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Volume 56, Number 4July/August 2005

In This Issue

Click for the Table of Contents

Reader's Guide

Written by Julie Weiss

For students: We hope this 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.


This month’s edition of Saudi Aramco World focuses on one topic only—the history of trade in the Indian Ocean. To address this theme issue, this Reader’s Guide is organized by article. The activities focus on two areas. The first is reading strategies: How can you best read a series of articles? What approaches can help you get the most out of what you read? The second is history: What tools do historians use to construct their stories of the past?

Understanding What You Read

Pre-Reading Activities

In this issue, you’ll be reading a number of separate articles that all fall under the umbrella of one larger topic. So in addition to understanding each article on its own, you’ll want to think about them together. To get you started:

Read the Table of Contents.
The Table of Contents is especially important in this issue. Start with the “Author’s Note.” Jot down answers to these three questions:

a. What human activity fueled curiosity about, and exploration of, the Indian Ocean?

b. What weather pattern provided the structure for that activity?

c. What do these articles provide that has been missing from most histories of discovery?

Keep the answers in mind as you read the individual articles.

Read the rest of the Table of Contents. Each article title is followed by a short summary called a “teaser.” By reading the whole Table of Contents now, you can get an overview of the shape of the issue. Then, before you read each article, go back and reread the summary of it. Doing this is another way to focus your reading.

Class Activities

The activities in this section are designed to engage students with the material in Saudi Aramco World. While this section of the Reader’s Guide is usually organized thematically, this month’s activities are organized by article, to help students make the most of a large amount of reading. If you’re short of time, you might want to divide the reading among groups of students and do a jigsaw activity, in which each group presents what it’s learned to the rest of the class. Everyone, however, should read “The Fable of the Rat.”

The Fable of the Rat

Author Paul Lunde uses this fable to make a point about history. Write a sentence summarizing his point. Write a two-paragraph fable of your own that makes the same point, but uses something more familiar than rats and prisons.

Monsoons, Mude and Gold

1. Read the summary of “Monsoons, Mude and Gold” from the Table of Contents. Then read the article.

2. Using four different colors, highlight the parts of the article that address each of these four topics:

a. Venice’s role in global trade

b. Gold: Who had it? Who needed it and why did they need it?

c. Exploration of the African coast and the search for water routes to India

d. The role of the monsoons

3. Make a graphic illustrating the topics above. Using a photocopy of the map in the center of the magazine and the same colors used above, make arrows on the map to show:

a. Gold going from Venice to Asia.

b. The places European explorers looked for more gold.

c. Trade goods, bought with gold, going from Asia to Venice. (On your copy of the map, list as many of these goods as you can, based on the article and other research that may be assigned.)

The Leek-Green Sea

You will notice that this article has two distinct parts. In the first, author Paul Lunde describes Greek stories about India, told before Greeks had been to India. The second part of the article describes the Greek and Roman trade with India that began in the first century after Christ.

1. Myths about India

a. Lunde identifies three topoi—standard ways of thinking about or describing something—about India that appear in Western accounts. List them. During what time periods did these topoi come into being?

b. Similar stories have been told about other places. Choose one of the following historical examples of an era when people told stories to each other about distant, hard-to-reach places: European explorers’ ideas about the New World; ideas about the American “frontier” in the 18th and 19th centuries, or immigrants’ ideas about America around 1880. Conduct research on your chosen topic, and share it with the class.

2. Trade between Europe and India

a. When did this trade begin?

b. What was the major economic result of the trade?

c. What knowledge made the trade possible?

3. Write a sentence or two explaining how this article fits in to this whole edition of Saudi Aramco World. (You may want to do this after reading all of the articles.)

The Seas of Sindbad

This article provides a chance to think about how historians construct stories about the past from evidence that they collect.

1. Historians, like other storytellers, have to make decisions about when their stories begin and end. This article covers a period from the fourth century BC to the early Islamic period, approximately the seventh century of our era. Why do you think the author defined those centuries as a coherent time period? In other words, why is “The Seas of Sindbad” a separate article within this issue of Saudi Aramco World? Use the timeline to help you.

2. Historians also look for turning points—big events that can define time periods. “Before X happened, the world was one way, but after X, it changed completely.” Using the previous sentence as your model, identify “X” in this article. Write a short explanation of what the world was like before the turning point, and what it was like after.

The Explorer: Marco Polo

What sources do historians use to construct their stories of the past? For this article, Paul Lunde uses Marco Polo’s writings. As you read, highlight the information Lunde gleans from Polo’s writings. Do a little research on the Internet to find out what other historians have written about Marco Polo’s writings. Share your findings with the class. Discuss how what you’ve learned affects (or does not affect) your understanding of this article.

The Traveler: Ibn Battuta

1. As you read this article, trace Ibn Battuta’s travels on the map. Put your finger on the line and trace it. Maps condense a lot of information into a small area, and simply touching the paper can help you remember much more of what you see.

2. Ibn Battuta’s travelogue both described the route he traveled and his experiences along the way. Historian Paul Lunde searches it to extract evidence that you might not expect. For example, what did Ibn Battuta report about gifts he received and a meal he ate in Mogadishu? How does Lunde use that information? What conclusions does he draw? Make a note about how Lunde’s conclusions relate to the overall theme of the issue.

3. Now try it yourself. List some objects in your home. Where did they come from? Mark the places on a world map. Think about the objects as Lunde did. What can you deduce about trade based on the information you’ve plotted on the map? You can try the same exercise with a meal, as Lunde did. Where did the different foods come from? Which were imported? Which plants or animals originated elsewhere in the world? Where did they come from? Plot the information on a world map, as you did with the objects. Pretend you are a historian writing 500 years from now about these objects or foods. Remembering “The Fable of the Rat,” what conclusions would you draw? Write about them as Lunde has. For some fun, see if you can, believably, misinterpret the information.

The Admiral: Zheng He

Chinese motivation for exploring the Indian Ocean differed from the motivation of the other explorers you’ve read about.

1. Look back at the Author’s Note to refresh your memory. What motivated most of the explorers you’ve read about? What motivated the Chinese? Does the different motivation make the article about Chinese exploration different from the other explorations?

2. Think about something you and a friend of yours have both done, but for which you had different motivations. Write about how, if at all, those motivations affected your actions and your friend’s actions, and their outcome.

The Navigator: Ahmad ibn Majid

1. This article returns to the topic of the monsoons. Refer back to the Author’s Note to refresh your memory about the role the monsoons played in exploration of the Indian Ocean. Find the article in which the monsoons were last mentioned.

2. Now put on your historian’s hat. Paul Lunde says that the 1400’s were a particularly important time period in the Age of Discovery of the Indian Ocean. Make a list of reasons the century was so important. Look back at the 20th century. Identify a decade or other chunk of time that was important. Make a timeline of the century, focusing mostly on your time period. Include what made it important, as well as some events before and after it, to put it in context.

The Coming of the Portuguese

1. This article chronicles Portugal’s entry into Indian Ocean trade. Write an outline of the article based on the material in it. Discuss with a partner how the outline affects your understanding of what you’ve read.

2. Look back at the Table of Contents and at your previous work, and then think about this article in the context of everything else you’ve read. As a class, discuss why Paul Lunde ended his history with this article. On your own, write a summary of the entire issue. Your summary should address:

a. When Lunde begins and ends his story of the Indian Ocean, and why he does so.

b. The actions, events and people you think are most important.

c. The most useful sources Lunde used, and what made them useful.

d. How the material you’ve read adds to or changes your understanding of global exploration.

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.