30 April, 2009

Ideas for Final Document/Masters' Thesis

After all of the studying I have done on the Middle East, during my undergraduate program at Michigan State University and now during my graduate program, I am finding myself more and more with the Caliphates (another way of saying dynastic rule). I especially like the time when there was a great transition in the Middle East from pre-Islam to the first couple of Caliphates: the Umayyads and the 'Abbasids.

One of my ideas for my final document is an historiography of the two caliphates, concentrating on their religious influence as well as the arts and architecture of the caliphs. Last semester I wrote a paper on the historical significance of the Arabian Nights and that really sparked my interest to lean more towards the arts and letters of the Middle East. So that's one idea.

As you can see by the maps, the Umayyad Caliphate covers a vast territory from the East at Damascus to the West at Cordova (al-Andalus). This territory is divided into two separate Caliphates as the Umayyads were pushed out of Damascus by the 'Abbasids and relocated (those that survived - which were very few) in what would become their second caliphate at Cordova. The 'Abbasids, on the other hand, occupied territory primarily in the vicinity of Iraq, Syria, and parts of neighboring areas. Their capital was moved to Baghdad and remained there for much of the time they ruled.

Another idea is to concentrate only on one of the caliphates: the 'Abbasids. This would allow me to be more detailed about the glory of their caliphate and especially of Baghdad. I am really interested in the history of Iraq before and during the middle ages, so this is another avenue I may pursue.

Of course, there is so much to research on this time period and so many possibilities for my final document. One thing that will remain unchanged is that I intend to do an historiography in the form of a more traditional thesis. And as always, I am open to suggestions on other possible topics.

24 April, 2009

Thus far...

As you can see, I have been mainly concentrating on some preliminary readings that pertain more to the courses I am taking at this time. I am hoping to get more into blogging about my topic later in the summer after I have visited the museums in Dearborn , MI and Washington DC.

23 April, 2009

Historians and Their Duties

I just finished reading an article titled "Historians and Their Duties" by Jonathan Gorman*. I found this article extremely fascinating. Gorman spent most of the article talking about philosophy and philosophers and how they relate to history and historians. This was kind of neat and opened up my mind to a different way of looking at the profession I am choosing.

So the question is "What is the responsibility of the historian?". Historians need to be accountable, tell the truth, follow a moral philosophy, connect the past with the present, and judge only when called to do so. Historians should not place history in the political or legal arenas as it can infringe on their abililty to tell the truth.

Some highlights from the article:
  • Plato: Philosophers thinking is best because they think correctly - are the only ones who do. So in this thinking, historians need to be philosophers. "Human moral failings are due to ignorance." (104).
  • Aristotle: Constrasts with Plato because people should know what to do but sometimes do differently. By this, historians should know right from wrong? "Human moral failings are due to desire." (104)
  • Utilitarian: Individual actions leading to the greater good - morally correct actions. Historians should strive to be morally correct.
  • Kant: Good Will or Free Will - Our intentions are more important than the action itself. So, historians should be consistent in their intentions.
  • Vincent Barry: 2-step moral decision-making process - "...(1) identify the important consideration involved and (2) decide where the emphasis should be". (107)

Gorman later discusses truth vs. lies and uses an example that is really fitting to today's "hot topics". He asks whether business execs have the duty to conceal the truth in order to boost stocks or not (108). I found that rather interesting considering what is happening with American (and even world) Markets and the financial crisis we are facing. It's almost as if he foreshadowed what would happen.

Another aspect of the article talks about Natural vs. Non-Natural duty. Here, Gorman says that all professions should abide by the same moral code, but there is another set of standards that apply when we volunteer for a specific position or institution. The moral code followed by all is called "Natural duty" and the other set of standards is the "Non-Natural duty". He says, "...they (students) have a right not to be killed by me and in virtue I have a 'natural' obligation not to kill them" (109). For non-natural duty, Gorman likens a judges responsibility to uphold the law regardless of morality.

So, what is the historians' responsibility? It is to tell the truth while maintaining moral convictions as well as any institutional standard that applies to them, and also engage the seeker of history (i.e. the reader, the student, etc.) and make history meaningful to them. It is to be respectful to history and the dead and somehow make connections between the past and present.

In my first year of college, 2001, I had a history teacher who was finishing her Master's degree. One of the things she instilled in me was that history is cyclical. She used the following to express this cycle: History = Change over Time. So, it is the historians express duty to convey that change over time in a truthful, meaningful manner while maintaining moral and institutional standards.


Gorman, Jonathan. "Historians and their Duties." History and Theory 43, no. 4, Theme Issue 43: Historians and Ethics (Dec. 2004): 103-117. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3590638. Accessed: 4/19/09/

16 April, 2009

Course Syllabus

One of the documents I am working on for my Applications I class is a syllabus for a class I may want to teach. Since I am really interested in the history of Iraq, and I have noticed that it is not a topic currently taught on it's own, I thought it would be fun to come up with a syllabus for that. I found a book that would be a great required text - Iraq: People, History, Politics by Gareth R. V. Stansfield (2007). I actually went online to www.bn.com and purchased it for my own personal library as it sounds like a good read. I initially found the book on Google Books and added it to my library there, but it is only a limited preview. That's one thing I don't like about Google Books, but I guess I will survive. lol

So far, I have outlined what the course activities would be, the outcomes, and some detail on the description. Some of the activities I would have in this class are: required readings (not limited to the text), reading journal, and a term paper - not having to mention the obvious mid-term and final exams. I think this course would be ideal as a Special Topics style course - an overview or examination of the history of Iraq. Something that an undergraduate would take at the junior or senior level after taking one or more classes in World History.

15 April, 2009

Experience & Education ~ John Dewey

One of the suggested readings for my Applications course is Experience & Education by John Dewey*. So far, I have only read two chapters of this 91 page book and am finding it both interesting and dry - very dry.

Some of the highlights from Chapter 1: Traditional vs. Progressive Education:
  • Educational Theory - Developed within, Formed without - what does this mean exactly?
  • Pattern of organization in a traditional school vs. lack of organization in progressive schools
  • Dewey says that the "very situation forbids much active participation by pupils in the development of what is taught" (19) - in experiential education, pupils are largely responsible for this development
  • A necessary and intimate relationship between experience and education (20)

Some highlights from Chapter 2: The Need of a Theory of Experience:
Dewey begins this chapter by stating that we need to know the definition of experience in order to understand empiricism, but the chapter doesn't seem to discuss much about empiricism. Here are the definitions I retrieved from the Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary (1984)
  • Experience: Apprehension of perception of an object, thought, emotion, or event through the senses or mind
  • Empiricism: The view that experience is the single source of knowledge
  • Experience in education needs to promote the growth of further experience
  • Following the path of least resistance prevents a quality experiential education experience
  • Experiences students have in traditional education teach boredom, limited judgemenet/ability, repetition of statistics/facts - those experiences don't necessarily bring about further experience in education
  • Quality of experience is most important
  • Dewey says that progressive education requires a philosophy of education based on a philosophy of experience (29)

What I got from the reading so far: education needs to engage the student - set the student up to want to experience more education in the future.


*Dewey, John. Experience & Education - a Kappa Delta Pi Lecture Series book. NY: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster, Inc.), 1938.

14 April, 2009

Ethics and the Public Historian

I just finished reading an article titled "The Historian's Responsibility in Litigation Support" by Craig E. Colten*. I chose this article as one of my readings for my ethics paper because it is a different perspective on the ethical role of an historian since most don't get into the profession to consult on court cases. While he uses a few of the cases he has consulted on as examples of what to do and not do, Colten primarily discusses the ethical responsibility of the historian in and out of a court room. He emphasizes that there are two sets of ethical standards to follow when in litigation: that of the historian and that of the law.

Some of my thoughts on the article:

Historians should strive to be bi-partisan - that is, not biased.
It is the historians responsibility to present all information in an unbiased fashion - and keep with the "prevailing wisdom". Try to keep an equal balance.
Historians need to be CREDIBLE and FOLLOW the evidence.
Historians are responsible for sharing their findings with their peers. This can be done through publication, scholarly journals, and conferences.
KNOW the difference between sealed documents and public domain documents.

Colten also compares the historian and non-historian where litigation is concerned. He says that the historian tries to keep his testimony broad where the non-historian's tends to be narrow and personalized.
*Article taken from The Public Historian, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 111-115 (Winter 2006).

12 April, 2009

Experiential Education

Part of my MA program requires me to experience my field: History and Culture of the Middle East. Therefore, one of the classes I am taking this semester is called "Applications I". This means that I get to do a lot of reading on the background of Experiential Learning/Education in addition to experiencing aspects of my field such as going to museums in Dearborn (MI) and Washington (DC), keeping a research journal (and this blog), and preparing scholarly journal articles/conference proposals and syllabi.

One of the articles I chose to read is called "On Defining Experiential Education" by Laura Joplin. In this article, Joplin describes a Five-Stage Model and Nine Characteristics pertaining to experiential education. Some of my thoughts on her Five-Stage Model and Nine Characteristics follow:

Five-Stage Model:
In order to truly experience learning, the learner must reflect on that experience. One way to do this is to keep a journal/blog on the things experienced.
  • Step 1: Focus = Presenting the activity - this can be direct or indirect depending on the activity
  • Step 2: Action = Interact with the activity - this does not mean education. It means to do the work to obtain the education. A good example of interaction is the learner deciding what is important to the activity and what is not. A textbook is not a good example as it does not allow the learner to decide. THE LEARNER MUST HOLD THE RESPONSIBILITY.
  • Step 3-4: Support/Feedback = Showing an interest in the learner - the "learnee" (teacher) helps when needed and discusses progress with the learner.
  • Step 5: Debrief = Reviewing the learners' activity in an organized fashion - this can be done through reflective papers, journals, and group work. REFLECTION is a big part of this step.

Nine Characteristics:
I will not list all of the characteristics here, but simply list my impressions of what they mean.
Experiential Education/Learning is:
  • Individual
  • Personal
  • Self-Evaluated
  • Growth

To summarize: Experiential Education/Learning not only allows the learner to learn, but also allows the "learnee" to learn from the learner. The learner and learnee should be engaged in the activity and each other during the learning process.
*Article taken from Journal of Experiential Education, 1981

11 April, 2009

Sources, sources, sources

So I have been browsing the library's journals for articles pertaining to my topic(s): Experiential Learning, Ethics (in the history profession), and the Umayyad Caliphate. Let's just say I am having more luck with the first topic and not so much with the other two. However, there is a wealth of books on the Umayyad's so that is a plus. Last semester I managed to get a "Special Borrower's" card from the University of South Florida's library, so I imagine I will be spending a lot of time there over the next few months! That's one good thing about living in a "college town" - even though Zephyrhills is "retirement central", I am within 20 minutes of the University, so it's a quick commute.

I just completed and submitted my first draft of the Learning Agreement for my Applications class and now I have to finish one for my Advanced Research Methods/Final Document Proposal class. I have to say that this has been an interesting experience so far in my education. Where we received a traditional syllabus from the professors at Michigan State University, at Union Institute & University we actually work with the professor to create one. I came into my Master's program with a little bit of independent learning under my belt from MSU, but I had no idea what I was getting into. I know that I will look back on this time at UI&U with much appreciation.

10 April, 2009

OK, My first thought and question

I was browsing through the online exhibit on the Freer and Sackler Galleries website last night and began to wonder why artists in the Middle East use cobalt blue so much in their artwork. Is there some significance in using the color blue? Did it have any special meaning to Islam? I hope that during my research on the caliphates that I will be able to find the answer.

Hello and Welcome

Welcome to my blog! I intend to use this space to discuss and share as I write my thesis over the next year. My working title is "From Iraq to Spain: Umayyad Influence Over Three Continents". It is my hope that I will be able to show how the Umayyad Caliphate was able to influence not only culture, but society as well in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East (especially Iraq). As I delve into my research for this project, I will post anything that interests me from my readings. I have also devoted part of this blog to links to professional organizations I belong to, websites pertaining to my research, and a bibliography of sorts. I welcome any and all feedback as well as suggestions as we travel along this path together.

Thank you for stopping by!