#ShelfieSunday: Bedouin Heritage

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Bedouin Heritage: The World of the Arabian Horse

by Matthias Oster
Review by Hylke Hettema

   In Bedouin Heritage (2016), Matthias Oster proposes to take his readers on a journey back in time to a world long gone.  The author argues that in order to grasp the nature and understand the concept of the Arabian horse, one must venture into its world; that of the Bedouin.  He aims to give the reader a new perspective by re-sketching the surroundings and society from which the breed emerged through “numerous citations from authorities from many centuries, disciplines and origins from all over the world.”

   The enormous amount of information presented in this work is organized in a surprising, yet familiar framework. Using the example of the notorious Lawrence of Arabia and his pillars[1], combined with the idea that biblical evidence supports such an outline, the author presents us somewhat a guidebook for understanding and breeding Arabian horses based on seven pillars. A brief description of the desert and most of its animal inhabitants sets the stage for the saga of the Arab Nomads.  A chapter about Bedouin history circles around the connection between the bible and Bedouin.  Three main arguments are made to support this connection; first the idea that the bible contains an accurate description of Bedouin society, and matches that of the early Orientalist renderings of encounters with Bedouin in the Middle East. Second the author links the camel, the center of Bedouin society and culture, to Abraham and Ishmael.  And third it is argued that Bedouin society is based on kinship systems that are found in the Bible. A chapter on Bedouin society follows. Using Orientalist writings and Biblical examples, the author elaborates on the social but also infra- structures of Arab Nomads. In this chapter the camel plays a more prominent role in the narrative and it isn’t until the aspect of religion is discussed that more examples about the role and position of horses are brought forward.

   This changes in the next chapter on Bedouin tribes, in which the author discusses the Arab tribes who have been known to keep horses.  To make it tangible, the connection to current breeding programs is made by showing which tribes bred certain horses that have been imported across the globe in the modern period. Subsequently the topic of strains (bloodlines) is brought up. A brief overview of the concept of strain-theory among breeders is provided before the author elaborates on the various strains, illustrated by photos of famous horses throughout recent history. A brief chapter called Bedouin Tradition discusses the role of Arabic poetry featuring horses and horse descriptions, followed by a chapter on the characteristics of the Bedouin horse and a scientific chapter about all things medical regarding horses and some genetic diseases particular to Arabian horses. A concluding chapter brings the reader back to the Bible and the proposed connection between Bedouin culture and biblical scriptures.

   Despite its popularity among Arabian horse enthusiasts, this work can not be compared to the average book on the breed. It contains far more detailed and carefully selected information about the Bedouin society and culture from which this breed is said to have sprouted. The author is also touching upon public debates about purity of blood and the concept of strain theory and subsequent breeding strategies. The chapter about the tribes is a treasure of information not only to breeders of Arabian horses but also to those who research migration and cultural exchange.

   A reader with a more general interest in both nomads and horses may however be overwhelmed by the amount of text and detail of the book. The focus lies with a specific type of Arabian horses[2] and many of the names and examples of individual horses given may be lost on a reader with no background knowledge of tribal systems and Arabian horse bloodlines of the Middle East.  An academic reader will notice the use of rather outdated or refuted sources, as well as an enormous corpus of Orientalist material. When it comes to the description of the desert and perhaps the animals it might not cause trouble, but using, and in this case, literally copying Orientalist works to sketch Bedouin society, tradition and ‘qualities’ is at least dubious. It would seem the author is not aware of the contextualization needed for both Oriental works as well as Arabic poetry. He does mention such poetry probably is more symbolic than real, but does not show the ongoing debate surrounding the idea of the existence of actual Pre-Islamic poetry.

   In conclusion Bedouin Heritage deserves to be ranked among the better works on Arabian horses as product of Bedouin society and culture. Especially when readers are looking for a detailed overview of the concept of both Bedouin life as well of the idea of the Arabian horse. To a more seasoned reader on the topic of Oriental horses this work however comes across as somewhat neo-Orientalist, mainly because of the constant efforts to tie the concept of Arabian horse breeding to the Bible as well as the justification of appropriation of the breed by others than Arabs/Bedouin themselves. It may be clear that the author admires the romantic adventures of the Orientalist writers on the topic very much and has tried to re-create his own story in a similar manner, therefore part of his goal is completed. While none of this information is in fact new, the book offers a unique perspective in terms of its enormous amount of information.

[1] Lawrence, T.E. Seven Pillars of Wisdom. 1922

[2] Straight Egyptian/Asil Arabians

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CFP: Animal/Language: An Interdisciplinary Conference

Held in conjunction with the art exhibition “Assembling Animal Communication”

CALL FOR PAPERS
Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 21-23 March 2019

Confirmed Invited Speakers:

Catherine Chalmers, Stanford University Adrienne Martín, University of California, Davis

   Animals and language have a complicated relationship with one another in human understanding. Every period of history evinces a fascination with the diverse modes of communicative exchange and possibilities of linguistic community that exist both within and between species. Recent critics of anthropocentrism are far from the first to question the supposed muteness of the “dumb animal” and its ontological and ethical ramifications. Various cultures have historically attributed language to animals, and we have developed an increasingly sophisticated scientific understanding of the complex non-verbal communicative systems that animals use among themselves. New research complements millennia of human-animal communication in the contexts of work, play, and domestic life.

   Some people have extensive experience with real, live Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 5.02.37 PM.png
animals. Some primarily encounter animals as products of the food industry. Some focus on animal representations in text or image, or deploy the abstract
figure of “the animal” as limit or counterpart of the human. These interactions condition different ways of
“thinking with animals,” including: using them in and as language or in experimentation, recruiting them as
symbols and metaphors, incorporating them into idiomatic expressions, projecting moral values onto them, and ventriloquizing them for purposes of cultural critique. A vast archive of literary, artistic, philosophical, historical, religious, and scientific explorations testifies that the boundaries and complementarities relating animals and language have always captured the human imagination.

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 5.02.47 PM    Animal/Language aims to create an interdisciplinary dialogue on the relationship between “animals” and “language” that considers both what connects and what separates these two key terms. The conference hopes to generate new scientific inquires and creative synergies by initiating conversation and exchange among scholars in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.

We therefore invite researchers from all fields, periods, and geographical areas to propose contributions engaging questions such as:

  • What are the real, imagined, or potential relationships between animals and language(s)?
  • What are animal languages?
  • What spaces or functions does the animal occupy within human language and cultural representation?
  • What is the role of animals in aesthetic or artistic meaning-making processes?
  • How do our interactions with animals shape our conceptions of animals and language?
  • How and why do we communicate with animals?
  • How and why do animals communicate with us?
  • How and why do animals communicate with one another?
  • What philosophical, ethical, and political questions are raised by different ways of affirming and denying connections between animals and language?
  • How should any of the above questions be historicized?

    Proposal Submission Deadline: September 30, 2018

       Proposals for 20-minute papers should be no more than 300 words long and include 3-5 keywords identifying your discipline and topic(s). All abstracts will be reviewed anonymously; please provide author name(s) and affiliations in your submission email, but omit them from your abstract itself. Please submit all proposals (in .docx or .pdf form) and questions to animallanguage2019@gmail.com. We plan to inform participants in early November.

    With many thanks,
    The Conference Organizers

    Dr. John Beusterien (Spanish), Dr. Belinda Kleinhans (German), Dr. Katy Schroeder (Animal & Food Sciences), Dr. Lucas Wood (French), Dr. Pamela Zinn (Classics), in collaboration with Joe Arredondo (Landmark Arts) and Dr. Kevin Chua (Art History)

CFP: session on medieval equestrian history at IMC Leeds 2019

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   “Your horse won’t eat any oats, nor will he be bled until I get my revenge” threatens his lady Orgeuilleux de la Lande, making his displeasure evident by abusing the lady’s horse. Horses were vital agents in daily life throughout the medieval period, but with the advent of technology in the twentieth century, they have been somehow marginalized in academic studies. Recently, interest in equine history has surged, but there are still many issues waiting to be tackled by scholars.

   In this fourth year of thematic horse sessions at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, we invite papers on the following themes:

    • Breeding, training, feeding and curing horses
    • Osteological study of horse remains
    • Equipment for ridden and working horses
    • Horse-related buildings and infrastructure (stables, roads, hippodromes, markets, etc.)
    • Horses in the East and West – regional peculiarities
    • Imaginary, fantastic and magical horses and equids, including unicorns, centaurs and grotesques, and their relation to real horses
    • Other equids and ridden animals (donkeys, mules, zebras, etc.)

   If you would like to propose a theme that does not fit in the above categories, please contact the organizers.

   Paper abstracts (up to 500 words) and short biographies (up to 100 words) are to be sent to Dr Anastasija Ropa (Anastasija.Ropa@lspa.lv) and Dr Timothy Dawson (levantia@hotmail.com) by 31 August 2018.

   Publication of selected papers is planned.

   If you would like to be involved in organizing the sessions or editing or reviewing the publication, please contact the organizers (Anastasija.Ropa@lspa.lv, levantia@hotmail.com).

#ShelfieSunday: Horse Nations

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Horse Nations, by Peter Mitchell, 2015. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Review by Kathryn Renton

   In Horse Nations (2015), Peter Mitchell offers a wide-ranging synthesis of archaeological, ethnographic and material culture studies to describe the impact of horses in the “post-1492” world. Horses, reduced to Eurasia from their original evolutionary footprint, were then reintroduced by European efforts to colonize the Americas, Africa and Oceanasia. The rapid emergence of the “equestrian nomad”, like the Apache in North America and the Mapuche in Chile, demonstrates the dramatic transformations that horses could bring in just a short period of time.

   Mitchell moves beyond the stereotypical image of the indigenous raider on horseback to explore the diverse range of responses to the expanding presence of the horse. Using critical post-colonial methodology, contact with the horse becomes a set of mutually entangling processes, rather than externally imposed or internally motivated change in the areas affected by European colonization.[1] In collecting material culture evidence for dynamic processes of ethnogenesis that accompanied the adoption of the horse, Mitchell reviews nine distinct ecological regions and offers a four part typology: first, hunter-gatherer or mobile groups that became equestrian nomads, largely for big game hunting in the Prairie and Gran Chaco regions; second, semi-mobile pastoralists, using horses as accessories to other economic pursuits like herding, including the Navajo, Comanche and Australian aborigine; third, raiders and traders interested in the horse as an object for consumption, including the Great Basin Utes and South African Khoe; and fourth, sedentary and hierarchical groups that adopted horses for less obvious economic motives, most strikingly the Araucanians in the Southern Cone.

   Mitchell, a specialist in South African archaeology of nomadism, ranges far afield in his proposal for the category of “horse nations” as a particular global phenomenon that emerged in the sixteenth through nineteenth century. Beyond the question of the horse itself, Mitchell aims to provoke a broader comparative examination of nomadism. Through this overview, Mitchell makes the case for gradations in the range of movement and social stratification used to identify characteristic cultural traits based on interaction with adoption of the horse in diverse regions, without distinguishing ‘equestrian nomads’ from pastoralist nomads, and its reflection on the degree of sophistication in indigenous culture groups.[2]

   Instead, Mitchell introduces the unpredictable role of “ontological relations” as an explanatory factor for the degree of adaptive flexible that made it possible to accommodate the horse.[3] While not fully developed in this work, the anthropological concept of ontological relations determining human-animal relations moves beyond the functional or environmental determinism of older archaeological and anthropological studies of nomadic cultures. It nevertheless raises new areas for greater scrutiny about the distinctions between domestic and wild animals. In this respect, incorporation of zooarchaeological literature and research would substantially complement Mitchell’s survey.

   Despite the global interest of this book, more attention is paid to the extant literature focused in the Americas, and makes evident the lacuna in other complementary regional literature, particularly in the African continent. One extensive barrier, within the field of archaeology, stands at the division between prehistoric archaeology and palentology and later historical and ethnohistorical uses of archaeology. A second barrier to comparative nomadic studies appears in the vast leap from early hunter-gatherer interactions with feral horses and the historical development of domesticated horse populations, making clear the need for a new synthesis about the place of nomadism in Eurasian developments. Thus, as an enormously expansive, although not yet exhaustive, survey of major secondary works and primary studies, Horse Nations enriches the potential engagement between archaeology, history and anthropology on the topic of the horse in human-animal studies. It points the way to more work to come.

[1] See debate in American anthropological literature about cultural change attributed to the horse (Wissler 1912; Roe, 1955) or pre-existing trends within recipient cultures (Palermo, 1989)

[2] Thomas Barfield, 2015

[3] Philippe Descola 2013, Tim Ingold 2000

#SourceSaturday: The Secret History of the Mongols

“There came into the world a blue-grey wolf….his wife was a fallow deer.”

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    The Secret History is part creation myth, part family history, part regional history. There is some debate as to when it was written. Christopher P. Atwood dates it to 1264, during the reign of Kublai Khan.* Both the dating and the use of this text is complicated by the fact that the only extant version is in Chinese characters from over a century later. There are many translations now available, but Paul Khan’s is the most popular introduction to this unique text. His is based on Francis Woodman Cleaves’ translation, which is available free online here.  Equine historians, unsurprisingly, will find much of interest. Specialists in Mongol history will want to consult the original text, and likely also a modern equestrian fluent in the language; while tack, movement, and care all translate well, some terms (in particular coat colors) do not have firm analogs in English. For the non-specialist looking for summer reading or a view of a different type of horsekeeping and horsemanship, Khan’s version in an easy read.

*See Christopher P. Atwood, “The Date of the ‘Secret History of the Mongols’ Reconsidered,” Journal of Song-Yuan Studies, no. 37 (2007): 1–48.