
  11.  (5230.17)
    @ thewaltonsare- Piffle I say. You work at the speed that keeps you as healthy as possible. Advanced degrees ain't no joke.
  12.  (5230.18)
    I agree. Out of my current class, we started with 15. We're down to four. It's better to take your time and not burn out!
  13.  (5230.19)
    I've learned that going to school while working as a teacher full time and being a mom can make me a bit insane. I can only manage one class at a time. Yay for online classes.
    • CommentAuthorJigsy Q
    • CommentTimeMar 8th 2009
    Who's your favorite Sultan?