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Volume 55, Number 3May/June 2004

In This Issue

Click for the Table of Contents

Reader's Guide

By Julie Weiss

For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.


Class Activities

The activities in this section are designed to engage students with the material in Saudi Aramco World while encouraging them to connect it to the larger themes they explore in their other studies. This month’s activities revolve around two basic concepts: Human–Environment Interaction and Culture.

Theme: Human–Environment Interaction

Geography focuses on the interaction between physical and human systems—what exists in nature in a particular area and then how people organize societies there. How do physical and human systems interact? This issue of Saudi Aramco World provides several opportunities to explore the question.

When and how do people adapt to an ecosystem? When and how do they change an ecosystem to suit them?

In ancient times, humans had little ability, beyond farming, to alter their environment. They either adapted to it or they moved elsewhere. Adapting meant growing crops that could survive in the local climate—rice in the Mesopotamian delta, corn on the American plains—and making homes out of available materials—reeds in Mesopotamia, adobe in the American Southwest. Over the centuries, people have grown better and better at altering ecosystems to suit their wants and needs. They move rivers to improve industry or traffic flow; transport water hundreds of miles so people can live in the desert; and “fill in” swamps to increase space for human settlement.

Think about the place and culture you live in. As a class, brainstorm characteristics of your physical environment—its climate, landforms, water, vegetation, animals and mineral resources—and write them on chart paper. Divide the items on the list among several small groups of students. With your group, think about how people adapt to these elements of the physical environment. Then think about ways people have changed these elements of the environment. What generalizations can you make about how people adapt to and alter their environments?

Pre-read “Reviving Eden”—read the headline and captions, and look at the pictures. Based on that and on your class discussion, write a sentence about what you expect to discover about how people have adapted to and how they have altered the Tigris–Euphrates delta. Now read the article, underlining or highlighting each of the following: a physical description of the area; how ancient people adapted to it and altered it; how humans nearly destroyed it in the 1990’s; and how people now are trying to revive the area. How well does what you read in the article match your expectations?

How have different technologies affected the human ability to alter the environment?

Technologies are tools. As people develop new technologies, they expand the scale of their effects on the environment. Ancient Sumerians built irrigation ditches; 20th-century Americans built the Hoover Dam. The Erie Canal, built in the 1820’s, is far less impressive than China’s present-day dams on the Yangtze River. For one day, keep a log of technologies you use or see. (It might be a long list!) At the end of the day, jot down some notes about how each one affects the environment. Cars are one easy example: They require drilling and refining oil and paving roads, and their fuel emissions increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; they also allow people to do jobs and see things that make possible a complex society such as ours. Have each class member report in detail on one technology and its effects. Which most affect the natural environment? Which affect it least?

What are the intended and unintended consequences of humans altering the environment?

Notice that each of the human actions you identified has both intended and unintended consequences. People plan to drill for oil; they don’t plan to displace plant and animal life. They plan to pave roads; they don’t plan to destroy ecosystems. But sometimes they do. As a class, revisit the technologies you identified. Make webs for several of them, spinning out the consequences of each. Use color to distinguish intended from unintended consequences. Discuss how people might be able to anticipate more effects of the tools they use.

Theme: Culture

A people’s culture consists of their shared values, beliefs and behaviors. It also includes their “products”—art and literature, technology and food. Explore culture using the following activities as your guide.

How does culture spread?

Culture, like a flock of birds, migrates from one locale to another. Today, most cultural migration occurs through the mass media and big business. You can watch MTV and shop at The Gap in most parts of the world now. But it wasn’t always that way!

Read “The Mexican Kitchen’s Islamic Connection.” On a world map, use circles and arrows to show where Islamic cuisine began and where it spread. Now think about how it spread. Since there were neither mass media nor multinational corporations, how did Muslim cuisine get from Mesopotamia—now Iraq—to other parts of the world? Imagine a kitchen in Muslim Spain in the 1300’s and another in Spanish Mexico 200 years later. What foods might you see in each? How would they differ? With a partner, trace the movement of cuisine. Start with a description of a dish in Baghdad. Follow it to Iberia and then to Mexico, showing how it might change with each migration.

Now read “The Pioneers.” According to the writer, individuals brought medicine and technology from the United States to Saudi Arabia. These individuals must have behaved in non-threatening ways; if they hadn’t, their hosts would have rejected them, no matter how useful the medicine and tools might have been. Take the role of a cultural adviser and, using the pioneers’ behavior as a model, write a letter to the leaders of an American company that wants to expand globally. Advise them how to introduce and market their products so that people will accept them.

Where does culture originate?

“The Mexican Kitchen” shows how Islamic cuisine spread. The article’s last three paragraphs explain why so few people know where their cuisine originated. What obscures its origins?

People talk about globalization these days as nations depend on each other more and more. Do you think people today welcome information about where elements of their cultures originated? How strong is people’s desire to show that their own cultures are less “foreign,” or “foreign” in a different way, than they actually are? Discuss the question. You might find out more about the following issues for your discussion: Europe’s adoption of the euro as common currency; or the spread of various ideas about men’s and women’s roles.

Understanding What You Read

Pre-Reading Activities

Here’s an easy way to improve reading comprehension: Flip through the magazine, starting with the Table of Contents. Look at the pictures, and read about the articles. What intrigues you? Go to the article. Read the headline. Look at the pictures. Read the captions. Jot down a few notes about what the article seems to be about, and a question or two you hope it will answer.

Reading-Comprehension Questions

The following activities are here to sharpen your reading by pointing you toward the most important parts of the articles. .

“The Pioneers”

Who formed Saudi Arabia? When? Why did he choose Americans as partners in development? What types of relationships did Louis Dame, Charles Crane, Karl Twitchell and Thomas Barger forge with ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and the new Saudi nation? Put each of their names at the center of a page. Make a web for each man in which you write all the important facts about him and his relationship with ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and the formation of Saudi Arabia. How did the Saudi–American partnership differ from colonial relationships in other parts of the Arab world?

“Sarongs: From Gajah Duduk to Oey Soe Tjoen”

What are sarongs? Who wears them? What makes them so useful in Indonesia? When were sarongs first used in Java? How was Java involved in international trade beginning in the 1400’s? How did different regions develop distinct batik styles? Why did the author go to Jogjakarta? Describe the Gajah Duduk sarong factory. Describe the Oey Soe Tjoen workshop. What does each one do for people who want to wear sarongs?

Analyzing Visual Images

We spend a lot of our time looking at visual images—on television and computer screens, in newspapers and magazines, in art galleries and on billboards. Most of us enjoy them without thinking too much about them. It’s a good idea, though, to be able to look at visual images with a critical eye—to know what draws you in, how it does so and what you get from it.

You’re probably most accustomed to seeing realistic images, like those on television, where a box of cereal looks just like a box of cereal, and people look (more or less) the way they would if they were actually in your home. But there are other kinds of visual images, such as those that adorn the beautiful batik fabrics pictured in “Sarongs: From Gajah Duduk to Oey Soe Tjoen.”

Start with the fabrics. Although these designs aren’t realistic, they contain images you can recognize. What are they? What do they tell you about Indonesia, as compared, say, to the Sahara? Flip through some other magazines, or look through wallpaper or curtain catalogues. What kinds of images show up? What, if anything, do they tell you about the places where they were created?

In many parts of the world today, you’re more likely to see other kinds of images—McDonald’s arches, Nike’s swoosh and nations’ flags. As a class, brainstorm other familiar modern images. Make a patterned design using one or more of them. Display students’ designs in the classroom.

“Sarongs” also explores the value of machine-made versus handmade batik designs. Machine-made designs are uniform; each repetition of a pattern is exactly the same, and every piece of fabric is identical. Not so with hand-drawn designs. Think of the difference between homemade and store-bought bread. No two loaves of homemade bread are identical. Even if the baker uses the same recipe, each loaf looks and tastes a bit different. On the other hand, store-bought bread is the same every time. In fact, that may be part of the reason so many people like it. What kinds of things do you like better when they are all the same, and what things do you like when they are not? Why?

Julie Weiss Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Lowell, Massachusetts. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies and develops curricula and assessments in social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language.