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If nineteenth-century Iranian women discovered time travel, where would they go? What would they bring back?



Photographer Shadi Ghadirian did not have these questions in mind, persay, but she is interested in how the Western world perceives Iranian woman like herself. In her photography series "Qajar," she brings out the cognitive dissonance that someone unfamiliar with Iran may experience, as well as comments about the position of women in society today.

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Illustration by Maxfield Parrish from The Arabian Nights, 1909

Sufrah was created by Marcel Schwob and appears in “Sufrah, Geomancer” (Vie Imaginaire, 1896). Schwob was also the creator of the King in the Golden Mask and Septima.

“Sufrah, Geomancer” is a sequel to the Arabian Nights. Moghrabi Sufrah is the magician who is Aladdin’s enemy in the Arabian Nights, but as “Sufrah, Geomancer” tells us, at the end of the Arabian Nights Sufrah’s body was not burned black by the drug he consumed, but rather put into a deep sleep. Sufrah escapes from Aladdin’s palace through a window while Aladdin is making love to the princess. But when Aladdin’s palace disappears to China, as happens in the Arabian Nights, Sufrah is left alone in the open desert, without any food or water. Nor does he have any magic charms he can cast or magic items he can use to rescue himself.

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A portrait of Malik Ambar signed by Hashem (C 1624-25); photo courtesy V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; A painting showing Jehangir shooting arrows into the severed head of Malik Ambar signed by Abul-Hasan (C 1616), © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (www.cbl.ie)

Earlier this year, my attention was drawn to a discussion on ‘India’s Elite Africans' held at the University of London:
“The dispersion of Africans is generally associated with slavery and the slave trade. Most Afro-Asians have been written out of history. Within this scenario, how was it possible for Africans to rule parts of Asia, not just for a few years but for three and a half centuries? Three scholars will address this issue and consider the current status of Elite Africans in India today.”

Due to my interest in Afro-Asian history, I know of relations between India and Eastern African states and kingdoms in history; however, I remained largely ignorant of elite Africans in Indian history. Malik Ambar is perhaps one of the most well-known Elite Africans due in part to his important role in Ahmadnagar history and to standing up to the Mughals.

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The current war fought in Libya in these days is drawing attention on that country and its history. This article is about the history of Libya from ancient times until World War II.

Only in recent times has the term "Libya" been in use, indicating the territories between Tunisia and Egypt; before its colonization, the area was called Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, two territories that had a separate historic development for centuries.

Libya before Italian Occupation: A Brief History

Tripolitania was initially under the control of Phoenicians while Cyrenaica was under the control of Greeks, who between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE founded Cyrene, Arsinoe, Apollonia, Tolemaide and Berenice: this territory was called Pentapolis, for the five cities present. Tripolitania passed from Phoenician influence to Carthaginian and after the Punic war, during the 1st century BCE, under Roman control. Cyrenaica, on the other hand, was under Persian influence (6th century BCE), then became a part of Alexander the Great’s Empire and afterwards, was put under the Hellenistic Reign of Egypt.

In 75 BCE, Romans took possession of the Cyrenaica, creating the province of Creta and Cyrene. In 46 BCE, Tripolitania was organized in the Africa province.


Arch of Roman emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (AD 146–211) in Leptis Magna.

Roman domination was limited only to coastal regions where cities had a relevant development. It is to be noted that Libya, for the Romans, was an integral part of the Republic/Empire and not a colony in foreign land: from that part of the Empire came emperors, philosophers, and Popes.

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Vathek was created by William Beckford and appeared in Vathek: An Arabian Tale from an Unpublished Manuscript, with Notes Critical and Explanatory (1786). Beckford (1760-1844) was one of English literature's real oddities. He lived a life of scandal and extravagance, both financial and sexual, and even in the 21st century his name retains the faint air of scandal. But more important than Beckford’s personal life is the fact that he wrote Vathek, one of the greatest of all Gothic novels.

Vathek, the grandson of Haroun al-Raschid, is the Caliph of Samarah. He is dedicated to sensual pleasure and has built five palaces, one for the enjoyment of each sense. Vathek has a “pleasing and majestic” figure, and a keen intellect. When angered his glance can kill. He has an enormous amount of determination and is willing to sacrifice much for his goals. But he is magnificently dissolute and addicted to pleasure, sensuality, and new sensations. He is enormously self-centered and considers the lives of others small prices to pay for his own happiness and the achievement of his goals. He is unable to resist temptation, and his own “unquiet and impetuous disposition” will not allow him to be content with the wealth and comfort he already has.

Vathek builds a mighty tower to better pursue his interest in astrology and to penetrate the secrets of Heaven, and Mahomet Himself sends genii to help Vathek, but the tower only shows Vathek how much he enjoys looking down on humanity from the its summit. But one day an intensely ugly creature arrives at Vathek’s court bearing wondrous objects, knives that cut without the hand being moved and sabers which harm those who the wielder wished harmed. The stranger does not speak to Vathek, so the hot-tempered Vathek has him imprisoned, only to find him vanished the next morning and his guards slain.

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Cahina was created by Leo Charles Dessar and appears in A Royal Enchantress (1900). Dessar (1847-1924) was a New York judge who was a part of the corrupt Tammany Hall political system.

There was a real Cahina (alternatively, “Kahena” or “Kahina”), a Queen of the Berbers in the 7th and 8th Century C.E. who fought against the Muslim invasion. Gibbons wrote about her in Volume 2, Chapter 514 of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
The Greeks were expelled, but the Arabians were not yet masters of the country. In the interior provinces the Moors or Berbers, so feeble under the first Caesars, so formidable to the Byzantine princes, maintained a disorderly resistance to the religion and power of the successors of Mohammed. Under the standard of their queen Cahina the independent tribes acquired some degree of union and discipline; and as the Moors respected in their females the character of a prophetess, they attacked the invaders with an enthusiasm similar to their own. The veteran bands of Hassan were inadequate to the defence of Africa: the conquests of an age were lost in a single day; and the Arabian chief overwhelmed by the torrent, retired to the confines of Egypt, and expected, five years, the promised succours of the caliph. After the retreat of the Saracens, the victorious prophetess assembled the Moorish chiefs, and recommended a measure of strange and savage policy.

"Our cities," said she, "and the gold and silver which they contain, perpetually attract the arms of the Arabs. These vile metals are not the objects of our ambition; we content ourselves with the simple productions of the earth. Let us destroy these cities; let us bury in their ruins those pernicious treasures; and when the avarice of our foes shall be destitute of temptation, perhaps they will cease to disturb the tranquility of a warlike people." The proposal was accepted with unanimous applause. From Tangier to Tripoli the buildings, or at least the fortifications, were demolished, the fruit trees were cut down, the means of subsistence were extirpated, fertile and populous garden was changed into desert, and the historians of a more recent period could discern the frequent traces of the prosperity and devastation of their ancestors. Such is the tale of the modern Arabians.


In the foreword to A Royal Enchantress Dessar wrote that he was struck by Gibbon’s passage: “the meager account of this beautiful Prophetess Queen of the Berbers was inspiring, yet irritating: it suggested so much, yet told so little.” From this Dessar spun an entertaining historical fantasy.

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Hajji Baba enjoys the company of Zeenab. After Ḥabl al-matin Persian tr., Calcutta, 1905, opp. p. 142. Caption & Image courtesy of Encyclopaedia Iranica. Click for source.



Hajji Baba was created by James Morier and appeared in Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824) and Hajji Baba in England (1827). Morier (1780-1849) was a British diplomat, adventurer, and author. He first went to Persia in 1807 and visited it and surrounding countries several times over the next decade. His desire to write something in the Persian style of Arabian Nights produced Hajji Baba of Ispahan.



Hajji Baba is a charming rogue, someone who began life as a barber/surgeon but whose wanderlust and desire for money led him to leave home on a caravan when he was only sixteen. But the course of roguery doth ne'er run smooth, and he is almost immediately captured by a band of Turcoman bandits. Hajji Baba lets himself be captured a second time by a shahzadeh (prince) and is taken to Meshed, where he becomes a water carrier. Hajji Baba sprains his back carrying water–his boastfulness leads him to take on far too much weight, including that of his main rival–and so he becomes an itinerant vender of smoke. But he cuts his tobacco with dung once too often and is caught by the Mohtesib (“the Mohtesib is an officer who perambulates the city, and examines weights and measures, and qualities of provisions”) and bastinadoed for his fraud. So Hajji Baba becomes a dervish, telling colorful stories and shaking down listeners for money; he stops in mid-story, just when things are getting good, and asks for donations in exchange for his continuing. He then becomes a doctor to the Shah of Persia, a position he loses due to an imprudent love affair. And so on and so forth, for hundreds of pages, through colorful stories and attractive boasts and genial swindles and painless mendacity and jovial hypocrisy and maidens fair and wry observations at the foibles of the mighty and the poor.



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As many know and some who may not know, Secondlife has been one of the top multimedia social platform since it's release in June of 2003. It's said that people can reinvent themselves, discover dreams, play games, and of course, make a little money. You want it, SL has it! So why would it be such a shock to have such a fun, fantastical steampunk desert world? Personally, it's the infamous world of the “Sims” on steroids of amazing measure.

Enter Cala Mondrago, a sim (plot of land in Secondlife), named and designed after the ancient culture of the Moors. The name “Cala Mondrago” comes from a city within the island of Majorca, a location full of life, color, splendor, and creativity. All things that sim owner Bianca Namori wishes to foster.




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For Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), I'm spending the day with my family (and getting in gear for TempleCon.) But I wanted to leave a little note for today to those who celebrate Lunar New Year's in any manner.

Most people would recognize that today is Chinese New Year, and that it is the Year of the Metal Rabbit.

For the Vietnamese, however, Feb 2nd was the start of our New Year, the Year of the Metal Cat.

Either one sounds pretty steampunk, though.


teampunk rabbit ring. Click for link.


Andrew Chase's cheetah. Click for link.

After the jump, check out some more info about how Lunar New Year is recognized around the world.

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Note: This is the second in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Here are parts 1 and 2. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.

 




The Ming Dynasty's fleet of giant ships predates the Columbus expedition across the Atlantic. Photograph of the display in the China Court of the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Click for more info.

In 1414 a Chinese fleet heralded by the Muslim Grand Eunuch of the Three Treasures, Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) sailed into the western Indian Ocean for the fourth time since his journey to the East began in 1405. In previously, that is between 1405 and 1414, Zheng He and his ships had reached the ports of Indonesia, south-west India and Ceylon. However, the trip in 1414 was special because the fleet was advancing into more distant regions beyond South Asia and the Arabian Gulf and in the process, covering a larger total of water than any seafaring people had before.

Zheng He is frequently referred to as the Chinese Columbus and today he has become the personification of maritime endeavour for China. I am personally not fond of this comparison between Zheng He and Columbus; Zheng He was much cooler they shouldn’t even be compared. They are not on the same level in terms of their maritime adventures. Really to me calling Zheng He the Chinese Columbus actually dims his shine.

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Note: Cross-posted with permission from Yakoub Islam from his website The Muslim Age of Steam on The Steampunk Shariah.

Middle Eastern Astrolobe. 1291.
Middle Eastern Astrolobe. 1291.

In Summer 2009, I made the bold decision to write a full-length novel. It seemed like the perfect solution to a troubled and difficult decade, which had largely centred around caring for my autistic son: a return to an old passion – creative writing; a therapeutic outlet following a period of mental and physical illness; and perhaps a means of drawing together the various intellectual and spiritual threads that have informed my faith and eclectic reading over the last 20-odd years. I began by exploring the imaginative possibilities surrounding the first recorded Muslim visit to England, allegedly made by the twelfth century geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi. A small cast of characters was assembled, along with possible subplots, themes and a couple of draft chapters. Yet after twelve months of research and writing, the various elements of my intended novel remained disparate, and I almost gave it up.

I wondered whether the problem wasn’t down to a contradiction that I’m sure many writers have experienced – between creative and publishing ambitions. I wanted to write a one of a kind book, but who would want to read it?

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Note: This is the first in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.


"Comprehensive map of the Four Seas (Si Hai Zong Tu)". A copy of an ancient Chinese explorer map that had survived to the 17th century and found in the 1730 book “Records of Sights and Sounds of Overseas States” (Haiguo Jianwen Lu) authored by Chen Lunjiong"

Last year while I was researching for my dissertation, I came across a footnote that mentioned that the first Africans who reached ancient China (the particular period was not specified) were two slaves given as gifts to the Emperor by an envoy of Arab traders. I found myself wondering what happened to them, were the slaves male or female, were they killed immediately or did they go on to serve the Emperor, did they have children (it was possible!) etc.

It keeps on popping up, one or two sentences or a footnote that quickly says something about Africans in ancient China, whether in Peking or Canton but there is never enough information. To be honest I’d like to know more. If I could, I’d travel back in time just to see the daily lives of those Africans in ancient China. I’ve read that most of them were slaves of Arab traders and lived among the Arab settlements in Canton…things will become clearer from here on, I promise.

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For the last post of the year, I'm enjoying a post-holiday recoup and a some good steampunky links. Featuring some oldies but goodies, great vids, the launch of SteamCast in Brazil, and pretty steampunk art after the jump.

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This weekend, I'm rockin' it out at New York Comic Con. I'm there mostly doing the Day Job thing, unfortunately (though, if I can, I might wear my steampunk for Sunday.)

For anyone who manages to recognize me in my civvies, though, you'll probably end up being filmed or photographed, if you're looking fabulous and want to flaunt it.

In the meantime, enjoy the linkspam below. This edition features lots of interesting essays, some awesome postcards, and a video of my interview with Cherie Priest.

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Note from Ay-leen: This the third and final part of a series of guest posts from Matt Delman, Proprietor of Free the Princess and Doc Fantastique's Show of Wonders.



The rise-fall-rise of Dost Mohammad was one of the most central facets of the Great Game as it was played in Afghanistan. His son, Mohammad Akbar Khan, had already proven that the Afghanis could send Britain packing from their mountainous nation when his campaign to restore his father to the Emirship succeeded in the early 1840s. Mohammad Akbar Khan, however, died in 1845, removing one of the most anti-British figures of the past few years from the playing field.



It took more than a decade after the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War before the British made overtures to renew relations with Dost Mohammad. In 1854, they made the opening moves at Kabul, and in 1855 the Afghans and the British signed the Treaty of Peshawar. The two nations agreed to respect each other’s territorial boundaries and to make friends with each other’s friends and enemies of each other’s enemies.



In October 1856, the Persians attacked the city of Herat for the second time that decade (1852 was the first). The British came to Afghanistan’s aid, in keeping with their policy of maintaining that nation’s territorial integrity. After only three months of fighting, the Persians were expelled from Herat. Soon after the end of that conflict, in 1857, the British and Afghans signed an addendum to the Treaty of Peshawar that allowed the British to station a military mission at Kandahar.



During the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, certain officials in British India suggested restoring Peshawar to Afghanistan in return for Dost Mohammad’s assistance during the mutiny. However, the idea was rejected because several officials on the northwest frontier thought Dost Mohammad would see such a gift as weakness on the part of the British government in India.



In 1863, the British finally allowed Dost Mohammad to retake Herat and add it back into the Afghani national territory. By this time, a series of Liberal governments in London regarded Afghanistan as a Buffer State against Russian interests in Central Asia. The southern border of the Russian Empire was on the opposite side of the Aral Sea from Afghanistan, and even stopped at the Syr Darya, which runs through modern Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, throughout much of the 1860s.





The path of the Syr Darya, with modern country names. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. (click for link)



On the map above, you can see Toshkent, also called Tashkent, slightly inside the border of Uzbekistan. It’s the black dot beneath the H in Chirchiq, if you’re having problems seeing it. By 1865, the Russian Empire had formally annexed Tashkent. This expanded the border of the territory Tsar Alexander II controlled across the entire length of the Syr Darya. Within a few years, Russian forces would move through Uzbekistan and the mountainous Central Asian khanates subduing one after another with ease. The Emir of Bukhara signed a treaty with Russia in 1868 that placed his nation under Russian protection, after a brief war that the Russians handily won. Russia took control of Samarkand, an important city in Bukharan territory, and five years later would make Bukhara a protectorate of the Russian Empire.



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Note from Ay-leen: This the second in a series of guest posts this week from Matt Delman, Proprietor of Free the Princess and Doc Fantastique's Show of Wonders.

The Crimean War


The Crimean War of October 1853 to February 1856 is so named because much of the land-based engagements took place on the Crimean Peninsula, which juts out into the Black Sea and in modern times is an autonomous republic within the Ukraine. The battles didn’t only occur on the peninsula; the naval conflicts occurred in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the White Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. Some additional land battles also happened in Western Turkey.





 


Ostensibly, the conflict was over who had the right to protect Christians and Christian holy places in Palestine: France, who had protected Christians and the Holy Places since two treaties in 1690 and 1740, respectively, which acknowledged Roman Catholic responsibility in the region; or Russia, who spoke for the Eastern Orthodox Church that claimed most of the Christians in the area as devotees.



Perhaps most interesting about this situation is that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church declined between 1740 and 1820. There simply were not that many Roman Catholics in the Holy Land; the Christians that did live in Palestine were more likely to be Eastern Orthodox, and thus under the protection of the Russian Empire. Tsar Nicholas I also saw himself as ordained by God to lead the Orthodox Church and protect the adherents of that church in the world. By 1840, Russian pilgrims were flocking to the Holy Land, which gave the Tsar the excuse he needed to demand greater say in the Holy Land from the Ottoman Sultan.

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Note from Ay-leen: This the first in a series of guest posts this week from Matt Delman, Proprietor of Free the Princess and Doc Fantastique's Show of Wonders.



***





A map that tracks the decline of the Ottoman Empire from 1798 to 1923. Image courtesy of zonu.com



The time: 1807, when the Napoleonic Wars still raged in Europe. The place: London, England. Agents of the Crown have recently reported that Tsar Alexander I of Russia signed a treaty with Napoleon Bonaparte that suggested the French Emperor would receive Russian aid in his war against Great Britain, and in return Russia was to receive Moldavia and Wallachia — two European possessions of the flagging Ottoman Empire.



If the Ottoman Sultan refused to turn over the provinces, then France and Russia would invade the Empire and partition its lands — Greece and much of the Balkans included — between their two nations. The addition of such wide swathes of territory to its two enemies’ spheres of influence was bad enough news for the British Crown. However, even worse news was that Napoleon suggested that France and Russia steal away the jewel in the British Crown.



India.

“Napoleon’s plan – which died with his defeat – was that a French army of 50,000 should march across Persia and Afghanistan, and there join forces with the Cossacks for the final thrust across the Indus River into India (Kathleen Burk).”

There remained a singular problem with this plan: Napoleon had no idea of the geography of India. For that matter, the British realized, neither did they. More than two centuries of involvement in the nation of India hadn’t garnered any knowledge of the internal geography of the landscape; the British had previously confined themselves to the coastal regions where their ships could easily reach.



The focus of the East India Company was on sea routes and sea routes only, which were the best way to transport trade goods back to England. Napoleon’s plan, though abortive, necessitated an investigation into the interior of the Indian subcontinent. For if the East India Company didn’t know where the overland lines of attack were, then how could they defend against an invasion?



Thus, in 1810, orders were given, and Lt. Henry Pottinger and Capt. Charles Christie volunteered to conduct a survey of the potential land routes invasion could come by. The men exercised extreme caution, disguising themselves as Indians and taking two servants and a local horse dealer along as companions. Such a disguise was necessary because if the tribesmen along their route saw two Europeans, they would assume that Christie and Pottinger were making notes to plan an invasion of the tribal lands. Notes had to be made in secret and hidden on the body where no one could find them.



Christie, Pottinger, and their party travelled from Bombay to Sind via ship, and then overland from Sind to Kalat. The men were immediately recognized as British officials, and were forced to escape in the middle of the night. Eventually, they reached Nushki, a city near the border of Afghanistan and Baluchistan.

At Nushki, Christie went northwest to Herat, and thence to Isfahan, whilst Pottinger travelled through Kerman to Shiraz, and joined Christie in Isfahan. Each had feared the other had died, but when each heard that there was another European in the town, they agreed to meet – but only after some minutes did they recognise each other. Other explorers followed over the years, filling in the blanks on the maps. (Burk)”

Thus began the opening moves of what would come to be known as The Great Game, a term crafted by British spy Arthur Conolly in 1829 and popularized in the 1901 novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling. In 1807, there were 2,000 miles of territory between British and Russian lands in Central Asia. By the end of the classic Great Game period in 1907, fewer than 20 miles separated the possessions of the two empires.



Read at BeyondVictoriana.com
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Work has been hectic as of late, and I'm also in the midst of preparing for Dragon*Con. I don't have as much new stuff planned out for this week as I had hoped, but have you checked out my essay series about multiculturalism in steampunk yet? And see the links below for more good things to read/watch/run in the streets shouting about.

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Note for Ay-leen: There has been a little switch in the guest post schedule, and Michael Redturtle's post has been moved to next week.
***


Harun Ar-Raschid (also spelled as Harun Al-Raschid) was a caliph of Baghdad during the Abbasid dynasty who reigned from 786 to 809 A.D. His court was arguably the most memorable of the Abbasid dynasty, and he was the inspiration for many tales in One Thousand and One Nights.

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I'm preparing for some big events in May (like co-hosting two panels at the Steampunk World's Fair. Will you be coming? It's bound to be INTELLECTUALLY STIMULATING and IMMENSELY ENTERTAINING.) Thus, the next post will be delayed. But never fear, I have some nifty reads that have been building up in my inbox for you to check out after the cut.



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