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
This issue of Saudi Aramco World includes two articles that show how scholars go about their work. This is something that, as a student, you probably haven’t seen much. You might have read about early humans, for example, but not about how anthropologists learned what they know about early humans. Similarly, you might have read about world history, but not about how the historians learned how to write what you read. The following activities give you a chance to get behind the scenes. Scholars begin to learn about their subjects by posing questions, then looking for answers. In the following activities, you’ll trace the work of scholars who have explored the origins of ancient Nile Valley civilization, and you’ll also look at a long-ago scholar who “invented” a new area of study.
How have scholars learned about the origins of the ancient Nile Valley civilization?
Read “Before the Mummies.” Use the following guidelines to help you understand the nature of the research the article describes.
The Question: Let’s start at the beginning—of Anthony Mills’s and Mary McDonald’s research and of our own exploration into how research is conducted. What’s at the beginning? The question! Sometimes you ask a question because you don’t understand something. Other times you ask because you’re curious. Scholars ask questions for the same reasons, but what makes their questions different is that they are often rooted in a lot more information than the average person has: everything they have read, everything they have learned from other people asking similar questions—in short, “the knowledge of their field.” (For example, archeology and, specifically, the archeology of ancient Egypt.) What was the question Mills and McDonald asked about the Nile Valley civilization? Why hadn’t other archeologists seriously pursued the question before? Write the question at the top of a sheet of paper. You’ll want to hold it in mind as you continue.
The Evidence: “Before the Mummies” describes a lot of evidence that Mills, McDonald and their colleagues discovered. To help you think about it clearly, make a T chart. (You might want to work in a group on this activity.) In the left-hand column, list each piece of evidence the article identifies. In the right-hand column, explain what researchers believed it was evidence of. Then, with your group, discuss what made researchers interpret the evidence the way they did.
Here’s an example: Evidence: Researchers found stone hand axes. Interpretation: They believed the axes were evidence of humans living in the area during the Paleolithic period. What led them to interpret it that way: They used prior knowledge about the tools of the Paleolithic period to decide that’s what their findings meant. Continue in this fashion for all the evidence discussed in “Before the Mummies.”
The Conclusions: Look back at the question you started with. Then study your chart. According to the article, how did scholars answer their question? What conclusions did they draw based on the evidence and their interpretations of it?
The Next Steps: Scholars finish projects, but their conclusions are rarely complete because their findings always raise more questions. It’s useful for you, as a student, to develop the skill of asking, “What’s next?” Research continues in the Western Desert—as it has for the past 27 years! What other questions are those scholars pursuing? What else are they hoping to find out?
Which academic discipline did Ibn Khaldun “father”? How did he do it?
Continue your exploration into how scholars do research by reading “Ibn Khaldun and the Rise and Fall of Empires.” Use the following activities to help you understand Ibn Khaldun’s work and his contributions.
The Context: “Ibn Khaldun took his place in a chain of intellectual development,” the article reports on page 35. That “chain” is a very important idea: Scholars build on work others have done before them, and their work, in turn, becomes a link that makes the chain longer, that makes it possible for others to make another link. With your group, write a few sentences that explain Ibn Khaldun’s “place in a chain of intellectual development.” Discuss why it might be useful for you to think about Ibn Khaldun in that context.
The Research: Since you’ve explored research components in “Before the Mummies,” these activities are fairly brief. Completing them should reinforce what you’ve already done. Go through the article and highlight the topics Ibn Khaldun explored and the questions he asked. In another color, highlight the evidence he gathered and his observations. And in a third color, highlight the answers he came to. With your group, list the conclusions Ibn Khaldun reached and, as you did in the previous activities, discuss how he reached them.
The Contributions: Think again about how scholars are part of a process of intellectual development. What contributions did Ibn Khaldun make? What objects might you use to show those contributions to people who visit the exhibition about him?
What does the research described in the two articles have in common?
Both Ibn Khaldun and the archeologists studying the Western Desert of Egypt look at how societies form and develop. Having read both articles, what do you notice the two bodies of scholarship have in common? Hint: Think about nomads, settlements and farming, and their relationships with others.
The dictionary says a cycle is “a course or series of events or operations that recur regularly and usually lead back to the starting point.” Think about the cycles in your life. A year, for example, is one kind of cycle, defined by the movements of the earth and moon. A school year is another cycle. It starts in August or September, and goes until the spring or early summer. As a class, brainstorm different cycles you’re aware of. List them on chart paper. Then identify each as either natural or human-made.
What cycles occur in nature?
Read “Before the Mummies.” What climate cycles does it describe? Make a visual representation of the cycles, and as you do, think of the visual as something that could accompany the article to help Saudi Aramco World’s readers better see and understand the climate cycles the article describes. Write a headline and a caption for your visual. For models, look at a newspaper like USA Today or The Wall Street Journal, or a news magazine like Time or Newsweek. Display the different visuals around the classroom. Discuss how they’re similar to and different from each other.
What were some of the effects of the climate cycles described in “Before the Mummies”?
A graphic organizer can help you think about effects, too. Make a web. At the center, put “Climate Cycles.” Then make a branch for each of the following: People, Animals, Plants, Land and Water. Fill in how the climate cycles affected each of them. You’ll want to do this with other students, so you can get each other thinking. When you’ve filled in as many effects as you can, think about the overall effects of climate cycles. What generalizations can you make? What conclusions can you draw?
What cycles are human-made? What causes them? What effects do they have?
“Ibn Khaldun and the Rise and Fall of Empires” describes the social and political cycles Ibn Khaldun observed. Make a circular flow chart that shows what Ibn Khaldun identified as the cycle through which societies developed. In “Before the Mummies,” scholars may not know what caused the climate changes you read about. But they can often identify causes of human-made cycles. Discuss: What factors contributed to creating the cycles Ibn Khaldun wrote about? What were some of the effects of the social and political cycles?
Analyzing Visual Images
Many photographs include people. Photographers must decide how to present the people in interesting ways. “Before the Mummies” has several photos with people in them, so you can examine and compare the different samples. All three photos on page 6, for example, include people, but they do so in different ways, and so have different effects.
Start with the top photo. What’s the first thing you notice about it? Why do you think the photographer took the photo this way? What is the person in the photo doing? Where in the frame is she located? Why do you think the photographer “put” her there? How would the message of the photo be different if the person in it were more in the center, or at the front of the frame?
Compare that photo with the one to the lower right. It, too, includes a person looking at what’s on a table. Where in the frame is the person located? How does the position differ from the position of the person in the first picture? How does the placement define the photo’s subject?
Finally, look at the photo on the right, which also includes a person at work. Where is the person in this photo? What is he doing? Where is he in the frame? How does this photo differ from the other two? What makes the “arrangement” of the people and objects in this photo work so well?
Now try it yourself. Use a disposable or digital camera—or you can simply hold up an empty picture frame and imagine you’re taking a photo. Work in groups of three. Have two people try different ways of photographing the third person. Try the kinds of photos you’ve examined in Saudi Aramco World. What do you like and dislike about each? Try other kinds of photos. Look at the other photos that accompany “Before the Mummies” to get some ideas. Switch roles with your teammates, so everyone gets a chance to pose and everyone gets a chance to take pictures. When you’re done, write an informal paper describing your experience and what you’ve learned.
||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.