Kazakhstan & Horse Meat

Having just passed our first ABC of World History milestone, we move to central Asia to take you to an incredible place: Kazakhstan. As much as I love to think that you are aware of this country because of the significant role that it has played in history since time immemorial…Let’s face it, you probably know this country and word for one reason only: Borat. (Yes, it is ok. At least you know it exists…and you are about to find out more). But first, here are some basic facts about Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world, and it shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan (which will feature later on in our project). It is currently run by the same guy that has been in charge of the country since the fall of the USSR (an authoritarian regime, in case you did not get that from THAT Context…). Furthermore, it is home to 131 ethnicities and a key hub for the ancient Silk Road.

And before I get to share a bit of cultural history (it is what today is all about), I want to share a little bit of my personal history. The first time I ever met someone from central Asia back in Spain was a dear classmate of mine who is from Kazakhstan when I was in college. At the sweet age of 16, he explained how to build a Kalashnikov in the middle of class recess. Fascinated by this, he told me of the severe political issues of his homeland and the fact that this type of education was still being imparted in school when he was living there (late 1990s-early 2000s). I became a little obsessed back then with any bit of culture that I could get from my pal about this land which sounded so exotic in my mind (I had never left Europe and back then still haven’t moved far from Western Europe indeed). Admittedly, my classmate’s family was of Russian descent, and I did not get to know a lot about Kazakh culture itself. However, one thing always stuck with me: everyone loved horses – and ate them without such a scandalous fear of whatever meat it may be they were consuming. And for once, I felt normal: we eat horses where I come from (though not in the same quantity), and I Love It. 

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A Brief Intro to Greek Tragedy & Comedy

Today we come to talk to you about some more classical and ancient history. This time I will be giving you a quick introduction to the subject of Greek tragedies and comedies. The arts and the entertainment industry by proxy find themselves under a lot of tension these days, particularly since the Covid pandemic has threatened so many artistic venues to close forever. With this I hope to keep you all engaged with this sad reality of events, but also to remind you that the arts have been a crucial part of human history since the dawn of civilisation.

Greek Tragedies: Origin & Development

We have evidence that Greek tragedies have been performed since the 6th century BC though record for most of these pieces don’t appear to have survived until c.472BC. Of these early plays, we do not have a lot of information, but we have some records from Aristotle in his Poetics that seem to indicate it may have evolved from choral song. Tragedies back then were not necessarily what our expectation of the same word is. Most of the Greek tragedies have varied themes, often covering things like mythology, but these aren’t necessarily sad stories: they often work to present some form of dilemma or controversies to the audience of the time; things that people could in one level or another relate to. According to Laura Swift, it seems that these pieces would have been about major or serious events, but they did not have to be catastrophic. It seems that, so long as they were describing some form of human suffering, the tragedy box was checked. Also, I think it is important at this stage to clarify that actually when we say Greek tragedies, we really ought to say Athenian tragedies. According to Simon Goldhill most of these compositions took place in Athens. The importance of these performances is remarked by the annual celebration of a kind of competition during the festival of the Great Dionysia, taking place towards the end of February/beginning of March. These plays were often specially created for this event.

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Tasty History: Chocolate

Hello guys! It has been a really long time since we have had time to write a proper blog entry. But now hat we have got the podcast up and running and the team is reconfigured, it is time to deliver. And, our first topic since the formation fof Nu History couldn’t be more delicious: Chocolate! Whether you like it dark, with milk, hot, cold, as a bar or a drink, I believe there is a chocolate for every kind of person. So, today I will give you an insight into how chocolate came to be. For this, we must first travel thousands of years into the past to one of my favourite historical areas: pre-Hispanic Meso America.

The Origins of Cacao

Just to clarify; chocolate is a product derivate from cacao or cocoa beans. The actual word for chocolate comes from the Aztec xocolatl, which meant bitter water. However, cacao was used way before the Aztecs to create indeed bitter tasting beverages made with cocoa and often used for either ritual or medicinal purposes. In a recent study (2018) published by Sonia Zarillo et al. trace back the earliest recorded used of cacao to 5300 years ago, in the area of Santa Ana, (Ecuador). Coe and Coe also state that the Olmecs had domesticated cacao plants and used its produce for medicinal purposes and religious rituals, and we have ample evidence of this from the area of Veracruz (1900–900 BCE). But the most extensive knowledge of Meso-American culture that we have regarding cacao comes from the Mayan culture, (500-800CE) where there is an abundance of ceramics that depicts its varied uses. It is also the Mayans from who we get the word cacao as kakaw. Kakaw was essentially a gloop of cacao made into a drink and the most renown discovery of this type of product is found at Rio Azul. This is the site where in the 90s the scientists from Hershey Corporation first identified the original chemical signature of cacao. By the time the Aztec empire took control of most of Meso America, things had changed. It seems that the Aztecs didn’t actually grow their own cacao already by the 1400s, and instead they used to obtain it as an import, often paid as a tax from areas they conquered. They also started drinking it cold and branching its uses, so that in Aztec culture cacao was an aphrodisiac according to Szogyi.

Cocoa Beans Comes to Europe

The beans were brought back to Europe by the cargo ships from the Americas. It was in fact Columbus who originally shipped them to Spain, however they got little interest from the public until much later when chocolate was introduced to the Spanish court. Despite it being first found by the Spaniards, the success of cocoa and chocolate in Europe would come from other nations, two main rivals of Spain in fact: the English and the Dutch. Cocoa was prominently imported during the reign of Charles I and during the 16th century, it was actually used as a drug to solve tooth decay and dysentery. Moreover, one of the physicians for Queen Anne, Hans Sloane, seemingly saw Jamaican workers during his visit to the island back in 1680 mixing cocoa powder with breast milk as a form drink, so he decided to borrow the concept (but with cow’s milk) for medicinal purposes once more. At this stage, the history of chocolate takes a dark turn as during the early modern period many African slaves were used in the cocoa plantations that the English, Dutch and French had in the transatlantic colonies. And so, with cheap labour and the invention of the first mechanic cocoa grinder in Bristol (1729) the European obsession with chocolate – and slavery – continued all the way to the 19th century when things changed once again.

Dutch Production, English Consumerism: Cocoa in the 19th Century

The transformation of cacao into the product that we could recognise nowadays only happened in the 19th century thanks to a clever Dutch chemist. Coenrad van Houten came up with the idea of removing cacao butter and added baking powder to the mix all successfully achieved by his creation: the cocoa press (1828). He had previously invented a alkaline solution that made chocolate less bitter to the taste, so the “Dutch Cocoa” invention made it a lot more marketable. Interestingly most the cocoa consumed in the UK during the 19th century was produced in the Netherlands, making this a very profitable industry for the Dutch. In Victorian Britain the first chocolate houses opened in the area of Mayfair and the concept drove English society into an absolute craze. In fact, at the royal apartments in Hampton Court we know that Willian III, as well as George I and II had a dedicated chocolate kitchen. Lizzie Collingham argues however that during this period much of the cocoa powder used in these establishments was heavily adultered with other products. Amongst these feature things like lentils or tapioca, which actually made what they served more similar to a cocoa soup rather than a cocoa drink.  However by then, the price of cocoa dropped becoming more affordable and an easily available product in many houses. Cadbury’s chocolate in the UK was a great conduit for this phenomenon. Still popular today, the first shop was opened in Birmingham in 1824 by John Cadbury. Collingham again adds that the most influential brand that contributed to the popularisation of cocoa amongst the working clasess was not Cadbury, but the now forgotten Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa. Vi-Cocoa distributed a blend of cocoa, kola nut, malt and hops that made it incredibly popular between 1895 and 1910. In her book The Hungry Empire, she says that Cadbury’s target audience would have most likely been middle classes women, whilst Vi-Cocoa was targeting the working class man with an alternative to tea.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Daniel Peters enhanced Victorian chocolate by using powdered milk in the beverages and therefore creating milk chocolate, and instant national favourite. Dutch cocoa balanced bitterness reached a new height when the Swiss chocolatier Rodolpe Lindt (1879) used his conching machine to turn cocoa butter into an improved product, with better texture and flavour. The manufacturing advances of the time also allowed for Lindt’s product to be easier to distribute and reach new markets, so Lindt was a key player in changing chocolate into a food item rather than a drink. Meanwhile in America? Cacao beans were also used as a currency up until the 19th century in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Brazil. Funnily enough, these were easy to fake: empty casks were often filled with soil to pretend they were ripe cacao beans.

So as you can see the journey of cacao, cocoa, and chocolate is a varied and multicultural one. From its origins in America to its developments in Europe kakaw has adopted many forms and purposes. And, although I certainly believe most of us don’t use it as a medicine for tooth decay…I think we can probably agree it is a medicine for the soul and, as recent scientific research confirms, good for our mental health. With this history of chocolate, and the many more to come articles and podcasts regarding food history, I am trying to send a message of hope and unity. I truly believe that food brings people together, and in this day an age of conflict and division, humans and human history could do more with interconnectivity and hope.

I hope you join us on the next one 🙂

Nu History Podcast – Episode 1: History in a Pandemic

Introducing the Nu History podcast! A key feature of our newly re-branded blog!

Our aim with these podcasts is to simply get together and talk about any given topic relating to history! And usually we will plan to have a special guest or two to learn from about their area of expertise.

For our first episode, hosts Lilly and Alex are joined by James to talk about our different perspectives on how the Covid-19 pandemic has and will effect history, particularly in museums, academia and reenactment!

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

The Creation of Hangul


This post will focus on the creation of the Korean Alphabet, namely its creator, how it it is written and what was used before Hangul.

Statue of King Sejong in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul. Note: King Sejong written in Hangul


The Creator-

Hangul was created by King Sejong the Great in the fifteenth century. He was the fourth King of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. It was a phonetic writing system to convey the Korean Language, in the hope that all social classes in Korea could read and write from the same script.
King Sejong wanted to encourage literacy amongst the lower classes in Korea who had little to no educational opportunities and to create a separate cultural identity for the Korean people.

How it is written-

When Hangul was created there were 28 letters, 17 consonants and 14 vowels. Over time this reduced to 24 in modern Hangul in South Korea. 
Hangul is written as syllabic blocks.  Each word that needs to be written is placed square dimension-ally with one symbol above/below the other. These texts were written right to left but nowadays the text is largely written left to right and western punctuation is common in some publications.


Here is an example of written Hangul today. Note: Seoul written in Hangul above the English term

What was used before Hangul?

Before Hangul was used the Upper classes used Hanja. Hanja uses Chinese characters to write. Chinese characters were borrowed and amalgamated to the Korean writing system. Hanja text was the means of written communication in Korea amongst the educated and elite. The less educated and lower classes could not read or write and did not use or understand Hanja.

The writing formation was very different to Hangul and 214 radicals were used. A radical is grammatical component which is a loose equivalent of the Latin alphabet. 

An example of Hanja. Note the differences between Hanja and Hangul.


There was some opposition when Hangul was introduced. The more privileged thought it was a threat on their positions in society. Some worried if more people from the lower classes were educated to use Hangul, it could diminish the influence of the minority elite. Nevertheless, the popularity of Hangul ensued, much to how King Sejong envisioned.

However, a century later in the sixteenth century Hangul was prohibited in publications when a document written in Hangul critised King Yeonsangun. He closed a temple and the royal university Seonnggyeongwang and converted it as a personal brothel. Not only this but he evicted large residential areas for hunting grounds and instigating involuntary labour for making these things possible. These actions made him very unpopular, particularly with those who used Hangul. His successor, half brother, King Jungjong closed a centre of research in Hangul, suggesting Hangul did struggle to gain acceptance amongst these rulers after King Sejong. This shows it was not a simple transition to Hangul without any problems.

Nonetheless, over time Hangul again became popular through a resurgence in poetry, increased Korean nationalism, government reforms and missionaries promoting Hangul literacy in education. It is now the official script in the Korean Peninsula as well autonomous regions in China and Baubau, a city in Indonesia in the Southeast Sulawesi province.

Photos courtesy of my sister.

Petra: The Lost City


For the latest instalment on our lost cities theme I will be writing about the history of Petra. Petra is a historical city located in modern day Jordan, which is renowned for its archaeological heritage and now popular for tourists. It was designated as a UNESCO world heritage cite in 1985.
It was originally known as Ramqu. The area was thought to have been inhabited appropriately in the year as early as 9000BC. Petra was likely established in the 4th or 5th century BCE and is largely attributed to a nomadic Arab tribe, the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans settled the area as a prime trading route, particularly the spice trade, to buy and sell goods between the Mediterranean continent and Asia. This is where caravans of people would cross. 

Trade was relatively successful for the Nabataean inhabitants, until over time nautical trading routes proved more popular. Petra gained some attention from outsiders, notably the Greeks and Romans. One of the first written accounts of Petra was documented by  Greek historians. King Antigonus I a Macedonian ruler planned an invasion in 312 BC. 

The site’s population grew to approximately 10,000-30,000 inhabitants. The Nabataeans were prevailed in attempts to takeover their land. They knew the terrain very well and how best to defend it from outsiders, that was until the Romans invaded in 106CE. Petra, henceforth was incorporated into the Roman Empire as a province.Trade was still customary in those parts, particularly the spice trade. However, over time this particular route steadily declined in popularity. What’s more in 363AD Petra suffered a terrible earthquake which significantly damaged the area. This halted further developments to the area in terms of commerce and population increase. Another earthquake would follow in 551.AD

During the Byzantine era  Petra contained a number of Christian churches In the 7th century AD Petra was seized by neighbouring Muslims in Arabia. This was a significant time for the spread of Islam and its influence as Arabia was was unified by the prophet Muhammed in 622AD. During the Byzantine era  Petra contained a number of Christian churches as the old city was the capital of the Byzantine province, Palaestina III and as a result was a part of the Byzantine empire sandwiching the Mediterranean to the Levant. These churches were excavated at the site and attributed to the Byzantines. Later in the 12th century the was evidence to suggest the area was an outpost of the Crusades, military campaigns from Christian Europe to the Islamic territories in response to their rapid spread. From then there are no accounts from the West about the Petra. However, that is not to say the area was unknown territory completely. Outside of the western world there are accounts during the end of 13th century that Petra was often visited by Egyptian sultans who were interested in the sandstone formations. Nevertheless, there are little to no accounts after this, that is not to say non eurocentric accounts. Nomadic tribes continued to live in the area.  

Moving forward to the 19th century, The ‘discovery’ of Petra was attributed to a Swiss traveller by the name of Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. He was the first European to describe the sandstone structures. The remnants of tombs and structures at Petra were visualised by David Roberts, a Scotsman who painted them in 1839. Unfortunately over time the site of Petra was highly vulnerable, its structures were weak and this attracted the attention of thieves hoping to amass its treasures. Petra was surveyed and excavated properly in 1922 by archaeologists along with help from a Physician, expert in local folklore and a scholar. 

A number of scrolls written in Greek were found in the remains of a church, dated in the Byzantine era. These items were found 25 years ago in 1993. This discovery confirms Petra was not an isolated domain despite its land locked location. It shows other ethnic groups were interested in the area and remained for a time.

In the early twentieth century Petra was a focal point in the Arab-Ottoman conflict. In October 1917 during the First World War to intercept the Ottoman forces resources from the British advancement in Gaza, regarding the Sinai and Palestine campaign between the British and the Ottomans. The Arabs led a revolt from Petra against the Ottomans along with British support they managed to halt the Ottomans. Local Bedouin women also took part in the revolt.

Nowadays Petra is waiting to be discovered by tourists and is considered to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the world up with the likes of Machu Picchu in Peru and The Taj Mahal in India. 

Grand Tour: A guide to the Early Modern “Gap Year”

This piece will look at how (for those who could afford it) getaway and travel to the European continent from the British Isles in search of culture, experiences and exposure to perfect foreign languages, particularly in the 18th to 19th centuries. Usually they would be accompanied by tutors or a companion. This custom was known as a “Grand Tour”.

A Grand Tour was considered a rite of passage for mainly, young aristocratic gentleman upon completing their academic studies. This usually occurred when they were twenty-one years of age, although that is not to say this custom was only attributed to wealthy young gentleman to acquire ‘good taste’ in society. Sometimes wealthy young women, referring to debutantes partook in this venture, signalling she has come of age and old enough to marry. For others who could not afford this venture from both sexes, they might have been lucky enough to find a patron to sponsor them.

 

The Route-

 

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Typically, the route started from the Port of Dover and from then on to the Belgium coast at Ostend or the French coast at Calais. From there the journey took these young travellers to Paris, the Alps, Geneva, the Rhine to Basel and ultimately (for most) to Rome and Naples. However, it was not unheard of for travellers to go further west to Madrid or further east to Greece. To a large extent, Paris, Rome and Venice were the main cultural centres in Europe and for Paris in particular, French was the chief second language amongst the aristocracy and as such many wished to refine these language skills. Moreover, the roads were more developed towards Paris and Rome unlike further east and towards the Iberian Peninsula.

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What did they do?

Often travellers would venture to European cultural centres, chiefly in Paris, Venice and Rome, usually accompanied by their tutors from home to keep a watchful eye. Many were drawn to the historical sites of the Coliseum, Patheon, Pompeii and Herculaneum further south to name but a few. It was also a popular pastime to view renaissance style art in galleries and occasionally from some travellers have their portraits painted, depicting their time on the continent. It was typical for the traveller to travel for up to 3 years, which included six months of travelling and the rest of the time living in a European city.

Touring these sites in Europe was considered the epitome of high society as it enabled them to possess extensive knowledge of the classics and antiquity, namely art, culture and architecture. Acquiring this knowledge on tour largely helped with networking and obtain suitable marriage prospects. For aristocratic younger men, they needed to appear cultured to maintain their prospects in society, otherwise they would suffer. This extensive knowledge was used to distinguish a gentleman’s rank. Cultural pursuits were undertaken as they had the wealth and time to acquire it, thus distinguishing them from those who acquired their income by trade, whereas a gentleman’s wealth was inherited/made from the land.

Aside from the cultural aspects of the tour and immersing oneself into the sites, some traveller’s behaviour was nothing short of merry and ostensibly debauchery, which included drinking, gambling and romantic endeavours.

 

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Why did the custom end?

The custom came to an end during the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) when the French Empire fought a coalition of European nations, thus becoming too dangerous to travel. From this point the form of travel switched inwards to the wonders of Britain, namely The Lake District as made famous by the English poet William Wordsworth. When the conflict ended the custom resumed, again for those who could afford it from wealthy backgrounds. This was particularly evident for women to venture down towards the cultural centres of Paris, Venice and Rome. However, the duration was drastically reduced for days instead of months/even years and that it was considered more of a pastime for women travellers.

Hideous Visitor Attitudes Learnt and Experienced from Working in the Heritage Industry

 

After having worked for a long time in the heritage industry, I feel like this is something I need to share and talk about. I guess as a visitor of cultural attractions and a cultural historian with a keen eye for public history, it is something I have always been very aware of, but never really thought about until I actually had to deal with it on a daily basis. And the truth is, as sad as it sounds, that the heritage industry in this country (and others) suffers from an incredible mistreatment from the visitors – at least in some cases. Culture is at a great deal of being endangered. We live in the age of technology. Our cultural values may be replaced for new artefacts that reign in the digital area. The respect for the items of the past, of long gone civilizations, and even more those that still remain is very necessary to understand where we have come from and where we are heading as a species. Technology can help us preserve these things, but it needs to be done through a responsible use of such resources. War and hate crimes destroy our heritage. In the not so distant Middle East news reports advise of monument been obliterated by the likes of ISIS. Art pieces go missing or are stolen. And that is to name a few. Culture, heritage and patrimony are worth keeping alive. So here I will share some pretty common issues I encounter on my day-to-day job, which reflect pretty poor social practices and a terrible treatment of culture which we need to address and fix.

-“Why do I have to pay for entry? I am a local I pay taxes/It used to be free” – Yes, very good. Are you aware of the cuts done to local governments in term of culture and the arts? Do you know how many museums actually get funding from the Estate? Far less than you think. Just because some of the big museums in places like London (and not all by the way) are free, it does not mean everyone else has access to the same amount of resources. You may think that paying to go into churches is an abomination, but tell me how do you think that wonder of the English Gothic gets repaired and cleaned so it does not fall apart so people like you can come and visit it? And how do you think the person that has to be at the door get paid? Or that tour guide that was so nice to show you around? Hardly anything is free these days. I am not arguing whether it should be free or not – I wished! What I am saying is that, as much as this may seem outrageous, the heritage industry lacks a sincere amount of funding and resources and simply because you are unhappy with it, it does not mean you can make the staff working on that site feel awkward about it, or verbally abuse them and their job. We are people, we have feelings too, and simply because we are on a public facing role, it does not mean we can or will just take it.

Continue reading “Hideous Visitor Attitudes Learnt and Experienced from Working in the Heritage Industry”

The Kite Runner- Using Literature as a source for recent times

The post will look at the historical significance in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 bestselling novel, The Kite Runner. The novel is a coming of age story focusing on Amir born into a Pashtun family in Afghanistan. Recently, as of Monday 10th July I went to watch the stage adaptation of it with another blogger- lauraljpotter. This got me thinking as there is plenty to right about. Particularly, life in Afghanistan during the 1970s, during the Soviet occupation and the Taliban occupation. I also touch upon Afghans who immigrated to the United States of America during the late 1970s and 1980s, mainly commenting on the accounts in the novel. For starters, I will explain the basic premise of the story and provide a general historical account of the country. Minor spoilers of the plot will be announced to emphasise the historical value of this time period.

The story starts in the mid-seventies focusing on Amir’s friendship with Hassan, who is the son of the family servant and the strained relationship Amir has with his father Baba. The themes Hosseini highlights are the following; friendship, identity, love and redemption, spanning across time from Afghanistan in the mid-seventies towards California in 2001. The modern state of Afghanistan was founded in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Duran but long before this happened the area was conquered numerous times. The earliest account we know was in 330BC, when Alexander the Great conquered it. In the 700s AD, Arab armies invaded the area and the inhabitants of the area converted to Islam. Later in 1218, Genghis Khan’s army penetrated the area. This is interesting to note as it explains the ethnic mix of people that live in Afghanistan and this is still visible today, this will be explained in more thorough detail further on. Conflict did not end there as in the mid-1800s Britain and Russia clashed in order to gain control of Central Asia. There was a power vacuum in Central Asia due to the declining Ottoman Empire, Qajar dynasty and Qing dynasty in the region. This was called “The Great Game” as Britain and Russia vied to occupy these territories. Eventually “The Great Game” led to the First Anglo-Afghan War. By the end of the 1800s, Afghanistan was unwilling to allow British presence in the region and refused a mission to be set up in Kabul. This resulted in the Second Afghan War. At the time Britain acquired an empire that stretched all around the globe, it was coined as “the empire, where the sun never sets”. Before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan was still a part of India and in 1893, the British established an unofficial border to separate Afghanistan and British India. A third war ensued between the Afghans and the British. In 1919 the Third-Anglo War concluded. To summarise, what this short piece does is provide a background account to the complex history of Afghanistan up until when the story starts.

Now we will focus on the country of Afghanistan in the sixties until the seventies. It was a different place to what it became in the early noughties. It was a relatively safe and stable country since 1933 when Zahir Shah quelled unrest by becoming king. Before Zahir Shah, since after the Anglo-Afghan Wars there was always a power struggle in order to establish a long lasting dynasty in Afghanistan. In the twentieth century Emir Amanullah tried to rule and incorporate western influences in Afghanistan, but civil unrest in the country ousted him out. However, from what the background account tells us, this proved to happen throughout the course of history. In particular for those who had money and prominence, life in Afghanistan was very good, full of lavish hill top homes and festivities. Life was full of excitement and opportunities were abundant. This was looked at in Hosseini’s novel. Notably, Baba and Amir’s comfortable home, Amir’s schooling, Amir’s birthday celebrations and the Kite flying competition. This reveals that Amir had a stable and comfortable home life. Expanding on this western travellers often ventured through Afghanistan as a pit stop before moving on to India. This particular route was known as the “hippie trail”.

However, that air of stability soon collapsed when in 1973 King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin. Two ideologies developed during this time in wanting to prevent gradual western ideals that occurred in the royal Afghan court. One ideology supported communism and the Soviets. This group was called the People’s Democratic of Afghanistan. Another ideology advocated for a return of religious values in society. It was the PDPA that ended up being more successful first in 1978, within a year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, plunging Afghanistan into the Cold War as a potential satellite state. They did this to strength the communist ideology of the PDPA in Afghanistan as well as extending their on sphere of influence in Central Asia. However, war ensured as not everyone was happy with the Soviet invasion, in “The Kite Runner”, Babi, Amir’s father did not want the Soviets to take control of Afghanistan. Using Babi as an example, many affluent families in Afghanistan and those who held close ties to royalty were suspected to be reactionaries and many of them like Babi and Amir had to flee to neighbouring Pakistan and as a result became refugees and wait admitted asylum. It was from there that many families moved on to the United States of America, like what Babi and Amir did. Babi and Amir like many Afghans settled in Fremont, California. A majority of Afghans who fled Afghanistan settled in the San Francisco Bay area of California like Fresno, Los Angeles, Virginia and other major areas like Illinois, Florida and Washington. Many Afghan migrants worked in unskilled professions or in the public sector. Some Afghan professions mentioned in “The Kite Runner” were traders, teachers, policeman and gas station attendants. Life was not always easy for any particular new arrivals to the USA but what Hosseini does draw attention to is the fact that it was perhaps easier for some to assimilate into the new American culture, whereas for others it was more difficult. This was looked at in the form of father and son, Babi and Amir. Babi struggled seeing as he had established himself in Afghanistan it was bound to be difficult to pack up and start again, particularly as he was living in a comfortable hill top home in Afghanistan. In Fremont he was living in an apartment block. For Amir, you could argue that it helped him pursue his dreams of becoming a writer as he improved his English, went to college to major in Creative Writing and found love and married Soraya. In essence embracing his new opportunities and attempting to pursue the “American Dream”.

The Soviets tried their best to capture all of Afghanistan, but this did not happen, they found it difficult to penetrate the countryside and this remained relatively untouched. The Soviets eventually realised that they couldn’t continue funding a conquest they knew they could never win. The geography of Afghanistan is testing as it is a heavily mountainous land-locked country. Again, more civil unrest ensued and much of the country was being taken over by mujahedin groups. The capital, Kabul managed to quell this for three years as Najibullah, an ally from Moscow was able to control the area. Eventually, Kabul fell and Najibullah lost control. Even still these rival mujahedin only managed to control the city until 1996, when they were ousted by much younger jihadis. They were known as the Taliban and controlled everyday life in Afghan society from there on in, including the vibrant capital Kabul. Kabul changed drastically under this leadership. Kabul was once a place where men and women could sit in university together and women weren’t told what to wear. This all changed when the Taliban took control and implemented a strict regime on Afghanistan.

In more recent time, in the noughties Afghanistan garnished much negative connotations and further turmoil. Most notably, the War on Terror, Afghanistan was used as a testing ground by British and American forces. After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre all attention went on combating Al Qaeda, the Terrorist group responsible for the heinous act and capturing their ringleader, Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban were told in “The Kite Runner” in the form of one character the antagonist, Assef who frequently tormented Amir and Hassan. He constantly made fun out of Hassan’s ethnicity of being a Hazara. Some people like Assef did not like the Hazara people as they held a belief that they were not true Afghans and how they polluted the country. This was ironic in the story as Assef himself had a Pashtun father and a German mother. Many Hazara people as a result faced widespread discrimination in everyday life. This is something that many Hazara people face even today. Harking back to what I mentioned earlier, there were two different ethnic groups mentioned in the story, one were the Pashtuns and the other group was the Hazaras. The Hazaras were said to be descended from inner Asia and more specifically around Mongolia. This makes sense considering how many times different armies came to conquer and/or settle in Afghanistan. However, this theory is not entirely confirmed and we do not know for sure where they actually descended from.

Afghanistan faced much hardship over the years and history seemingly starting to repeat itself in the form of occupation, then reoccupation, then occupation, then reoccupation an endless cycle it seems over the centuries and something that still lays bare in Afghanistan today; whether that be when Alexander the Great first captured the land or as early in 2009 when Obama increased the number of American troops to arrive in Afghanistan.

Women in Renaissance Portraiture (Extended Edition)

For centuries the depiction of women was kept within the confines of religious, and moral, ideological imagery until the Italian Renaissance swept up the fifteenth century to enhance and entrance the majority of the elite classes in Europe. Christianity had hindered female progress with images that encompassed the traditional values of being a woman while also aligning women as virtuous Holy Mother Mary or as demonic witches who seek to seduce men for their own gain. Portraiture for one did not include women unless they were of the supreme elite. Prior to the fifteenth century when the International Gothic movement held Europe women were painted as ethereal ‘s’ shaped figures with faces indistinguishable from each other. Portrayal of men as kings, warriors and soldiers exist in huge quantities dating back to the Ancient Greek and even further, and you are much more likely to have a visual facial representation appear to be identifiable. On the other hand women, much like their opinions and voice, as much less easily allocated to a specific woman and are less frequently found amongst historical records or art. This post will focus especially on the image of women in the Renaissance since this is a time when female representation, specifically portraits, almost treble in number.

First, we must look at why the Renaissance was such a phenomenon. The fifteenth century saw a huge upheaval in socio-political order allowing for a rise in merchant classes to gain wealth and prestige. Naturally they would want to spend this money and they did abundantly. The merchant classes were the middle ground between men at the bottom of their ladder looking to make a fortune through trade and the aristocracy who rule the land from their royal or ducal coroneted thrones. The merchants wished to emulate the aristocracy in order to make the move upwards a smoother hill to climb and this included copying and influencing the arts. Up until this point in history portraits were saved for the wealthy and powerful royals who needed to be remembered in posterity for the skilled kingship but for their image. But these new found rich men of the Renaissance also wanted to gain long galleries that contained images of their family to be seen for generations to come. All of sudden portraits of men holding the symbol of their guild start to pop up, for example the early Medici clan, alongside their aristocratic brides to signal their rise to greatness if a great lord would permit such a marriage. This was all in honour of conspicuous consumption, the merchants wanted to build and design like stamping their name across it. This is why so many churches were built in Italy with their leading families name and heraldry printed on the front starting being formed, as this was the most the church would allow before extolling the sins of pride, greed or vanity. Portraits were useful, they provided a visual image of someone before a marriage, adorned the walls of a newly gilded home and commemorated those that came before. Here is why the male family leaders starting painting their wives and daughters. It exuded wealth, power and the rise in social status. There is a snag to this growth in female imagery, they are highly idealised. The Northern Renaissance that occurred in the later fifteenth century across the Netherlands depicted men and women in a warts and all concept – nothing was hidden or edited to suit the sitter. However the beginnings of the Renaissance in Italy women were airbrushed to suit the ideals of the time.

Renaissance portraits of women generally intended to convey beauty and the social role of women. Portraits of men generally emphasized their social, political, or professional role, and these portraits were often stereotypically masculine. The function of portraits of male leaders was focussed on politics and their ideal portraits often served as some sort of ambassador of their status during their absence. This shows that men were defined by attributes of profession and social status. But female portraiture in Italian Renaissance art was not meant to be a direct representation of the individual. The purposes of most female portraiture include commemorative works, donor portraits, and images of ideal beauty. When used as a commemorative portrait, lineage and wealth were seen as the most important. Women were often painted in honour of marriage, shown by the age and costume of many subjects of portraits. Other than at the time of marriage, women were rarely seen on display as publicity was necessary to legitimize marriage during the period, and men wished to display wealth and prestige. Much of the time women were painted within the domestic sphere of the home, this included them being hard at work sewing or spinning, or rearing their many expected children.

Many depictions of women were also seen in religious paintings as donors. In Northern Italian courts, donors were portrayed in finery to publicly advertise their wealth. In other courts of Italy, this practice was frowned upon, and female donors were pictured in dark attire with heads covered in white cloth. The costume of a woman in portrait marked their parental and marital identity, and because costume and jewellery conveyed such a large amount of information, artists often focused on the wardrobe as much as the woman, who was considered to be a piece of property herself anyway.

As said before, the women pictured in the portraits of the Italian Renaissance were not often portrayed as specific individuals but as generally ideal women who shared similar facial features with the subject of the portrait. Examples of desired physical traits include a high, round forehead, plucked eyebrows, blond hair, fair skin, rosy cheeks, red lips, white teeth and dark eyes. This is shown in many portraits where they may memorialize different individual women, the images appear to differ only slightly, with many showing equal proportion and perfect symmetry in addition to the other features mentioned. In addition to physical beauty, women were expected to uphold the high moral standards of the time. The virtuous qualities most patrons and artists aimed to portray include humility, piety, charity, obedience, and chastity. The Italian phrase virtutem forma decorat, or ‘beauty adorns virtue,’ shows the common belief in Italian Renaissance society that ideal moral characteristics must be present for women to possess physical beauty, and therefore it was considered that outward appearance was a reflection of inner beauty.