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.
— THE EDITORS
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 themes: Past Meets Present and Climate.
Theme: Past Meets Present
What happens when past meets present? Let’s start by thinking about the two terms. It’s not hard to think about the present. It’s what’s going on now. But what about the past? What is “the past,” really? When you think about the past, it can take different forms. Sometimes you can see something about the past in a physical object, such as a building, a ceramic vase, or a book or a written manuscript. Other times the past shows up as what people do, as a tradition or an action, such as sharing a meal in the courtyard of the family home. Or the past can be told as stories of what happened in some time before now. This issue of Saudi Aramco World includes several instances where people today are dealing with the past, but in different ways. In the activities that follow, you will explore how different people manage the tensions that often arise when past and present intersect.
Define the terms people use to talk about “past” meeting “present.” How can these words affect your understanding of the relationship between them?
It can be difficult to talk about the passage of time. In this exercise, we will explore words people use to talk about past time “meeting” present time. In the several articles in this issue of Saudi Aramco World that discuss what happens when past meets present, the writers all use different terms in their discussions. Working with a small group, choose one of the following articles. Highlight in the article the words listed here, and add more if you find them.
“Mississippi’s Muslim Museum”: past | present
“Turkmenistan on a Plate”: tradition | innovation
“Sana‘a Rising” and “Andalusia’s New Golden Pottery”: tradition | progress
“Sana‘a Rising”: preservation | modernization
Use a dictionary to write a definition of each term. What do the words suggest about the past and the present? Discuss the tone conveyed by the word pair. Is it simply informative? Or do the words themselves suggest that either past or present is somehow better than the other? What kind of relationship do the words imply exists between past and present? For example, do the two always go together easily? Do they always conflict? Share your definitions and the key points of your discussion with the other groups. How would using a different set of words change the article you read?
How important is it to preserve the past?
Start by thinking about your own past. Some people think about their past a lot, others hardly ever. How often do you think about your past? Do you like to tell stories about when you were younger? Does your family keep pictures of you when you were young? Do you keep things, like a special blanket or stuffed animal, that were important to you once, even though they’re not so important now? Write a journal entry about whether you think it’s valuable to preserve your past. Include answers to the following questions: What memories do you value most? Or, if you don’t remember much or think often about the past, why don’t you? How do you and/or your family preserve the past? Include objects, traditions, and stories. What people and events in your past have played an important role in shaping who you are today? How do you remember them? Include photographs or other visuals if you’d like.
Now read four stories in this issue: “Turkmenistan on a Plate,” “Sana‘a Rising,” “Andalusia’s New Golden Pottery” and “Mississippi’s Muslim Museum.” Notice as you do that each article takes for granted that old objects, long-held traditions and stories of the past are valuable, worth saving in some way. Find and highlight places in the articles that explain why. If you find that an article doesn’t explain it directly, see if you can figure out the writers’ assumptions about the value of preserving the past. You have already written some thoughts about preserving your own past. Now think about preserving the history of your country. Is it important? Why or why not? What might happen in 100 years if nobody remembered anything of what had happened earlier? What are the best ways to preserve that past? Hold a class debate about whether it’s important to preserve the artifacts, traditions and stories of your country’s past.
What happens when past meets present? Think about this question when you read “Turkmenistan on a Plate,” “Sana‘a Rising” and “Andalusia’s New Golden Pottery.” Discuss with a partner whether the “meeting” is generally harmonious, tense or troubled. Write a response to this prompt: Alchemy best describes what happens when past meets present. (You can find the word in "Andalusia's New Golden Pottery".)
What is the best way to tell the story of the past?
What effects might the storytelling have? Read “Mississippi’s Muslim Museum.” Write a summary paragraph explaining how the museum came into existence, and what it aims to do. Be sure you include “The Majesty of Spain” and “Islamic Moorish Spain,” as well as the thoughts of curator Okolo Rashid.
She says, “We’re not just talking about a historical exhibit. We’re talking about using history and culture to give you dignity and purpose to move into the future.” How do you think the exhibits at the International Museum of Muslim Cultures fit that bill? Think about a historical exhibit you’ve visited recently, or a part of history you’ve studied. Does Rashid’s quote apply to it? Write her a letter explaining why or why not.
Climate refers to long-term weather patterns. Modern conveniences minimize how much climate affects many of us. But climate still plays a very important role in how people live.
How does climate affect what people eat? Read “Turkmenistan on a Plate.” Describe the climate in Turkmenistan. How did it affect how people lived there? In turn, how did their lifestyle affect what the people ate? How, then, did climate affect what they ate and when they ate it?
How, if at all, does climate affect what you eat? Make a list of everything you might eat for one day in summer and another day in winter. Identify which foods are fresh, and which you get frozen, canned or otherwise packaged. Of the food you eat, what, if anything, is produced locally? What, if anything, varies depending on the season? Compare your list with other students’ lists. What generalizations can you make about how climate affects what you eat? Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of having food choices limited by climate, as the people of Turkmenistan have. Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of having access to different kinds of food year round. Which way of life would you prefer? Why?
How do people manage within the limits that climate puts on them?
“The Secret Gardens of Sana‘a” describes how gardens survive in the capital of Yemen, a city that exists in the desert. How have gardeners managed to get water for their gardens? In some places, when there’s a drought, laws prohibit people from watering their gardens. Do you think Sana‘a should implement such laws? Do you think gardening is a good use for water? Why or why not?
Analyzing Visual Images
What makes a photograph interesting? What makes one photo more interesting than another? Let’s find out by comparing the three photographs on the right. All three include buildings. To help you decide which you find most interesting and why, take a look at the following aspects of the photographs.
Composition. Composition refers to what’s included and how it’s situated within the “frame” that’s the photo. You might think, “Photographers can’t control what they see in the world, so how can they ‘choose’ a photo’s composition?” They actually can decide all kinds of things, including where they stand to take the picture, how much they include, where they decide the edges of the picture will be, and much more. Look at the three photos’ composition. How did photographer Eric Hansen fill each of the three frames? Did he include an entire building or just part? Did he include other objects or people? If so, how do they interact with the image of the building? Did Hansen include much background? Did he include much foreground? Where do you imagine he was standing when he took each photo? How would each photo be different if he’d stood somewhere else? Assign a grade to the composition of each of the three photos, along with a sentence or two explaining what led you to evaluate the photo the way you did.
Color. What colors does each photo include? Again, photographers can’t “choose” what colors are out there in the world. But they can choose what to include and exclude, depending on the colors they see. How do the colors in the foreground and background of each photo affect how you see each of the buildings? Does one color show up in more than one place in any of the photos? If so, how does that affect what you look at and what you find most interesting? Assign a grade to the color in each photo and give an explanation of your evaluation.
Light and shadow. What is the brightest part of each photo? Do you find your eye drawn to it? Which photo has the most shadow? How does the shadow affect your sense of the building? How does it affect whether or not you like the photo? Assign a grade to the light and shadow of each photo and give an explanation of your evaluation.
Put it together. Now think about each of the three photos as a whole photo, rather than a collection of composition, color, light and shadow. Which do you like best? Why? Use what you’ve learned about photographs to explain why you like it best.
Do it yourself: In a small team, using any kind of camera, do the following: Find any building, and take a photo of it that imitates as closely as you can the composition of one of these three photos. (Hints: the building won’t look like the one in Sana‘a, but all of your teams’ choices of composition will make it similar, and you can take several photos to be sure to get one that works best.) Then, using the same building, make four photographs whose compositions are as different from Hansen’s as you can make them. Be as creative as you can. Then make two more photos: One should show the building with as little foreground or background as possible, and the other should show it with as much foreground and background as possible. With the other teams, discuss the choices you made and how they affected the photos.
||Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Lowell, Massachusetts. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.