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
Where does it come from? “It” can refer to almost anything. Think about physical objects: the food on the supermarket shelf? The car parked in the driveway? Think about people: Where did your family come from? Can you trace it back to a particular town or country? What about before that? How did the family end up where it is today? Does knowing something about how “it” got where it is now help understand it better? For example, if you know that your neighbor originally came from New York City, you can probably understand why she’s the only person on your street who never mows the lawn. Figuring out origins can be challenging and fun—kind of like a treasure hunt.
Where do things come from? How can you find out?
You’re going to go on a quest to find out where something came from. With a partner, choose a food that you’ve bought recently at a market or a restaurant. Trace that food back to its origins. For example, say you choose potato chips. Start by finding out how the bag of chips got to your supermarket. Then back up a step: Where were the chips made and packaged? Then back another step: Where were the potatoes grown? Where was the oil for frying made? Who first had the idea of doing this with potatoes? (What other questions can you ask and answer?) You get the picture.
Keep records of what you discover as you trace your food back to its origins. When you’ve got to the root of it (yes, that’s a pun), present your findings. Your presentation might be a flow chart that starts at the supermarket and works its way backward, maybe with several branches. You can illustrate your flow chart with pictures of the potato chips at each stage in the process. Or you might want to illustrate with a map that shows the locations and distances traveled from potato plant to supermarket shelf. Or both.
How can you discover origins if they took place far in the past?
It’s a little trickier to trace origins that take you back in time. Genealogists trace families back in time. Anthropologists trace humans as a species back in time. Geologists trace physical formations back in time to find out how the earth originated.
Ideas and traditions originate someplace, too. How can you figure out where they came from? Read “The Decorated Houses of Nubia,” which traces the origins of the decorations on Nubian houses. When did the decorations come into being? What evidence reveals that to be the case? The article identifies three factors that contributed—one technological, one human and one economic. What are they?
When the origins are even farther in the past, figuring them out is more difficult. Read “Muslim Roots, U.S. Blues.” Author Jonathan Curiel and the experts he spoke to believe that some blues music has origins in Islamic calls to prayer and folk songs sung by African Muslims.
After you’ve read the article once, go through it and trace the argument Curiel presents. Working with a small group, make a list of the different steps in the argument. Be sure to identify the evidence that each step of the argument is based on. Now, with your group, evaluate the argument: Are you convinced that blues music has origins in Muslim calls to prayer? If you are, explain what it is, step by step, that has convinced you. In your explanation, be specific. What steps in the argument did you find particularly persuasive? What made them so? If you’re not convinced, which step or steps of the argument do you question? What makes you question them? Is it the information itself? Say, for example, that you are surprised to learn that as many as one-third of North American slaves came from Muslim Africa. Does your sense of surprise lead you to question the accuracy of the information? Are you convinced that this is evidence of a Muslim connection to the origins of blues music?
Finally, go to the article at www.saudiaramcoworld.com and listen to the audio samples. Does that change your analysis? How?
What’s your favorite color? Why do you like it so much? Some people like to be known and recognized for a specific color they wear regularly. Some wear all black; others want to be known for their red shoes. Color, in other words, can be one way people express their identities. One poet has even written that “when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.” In the following activities, you’ll think about color in general, and purple in particular.
How is dye made?
Before anything you wear is colored, think about how it got that way. If you want to dye a T-shirt, you can go to the store and buy a little box of dye—a powder that you add to water. Mix it up, soak the shirt, and voilá—you’re done. Of course, it wasn’t always so easy to get dye. For thousands of years, people had to come up with ways to make dye, as “Millennia of Murex” describes. For people like us today, it might seem strange to think of dye as a kind of “technology.” But it is. And it’s developed over time.
Read “Millennia of Murex,” paying particular attention to the different ways purple dye has been made at different times over nearly 4000 years. What four sources have been used? Make a timeline that shows when each came into use and how long people used it. Discuss what caused the changes from using one source to using another.
What do different colors symbolize?
Start by thinking about colors that are popular with you and your friends. For example, there’s a lot of turquoise and brown around these days. When you see people wearing those colors, what do you think about them? What other colors “tell” you something about the person wearing them? What do they “say”?
Businesses, too, know the importance of color. Colors provide a way for customers to identify a brand. One shipping company is identified by its purple and orange logo, another by its brown trucks. One chain of doughnut shops always presents itself in pink and orange. As a class, brainstorm and list different businesses that you recognize by their colors. Are there repeats—more than one business identified by the same color or color combination? (You might be surprised to discover that companies have been known to trademark their colors—and to sue other companies that try to use them.)
Use a highlighter to mark the places in “Millennia of Murex” that explain what the color purple meant to different people at different times. When purple had positive associations, what were they? What were the negative associations?
Different factors affect what the color purple stood for at different times. Based on what you’ve read, write a short answer to these questions: How did supply and demand affect the meanings ascribed to purple? When purple dye was difficult to make and therefore rare, what did purple symbolize?
With a partner or a small group, go on a search for all things purple. Try going to the mall, or a museum, or a walk downtown. Keep your eye out for everything purple, and write down what you see. (You might also take digital photos.) Study your list. When you see purple in these places, what does it mean to you and your friends? Compare the meanings—or lack of meanings—to what you’ve read that purple symbolized in the past. What connections can you draw?
On Your Own
Colors are one way people express themselves, but of course there are others. “The Decorated Houses of Nubia” says people decorate the doorways of their houses “to draw attention to one’s home and to its doorway as a symbol of the family.” How would you decorate the doorway to your house, or to your room, or to your classroom? Draw a picture—or do it for real. Draw or put up objects and colors that are meaningful to you. For example, if you love the ocean, you might want to include shells. If you’re a mechanic at heart, try including nuts and bolts. Be creative. Remember that the doorway you decorate is a symbol of you. (This could be a class project.)
Analyzing Visual Images
How does looking at a still photograph, like the ones you see in the print edition Saudi Aramco World, compare to looking at the kind of virtual reality images you can see in "A Virtual Walking Tour: The Alhambra"? Here’s your chance to make a direct comparison.
Take a look at the photo below. (If you also have the print edition, you will find it on pages 24 and 25.) It shows the Hall of the Two Sisters, which can be seen in spherical panorama here. In the photo below, which part of the room are you looking at? How can you tell? What part of the photo draws your glance first? What draws it there? Is it light? Or color? Or shape? Or something else?
Photographers choose to take photos the way they do to include certain parts of a scene and to omit others. Magazine editors also make decisions about how to trim photos. (They call it “cropping.”) In this case, Saudi Aramco World’s editors chose to crop the photo this way. Why do you think they did so? They also chose to place this photo at the beginning of the article. Why do you think they did that? To help you think about it, the right half and look at the left half. Then cover the left and look at the right. What do you notice about the two sides of the photograph? Do you find it pleasing to look at? Why or why not?
Now, from this photo, try to imagine what the rest of the Hall of the Two Sisters looks like, based on what you can see here. How big do you imagine it is? What makes you think so? How many doors and windows do you imagine it has? What might the walls be like? What might be on the other side of the archway you see in the bottom center of the photo?
Now go to the panorama. Maneuver your position so that you’re looking at the view that’s like the photo in the magazine. Then navigate around the room. What do you see? How does it compare to what you imagined? Then “pass through” the center arch by clicking on the “hot spot.” Explore the space. Are you surprised by what you see? Why or why not?
Now think about the differences between viewing the flat photograph and being able to select your own views (more or less). What do you like about each presentation? What, if anything, do you gain by looking at the flat photograph that gets lost in the panorama? What, if anything, do you gain by looking at the panorama? Which presentation do you like better? Why?
||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.