History

Woman of the Steppe, Pride of the Nation

Woman of the Steppe, Pride of the Nation

Born in 1893 in a village near Kazakhstan's border with Russia, Akkagaz Doszhanova in 1922 became the first woman from her homeland to graduate from a medical university in the Soviet Union. Over the decade that followed, she advocated for women’s access to education and health care, as well as famine relief and rural health care, until her death from disease, perhaps contracted in the course of her profession, at age 39. Pioneer, role model, heroine—these are the words used to describe her in Kazakhstan today. Yet her legacy was almost another casualty of Soviet purges of the late 1930s. Only now are her descendants and historians uncovering her story.

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Rust and Dreams on the Beirut-Damascus Railroad

Rust and Dreams on the Beirut-Damascus Railroad

Built with a third, toothed rail to help it over the mountains, the railroad between the capitals was a world-class engineering feat of the late 19th century. It ran for 80 years, and hopes for its revival may yet be gathering steam.
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Egyptology’s Eloquent Eye: Mohammedani Ibrahim

Egyptology’s Eloquent Eye: Mohammedani Ibrahim

As a young man in 1906, Mohammedani Ibrahim joined the work crew of US archeologist George Reisner, who used cameras to record systematically what shovels and picks were unearthing. Ibrahim mastered the technology, and over 30 years he made more than 9,000 exceptionally artful images.
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Mesopotamia’s Art of the Seal

Mesopotamia’s Art of the Seal

Compact in size yet complex in the scenes they depict, stone cylinders—many no larger than your thumb—were a popular medium for Mesopotamian artisans talented enough to reverse-carve semiprecious stones and produce unique, often mythological tableaux in astonishingly sensitive, naturalistic detail. Their craft gave each seal’s owner a personalized graphic signature for use with the most popular media channel of the third millennium BCE: damp clay. Seal impressions certified ownership, validated origins, attested to debts, secured against theft and more. Many seal cylinders were drilled so they could be strung and carried as amulets and status symbols—uses that may find echoes among today’s compact, personalized communication devices.
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The 1001 Tales of Hanna Diyab

The 1001 Tales of Hanna Diyab

Thanks to recently published translations of a Syrian storyteller’s handwritten travelog, we now know that it was conversations between him and a French writer that laid the foundations for the final four volumes of the most-famous fabulation ever published in Europe.
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Could Phoenicians Have Crossed the Atlantic?

Could Phoenicians Have Crossed the Atlantic?

Two thousand years before Columbus and 1,500 before Erikson, the Phoenician maritime empire covered the Mediterranean and west to the Canary Islands. In 2019 a replica Phoenician ship set its sail to find out if they could have gone farther.

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Preserving Arabia’s Bedouin Poetry

Preserving Arabia’s Bedouin Poetry

Throughout central Saudi Arabia, Bedouin tribal histories and folklore lie largely in oral poetry known as Nabati. In 1989, diplomat and linguist Marcel Kurpershoek set out to meet poets and record their verses. It became a lifetime project that continues to illuminate roots of the Arabic language and Arabian Peninsula cultures.

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The Liverpool Effect

The Liverpool Effect

Around the turn of the 20th century, an acrobat from Morocco named Achmed Ben Ibrahim settled near the thriving port of Liverpool, UK. Forgotten until the recent discovery of his 1906 tombstone, his story foreshadows the cultural impacts of the city’s most famous 21st-century resident—Egyptian soccer star Mohammed “Mo” Salah.

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The Quest for Blue

The Quest for Blue

Rare in nature and difficult to extract from minerals, blue eluded artisans for centuries until Egyptians invented the world’s first synthetic pigment. Formulas for blues from cobalt and indigo followed, and the results have delighted our eyes and evoked the sacred, the royal, the opulent and the mysterious ever since. And the quest is not over.
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