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Ian Straughn

Islamic Archaeology

Archaeology and Religion

Islamic Landscapes

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

The Arabian Peninsula has remained largely a terra incognita. The assumption has always been that it remained marginal to the forces of empire and civilization that percolated throughout the Near East since the 4th millennium BCE. This image of marginalization would be shattered with the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad and his message of Islam that would be carried by the peoples of Arabia from Morocco to China. This course offers an exploration into the land known as Arabia and the people who have come to be called the Arabs. Throughout this course we will examine the history of this region and its relationship to the outside with a careful consideration of its archaeological record. We will consider a number of themes including the nature of ethnic identity, its relationship to geography and material culture, the continuities of the Islamic and pre-Islamic worlds, the role of language, and the reality or myth of Arabian marginalization and the efforts of the outside world to penetrate it.

Temporally this course will span from the Bronze Age to the beginnings of the Saudi Kingdom. Our materials for this journey will consist of archaeological sites, historical records, travel logs and autobiographies, documentaries and films, poetry, photographs and even a novel. These diverse media will open us to the material worlds of Arabia and the Arabs and allow us to consider and challenge long-held dichotomies of the desert and the sown, tribe and state, nomad and settler, civilization and barbarism, dar al-Islam and dar al-harb to mention but a few. Throughout this course we will pay attention to role of Orientalist narratives about the other and the ways in which an archaeological perspective on ethnicity and its components allows us to reconsider such histories. Our goal is to leave with more than just desert tracings, the longings of the metaphorical lost love so lamented by the Arabian poets. As one of them has so eloquently put it:

If my essence is from dust, then dust (wherever it is)
is my homeland.