The Garden of the Afterlife

Those poor unfortunate souls among you who read my last post may remember that I’m working as a research assistant for Professor Jamel Velji, a religionist who specializes in the apocalypse. Among my projects for the summer has been helping Prof. Velji design a new course called Mahdis and their Movements about Muslim messianic movements and helping him edit his existing course called The End of the World as We Know It to include a unit on Ancient Egyptian pseudo-apocalyptic. Between the two subjects I have noticed an interesting connection: the afterlife is visualized on earth as a garden.

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The image above is a photograph that Prof. Velji took in the British Museum in London; it comes from the tomb of the 18th-Dynasty (ca. 1350 BCE) scribe Nebamun in Thebes, Egypt. The descriptive plaque in the British Museum refers to this tomb painting as “Nebamun’s garden of the west”, explaining that “Nebamun’s garden in the afterlife is like the earthly gardens of the wealthy in ancient Egypt.”

The ancient Egyptian conception of time was not linear but cyclical, based on the cycle of the sun: in the morning the sun-god Re is born in the east, in the evening he dies in the west, and overnight he returns underground to be reborn in the east. For this reason the Egyptians saw burials as actually moving closer to the sun: the deeper and darker a burial chamber, the closer it would be to Re during his nighttime travels. What this also meant was that the west, being the site of Re’s daily (re)death, was also the appropriate burial place for Egyptians.

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The map above (sorry it’s so small) depicts the city of Thebes, the holy city of the god Amun, who was the chief god of the New Kingdom (18th-20th Dynasties), excepting the Amarna Period; Thebes was therefore the religious capital of Egypt from approximately 1550-1352 and 1356-1077 BCE. On the east side of the Nile we see the two major temples at Karnak and Luxor. On the west, beyond the floodplain, are the funerary sites: the desert bay at Deir el-Bahri, which houses funerary temples for Mentuhotep II of the 11th Dynasty as well as Hatshepsut and Amenhotep I of the 18th; the Valley of the Kings, famed as the site of Tutankhamun’s tomb; the Valley of the Queens; the mortuary temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu; the Tombs of the Nobles at Dra Abu el-Naga, a complex which includes the tomb of Nebamun; and many, many more.

In the temple at Karnak resided the solar barque of Amun-Re (the two gods had been merged early in the 18th Dynasty). Normally he lived in the east, the land of the living, but once a year, during the Festival of the Valley, his barque would complete the solar cycle, crossing the Nile from east to west and then, when in the land of the dead, visiting the innermost chapels of the Deir el-Bahri temples to symbolize going underground before returning eastward for his rebirth at Karnak.

All of this symbolism draws clear ties between the west and the land of the dead; logically, Nebamun’s tomb is in the west. The garden depicted on the tomb walls is therefore a garden in the afterlife, not in the present life. But what do gardens have to do with the afterlife? Well, Egyptian conceptions of the afterlife saw it as like the present life: the land would be sowed and tilled; the people would eat, drink, and be merry. For a wealthy man like Nebamun, the ratio of rest to work would mirror that in life itself: the wealthy were buried with servant figurines who would do the manual labor for them; Nebamun himself would spend his time relaxing around the garden depicted on his tomb wall.

Turning the page to Islam, we see that the afterlife (at least for those who merit entry to paradise) appears as the opposite of the current life: where life is a time of labor, the afterlife is one of relaxation. The very word “paradise” (in Arabic firdaws) refers in Islam to the highest level of Heaven. Heaven is known as jannah – which directly translates to “garden”.

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The image above comes from the Patio de la Acequia, in the Generalife gardens adjacent to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. This garden, as with others in the Islamic world, is a place for resting, not for walking. The other emphases of an Islamic garden are water and shade – two features that stand in stark contrast to Islam’s arid desert homeland. Together these features make the Islamic garden a representation of paradise on earth.

One of the most famous gardens in all of Islamic architecture is depicted below:

I’m sure all of my readers recognize the image above as the Taj Mahal. The elements of paradise-on-earth in the Taj Mahal garden are all there: water and greenery, places to relax and reflect. But the Taj Mahal takes the connection between garden and afterlife one level deeper:

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On the left is an aerial view of the Taj Mahal grounds. The image on the right may be familiar to those of you who read my last post: it’s Ibn Arabi’s diagram of the Plain of Assembly on the Day of Resurrection, from the Futuhat al-Makiyya, which just keeps on popping up throughout my research. Do you see the resemblance between the two images? According to at least one scholar, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan designed the Taj Mahal grounds to resemble Ibn Arabi’s diagram, placing himself and his beloved consort Mumtaz Mahal at the foot of the throne of God on the Day of Resurrection. Such a connection is furthered by the Qur’anic inscription (from Sura 89) on the Taj Mahal’s gateway, the last thing a visitor reads before entering the gardens: “Oh thou soul at peace, Return thou unto thy Lord, well-pleased and well-pleasing unto him! Enter thou among My servants — and enter thou My paradise!”

 

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The Great Central Fair

Every month or two at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a new document display goes up in the lobby. Each display has a theme and contains HSP’s sources that relate to that topic. Currently, there is a WWI display  to commemorate the centennial of the start of the war. Next month, the display theme will be the Great Central Fair, also known as the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair. What is a Sanitary Fair, you ask? What made this fair so “great”?  Well, let me tell you.

A lithograph of the Great Central Fair. HSP owns two copies, and one will be shown in the display.

A lithograph of the Great Central Fair. HSP owns two copies, and one will be shown in the display.

The U.S. Sanitary Commission was a precursor to the Red Cross and was founded in 1861 to help support the sick and wounded soldiers of the Union army during the Civil War. Their main fundraisers were Sanitary Fairs, public fairs held in major cities that raised money for the soldiers. The fairs were held successfully in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Boston, before it was decided to hold one in Philadelphia in 1864. The buildings of the Fair were constructed in a mere 40 days in what is currently Logan Square. The Fair opened on June 7th, 1864, and closed three weeks later, on June 28th. The Fair included displays of art and historical relics and  vendors selling various items. 9,000 people attended per day, on average. In total, the Fair raised over $1,000,000, an incredible amount of money in 1864.

A pass check from the Great Central Fair. Found in United States Sanitary Commission Philadelphia Branch Collection, HSP.

A pass check from the Great Central Fair. Found in United States Sanitary Commission Philadelphia Branch Collection, HSP.

Over the last few weeks, another intern and I have been working on this display. We have looked through HSP’s collections on the Great Central Fair and have pulled items that are important and visually appealing. Looking through all this stuff from the Civil War era was exciting, and we never knew what we were going to find. One day, we found a blank invitation card from George and Martha Washington. We were not sure where it come from or why it was there. Later, we found a similar one in another collection, and it turns out that someone had donated the original plate, and copies were made and sold at the fair.

At the Fair, people paid $1 to vote for their favorite Union general. The general with the most votes received this sword.

At the Fair, people paid $1 to vote for their favorite Union general. The general with the most votes received this sword. Found in United States Sanitary Commission Philadelphia Branch Collection, HSP.

By far the biggest event of the Fair was the visit of Abraham Lincoln on June 16th. He came with his wife and son, made a speech, and donated 48 signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, which were sold for $10 each.  One of these copies currently resides at HSP, and will be part of the display.

In addition to selling signed copies of the Proclamation for $10, it seems that  a manuscript version was given away in a contest. Not much is known about this contest or what happened to the manuscript afterwards.

In addition to selling signed copies of the Proclamation for $10, it seems that a manuscript version was given away in a contest. Not much is known about this contest or what happened to the manuscript afterwards.

The display opens in mid-August, and HSP is located on the corner of 13th and Locust in Philadelphia. Come see it!

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Peanut Oil and The French Empire

Working to oil the gears of French North Africa to accept an Anglo-American invasion in late 1941, Robert Murphy was introduced to Jacques Lemaigre-Dubreuil, an edible-oil-man himself. Lemaigre-Dubreuil, a business and newspaper owner, expressed to Murphy an interest in creating a provisional French government in Africa to aid the Allied forces. Murphy, unsure of the trustworthiness of the rightwing, business focused colonizer, expressed his concerns and Lemaigre-Dubreuil’s plan in a Memorandum for the State Department. (First page seen below).

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One of Lemaigre-Dubreuil’s demands, or suggested ‘necessaries’ for the success of the Allies, was that the United States and Great Britain must “guarantee the complete restoration of all the French Empire to France after the termination of hostilities.” This was not a new idea for Robert Murphy or even the State Department, in fact, it is such a common theme throughout all of Murphy’s letters to State Department officials and vice versa that I can see the phrase “the French Empire must stay fully intact” with my eyes closed.

The vision that Lemaigre-Dubreuil expressed and Robert Murphy shared with his fellow diplomats is not short of irony for the French position during the war, or the American position in accordance with after the war. For Lemaigre-Dubreuil French North and West Africa had the potential to become the point of leadership for the Empire, which included in his eyes, Metropolitan France. This role would ironically make Algiers or Dakar more important political cities than Paris. For the Americans, who trumpeted self-determination and anti-colonialism under the banner of Trusteeship for former colonies, the assurance of a lasting French Empire after the “termination of hostilities” clearly backtracked from the Anglo-American Atlantic Charter which promised the right of self-determination, as well as a perceived American condemnation of European colonialism.

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(Jacques Lemaigre-Dubreuil — In triplicate)

Despite any irony or h ypocrisy, the United States did promise full control of the former French Empire to whatever French government would succeed after the war. But history is not free from some confusion, in that Lemaigre-Dubreuil, painstakingly supportive of French empire, had a distinct change of heart in the 1950s. His support of Moroccan independence left him assassinated in 1955.

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IDMF 2014- In Production

Two stills of the IDMF crew in production on our second trip to the Gulf Coast!

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Sarah Moses ’16 and Dan Fries ’15 at work filming in Lafayette Louisiana

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Hilary Brashear ’14 and Gebby Keny ’14 also filming in Lafayette Louisiana- moments before the painful encounter with a mound of fire ants!

 

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Ghost Dancing at the NYPL

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This summer I am remotely assisting Professor Reckson with a book she is writing about ecstatic experience and performance in American literary realism. In the fall she will be doing research at the Library of Congress in D.C., and until then I’m helping her come up with resources and materials, primary and secondary, that might assist her research and writing about the Ghost Dance, a Native American spiritual practice and performance, most famously documented by American ethnographer, James Mooney, in his 1896 monograph, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890.

In a sense, I’ve become more familiar with the Ghost Dance these past few weeks. I’ve culled all kinds of texts about the Ghost Dance from the NYPL; I’ve searched Haverford’s Tripod entering things like– ‘ghost dance technology’, ‘ghost dance realist ideology’, ‘ghost dance representation’ – and have yielding some fascinating articles by contemporary scholars discussing the logics and limits of late nineteenth century technologies and ethnographic methodologies deployed in the documentation of this circa 1900 Native American practice; I’ve listened to Mooney’s 1894 recordings of Ghost Dance songs; so yes, I’ve familiarized myself with the material. And yet, despite my efforts to know a little more, I have a gaining awareness of what I can’t know and of what can’t be known. This waning sense of familiarity with academic insights and cultural artifacts is coupled by a gaining sense of wonder at that which teases at the boundaries, at that which exceeds discursive conceptualization. I find these seemingly contradictory senses native to the topic.

While my research began broadly, more recently, I’ve been culling sources that engage more specifically the ways religious ecstatic experiences intersect with realist representation strategies. Notably for Lindsay this street goes both ways. On the one hand, I’m becoming more familiar with the way late nineteenth century realist representation strategies understood, and perhaps, misunderstood Native American practices. Moreover, I’m learning more about how ‘the real’ is an interpretation of reality, is a claim about a contested reality that often, if done well, veils and mutes that contestation. On the other hand, I’m learning about how Native Americans pushed and push back against the seeming determinism and authority of Western representation strategies both photographic and literary. How authors like Gerald Vizenor push back – how his work, Dead Voices, could be thought of as, in the words of scholar Arnold Krupat, “blurring, far more than is inevitable, the generic line between the autobiography or personal essay and the novel, a line drawn on the Western epistemological distinction between “truth” and “fiction””.

I’m looking forward to reading more literary reenactments of the Ghost Dance, thinking more about how texts describing the Ghost Dance can be considered reenactments of the Ghost Dance itself, and I’m especially looking forward to thinking more about this critical intersection, this two way representational street of dynamic agency as a site where narratives of ‘reality’ contest boundaries and garner sympathies in ways both confounding and inciting.

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Women in Film and Television

This summer, thanks to the HCAH’s great support, I am interning at a women’s film organization in New York City.

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NYWIFT, short for New York Women in Film&Television, is a chapter of many WIFT organizations all around the world. As nonprofits, these organizations advocate for equality and aim to increase women’s exposure and power in film.

I am a woman and a true cinephile but until starting my internship, I was pretty much unaware of the gender inequality in the industry. To give you some concrete facts on the issue, I’ve allowed myself to use the New York Film Academy’s helpful info-graphics. (If interested, here’s the link to many more of them!)

One of the graphs shows that women purchased half of the movie tickets of the top 500 films between 2007 and 2012 but only a meager 31% of the speaking roles in the films were held by females. This came as a real surprise to me. Believe me, I watch A LOT of movies but never even noticed, or stopped to think, there might be fewer women than men.

Unfortunately, the bad news continues behind the scenes. There is a sad 5:1 ration of male versus female employees working in film. If you further break that down and look at the involvement of women in the top 250 films in 2012, the percentage of female directors was at only 9%, female writers were at 15%, women producers at 17% and finally female cinematographers at just 2%!

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While the statistics are shocking it is important to bear in mind that its not all bad. “There are a number of female filmmakers, characters, and emerging talent challenging the status quo” the New York Film Academy writes in regard to the statistics. And they are right! Most of us are likely to have been inspired by strong female characters on screen. And, additionally, we might also have another female Oscar director nominee next year. It seems like Ava Duvernay, Angelina Jolie and Sarah Gavron all have promising directorial projects coming up. (You heard it here first.) A nomination would in any case be fantastic since the Academy Award for directing has so far only seen 4 female nominations and only one female win. (Kathryn Bigelow in 2012 for the Hurt Locker.)

All in all, there is still a long way to go and I am happy to be using my summer working for an organization that supports women in all areas of the film industry. By honoring women through awards, providing training and workshops, organizing networking events, screenings and discussions, or by giving out grants and fellowships, I think NYWIFT is definitely helping the advancement of women in the industry.

In my next post I’ll let you know what I’ve personally been working on in my weeks so far and how I almost ran over Jessica Alba with a moving cart. Stay tuned and enjoy your summer!

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iPhones and iPads: Archival research in an air-conditioned age

Thanks to the help and support of the Hurford Humanities Center at Haverford, I spent two weeks this past month in Stanford, California, at the Hoover Memorial Library Archives at the Hoover Institute studying American diplomatic history in North Africa in World War II. This is a quick description of some of my thoughts so far this summer, with hopefully a few more on the way.

Doing archival research is a curious thing in the age of iPhones and iPads. It was most likely also odd back when you actually read the material in the heavily air-conditioned, strictly organized room designated for ‘reading,’ but the experience of two weeks of snapping pictures and skimming a few thousand pages of diplomatic notes, letters and memoranda leaves a bitter-sweet taste in your mouth.

Coming up against National Security classification issues and 200 boxes of personal correspondences that mostly resembled what I was made to write to gift-givers when I was 13, it is surprisingly satisfying finding something like ‘The Manifesto of the Algerian People,’ which seems like the pinnacle of so much in comparison to all the ‘thanks’ and ‘congratulations’ cards. Unlike picking up a pre-vetted secondary source, the process of archival research requires patience but in the monotony of figuring out handwritten cards recalling some conversation between high school buddies, the excitement from finding something worthwhile or truly interesting is magnified. It’s a fishing metaphor waiting to happen.

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For two weeks in the middle of June, I read a lot of those ‘thanks’ typed on official State Department letterhead by Robert Daniel Murphy, a diplomat and semi-spy, who spent three years from 1940 to 1943 as Franklin Roosevelt’s special representative to French North Africa. Charged with testing the waters among the Vichy-sympathizing Frenchmen who governed Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to garner support for an Allied invasion, Murphy played a key role in the creation of the Murphy-Weygand agreement in 1941 which opened up the North African economy for American exports and imports, thus opening up the ports of Tunis, Tangiers, and Algiers for US influence.

The story of Robert Murphy and North Africa in World War II can be cut into many different shapes, but a really interesting perspective emerges from his papers: the American presence in North Africa, while being strategically important for the War against Germany, reflected a longer interest in the European colonies.

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Oil (whether peanut, olive or petroleum) lubricated the gears of the US State Department and White House to build a presence in North Africa, but larger, long-term fears of Cold War bipolar worlds and the orientalist rhetoric of crushing tides of the darker nations washing over the White World kept the United States interested in the French departments and protectorates on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean.

While I have gathered many documents, images and overall primary sources for what will become my Thesis next year, the bulk of this summer, and really of my time at Haverford, remains ahead.

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IDMF 2014—Hot Air, Cold Stacked Rigs

 

"Cold stacking" a rig means closing it down, and taking it out of commission. This one looked pretty run down.

Detail of a cold stacked rig in a harbor in Port Fourchon, Louisiana.

 

The IDMF is back from our second trip to Louisiana, which may have been even hotter than the first. Our hard drives are full of images of industry and conversations with locals. We’re excited to be back in the ITC, safe from fire ants and hard at work.

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Translating Early-Modern Astrology

Opening page of a 1485 edition of Firmin's Handbook.

Opening page of a 1485 edition of Firmin’s Handbook.

Hello friends! My name is James Truitt, and this summer I’m working with professor of history Darin Hayton through the Hurford Center’s Student Research Assistantship program. My work centers around translating a 14th century Latin text on astrometeorology, Firmin de Beauval’s Handbook of Changes in the Weather (available, conveniently enough, through Google Books).

Title page to a 1539 printed edition: "Firmin's Handbook of Changes in the Weather, by means of astrology as much as meteorology, restored to its former luster by Philip Iollainus Blereius with scholia of the same."

Title page to a 1539 edition of Firmin’s Handbook.

What’s astrometeorology, you ask? Well, people have been looking at the sky for a long time to figure out future weather conditions—after all, who wants to get caught in a thunderstorm unprepared? What might come as a surprise is the parts of the sky they’ve paid attention to—astrometeorology used the stars (well, mostly the planets) to predict future weather. The practice goes back to the Ancient Greeks, and was situated in the wider field of astrological knowledge, the complexities of which I’ve been familiarizing myself with in order to make sense of the text.

Beginning of Part 2 Chapter 1, "On predicting the disposition of the weather from great conjunctions of the planets," from the 1485 edition.

Beginning of Part 2 Chapter 1, “On predicting the disposition of the weather from great conjunctions of the planets,” from the 1485 edition.

 

This brings us to my role in the project—translator. I have a long-standing fascination with translation, and Firmin’s Handbook gives me an excellent opportunity to explore all sorts of questions and issues about the act of rendering a text into another language. In particular, most of the translation I’ve done previously has been of literary texts, so working with something as technical as Firmin is giving me a good deal of new things to consider.

That’s all for now, but you can expect another post from me before the summer’s out. Until then!

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Summer at PHC

Pennsylvania Humanities Council presents a check for $50,000 to the Scranton Pocket Park Collaborative.

Pennsylvania Humanities Council presents a $50,000 grant to the Scranton Neighborhood Pocket Park Collaborative.

Hey all,

This summer I am interning at the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, “a private, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to providing every Pennsylvanian with access to the humanities.”

Despite the neat modifier featured above, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council is a bit of a tricky organization to define. It’s essentially a regranting agency i.e. granting funds from organizations like the Pew Center to independent arts initiatives, but also heads various out-of-school-time and workforce development programming such as the Teen Reading Lounge, a book club geared towards older youth and featured in libraries across Pennsylvania. So PHC is not a government agency and it’s not a library, but it can be difficult to explain what makes us different. And the presence of “humanities” in the title, a word loaded with earnest platitudes and general hem-hawing, does not make the elevator-pitch any easier. But the great thing about working at a humanities organization with humanities-educated staff is that the ambiguity of this situation is not lost on us—identity and self-definition are issues we grapple with in staff meetings, phone conferences, and collateral pieces. Right now, it’s like we’re part nonprofit titan and part precocious teen just trying to figure stuff out. Like a Gorgon, but it’s wearing a cardigan…and maybe some Buddy Holly glasses.

Back to the point: the PHC is in a period of all-around transition—cool, collaborative, civic engagement transition. We’re funding fewer things, but the ones that we are, are rooted in community development with long-term and far-reaching agendas. Most recently, PHC is funding the West Scranton park revitalization efforts of the Scranton Neighborhood Pocket Park Collaborative, a collective formed from six area non-profits and led by the Scranton Area Foundation. Just last week I was up in the Electric City itself with the PHC crew, awarding a $50,000 check to the Collective and attending a roundtable on the role of the humanities in civic engagement. Side note: I got to order the oversized check and it is a more complicated process than one might think.

The Pocket Park Collaborative has been serving as a great model for another project coming down the pike—the Chester Cultural Corridor (C3 for short), which intends to reopen the shuttered Deshong Park as a meeting center and Cultural Corridor in Chester, a city that has long been saddled with high unemployment and crime rates.

Where Rachel the Intern comes into all of this is in that most magical realm of Internland: Communications and Development. PHC is composed of a small staff and there is room for me to help out in all departments, but I am officially under the instruction of the Director of Communications, Sherry Hicks. On a typical day, I have tasks ranging from composing and editing press releases to helping organize donor and community outreach events to conducting research for grant initiatives such as Veterans Arts and the aforementioned TRL programs. The English major in me is pretty thrilled by all this because I have the opportunity to hone my writing and rhetoric skills while gaining professional experience in the nonprofit sector.

Well, that’s all for now!

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