Meet Your Unfamiliar Self | Read Diversely

It’s been a while since I wrote anything in this space, so let me catch you up real quick.  I work in a library – a small public library in Missouri – and from December through February I’m in charge of our displays.  This month, I set up a display themed around reading diversely.

 

Meet Your Unfamiliar Self

February is Black History Month, and where I work the entire staff is white women.  Most of what comes across the circulation desk is written by straight, white, cisgender men, and I’d like to see some more diversity.  Which is not, of course, to say that straight white cisgender men don’t write great books, plenty do.  But plenty of other people do too.  

Even though this is Black History Month, I chose to do a general diversity theme because I am almost certain that when my quarter of the year on displays ends there won’t be another similar display.  I’m only on displays from December-February.

So I scoured our catalog (twice actually – lost the first list) and cross-referenced it with a bunch of lists of popular authors from different racial and ethnic backgrounds until I had eight shelves worth of fiction, poetry, and children’s books to display.  Eight shelves worth is a ton of books, but there were a few sticking points.

 

Meet Your Unfamiliar Self

 

While I was able to find a bunch of authors, I also found that we most often only owned one of an author’s books.  At least, that held true for authors of color.  I couldn’t count on both hands the number of Clive Cussler or Gilbert Morris books we have on the shelves.  On top of that I had a really hard time identifying Native Hawaiian, Indigenous Australian, or Polynesian authors.  If you know of any, please, leave a comment.  Though we had quite a few children’s books by Native American authors, adult books by Native authors mostly eluded me.  

Ultimately, the diversity display, and the call for diversity in literature in general, isn’t about me.  It’s about the little girl who opens up Corduroy and sees a girl who looks like her, or the teenage boy who’s finally drawn to reading when he sees a name like his own on the front cover.  It’s about showcasing the stories of people who don’t experience the world in the same way that I do.  As a white person with white privilege, it is my duty to use that privilege to elevate the voices of people who do not.  
I used GoodReads lists to find popular authors of different backgrounds.  Native American | African American | Latinx | Asian American | Polynesian

If you know of any Native Hawaiian, Polynesian, or Indigenous Australian authors, please, leave me a comment so I can add their books.

Satiated Saturday: Vegetarian Thanksgiving Roundup

This is my second thanksgiving as a vegetarian, but the first where I will actually be at a thanksgiving dinner.  I usually prefer to spend my thanksgiving at a museum and thinking critically about American history, and in fact history as a whole.  But, in order to participate in thanksgiving with my family  I need to have some vegetarian options for myself.  Because I don’t have as many of these in my own arsenal, I’ve rounded up a bunch of resources for you me and you guys.

Satiated Saturday

The Veggie Table | A vegetarian blog with its own roundup of recipes, but all of these are original and created by the author Laura K. Lawless.

Veg Kitchen | Another roundup from a vegan blog, and I think most of these are original recipes too.  All vegan things are safe for vegetarians, but remember that not all vegetarian things are safe for vegans, so if you have vegan friends over for thanksgiving, remember that they might need separate things as well.

Buzzfeed actually has a handful of vegetarian/vegan thanksgiving recipe roundups, so here we go.  Pure Links | Brussels Sprouts For Thanksgiving | 29 Side Dishes | 37 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes For Thanksgiving | 22 Delicious Meatless Mains | 41 Delicious Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes

Chef In You | A vegetarian thanksgiving roundup from 2009.  There is everything from soup to risotto on this list, so it’s sure to have something for you.

The Pioneer Woman Stuffing | Substitute veggie broth for chicken broth in this recipe and you can make your own stuffing from scratch.

Satiated Saturday | Shameless self-promotion: you should check out my Satiated Saturday category on my blog

Vegetarian Gravy | This is my vegetarian gravy recipe, and I love it.  I’ll be making it for my family to share the joy that is delicious meatless gravy.

Easy Italian Bread | My Italian bread recipe adapted from Bakers Banter would be delicious on the side of your tofurkey.

Roasted Almonds | Roasted almonds would make a great side, especially if you’re the only vegetarian and you have a hard time getting family to let you in the kitchen on Thanksgiving.  They’re easy and fast.

Remember: if you check the ingredient list you can find lots of vegetarian stuffing mix, and mashed potatoes are always vegetarian.  If you’re like my family you could make an antepasto tray/spread and not let anyone else eat it.  (We haven’t actually made an antepasto in years because our thanksgivings are weird, but they were my favorite as a kid).  Try this tutorial from Martha Stewart, and this one from Giada de Laurentiis.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

How Easy Is It To Get Ordained?

As of next week (November 19) I will have been ordained through American Marriage Ministries for two years.  Weird, huh?  I’m one of the least religious people I know, and yet technically I’m an ordained minister.  Why?  I was curious.  At the time, I was in an ehtnography class, so I spent a lot of time talking about, and thinking about, the ways different cultures recognize milestones and ceremonies.  One of those was marriages.

 

Being a non-religious person, I’ve always wondered how non-religious people handled weddings, funerals, and the like, because all of those I’ve ever been to have had a distinctly religious bent.  Whether that’s a 3-hour wedding mass when a friend’s aunt got married, or the touching but very religious funeral service for my grandfather, all of these ceremonies, in my experience, have been tinged with religion.  Then, I read about getting ordained online, almost instantly.  It really is almost instant.

I became an ordained marriage minister through them!

 

I logged onto the American Marriage Ministries website, filled out a few forms, and was confirmed as a member of their ranks.  There are plenty of licensing “ministries” out there, including Universal Life Church, another biggie.  Personally, I love that it is so easy for someone who matters to the couple getting married to officiate their wedding.  I love that there are options for the non-religious other than the relatively impersonal city hall/justice of the peace route.  While that totally works for some people, it’s always good to have options.  So far, I haven’t performed any marriages, and I don’t know if I ever actually will.  I got ordained mostly out of curiosity.  But I definitely would if someone asked me to.

 

The thing about being non-religious in America is that in almost everything it makes no real difference (except that people are going to assume you’re religious, especially in this area) but when it comes to celebrating milestones and having ceremonies, your options become instantly limited.  But I honestly think that the ease of online ordination for officiating weddings is indicative of a shift in our cultural opinions about these ceremonies.  It’s a shift to accepting that there are many different ways to celebrate a milestone – be it a wedding, or a funeral, or a sweet 16.  American culture, as a rule, tends to sit back on Christian traditions, which can be a problem for the many Americans who aren’t Christian.  Be they Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, or simply non-religious with no opinion one way or another about the existence of a deity, there are millions of people who don’t want to have the traditional church wedding.  Instead, with this kind of easy ordination, they could have a friend or family member, a person who has been important to both parties, officiate and make their wedding day truly special.  I’m all for it (obviously) because I’m all for anything that expands people’s freedoms and possibilities, even in a small way.

 

Holiday Strife: Families

The holidays can be incredibly painful for a lot of people.  They bring up feelings of anger, sadness, and pain.  As much as I wish they were, holidays are rarely as beautiful as sappy movies make them out to be.  If you’re feeling complicated and painful things this holiday season, your feelings are valid.  This is actually such an important topic to me that I made a video about it.

Halloween: A History

Happy Halloween!

 

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and a big part of that was knowing the history of Halloween.  Thanks to an incredible movie called The Halloween Tree (it’s also a book!) I learned a lot about the history of Halloween and associated traditions.  In honor of my favorite holiday, let’s dive into the history of Halloween.

Halloween: A History

Before Halloween was a holiday for children to dress up like monsters and gather candy, or a holiday for adults to wear skimpy and/or ironic costumes to party, Halloween was All Hallow’s Eve.  All Hallow’s Eve, also known as All Saints’ Eve, comes the night before All Saints’ Day, a day to remember your dead.

 

But even before it was a Catholic holiday, Halloween was Samhain, a Celtic holiday celebrating the harvest and remembering the dead.  Because of the transitional nature of the season, going from summer into winter, celebrants believed that faeries, and the souls of the dead, could cross into the human world with ease.  These faeries weren’t the Disney kind though.  These faeries were malicious and mischievous, and in order to protect yourself and your family, you had to make offerings to them to keep them from, say, burning down your cottage.

 

People would light bonfires to keep away the evil spirits, and wear masks to disguise themselves within their ranks.  Although let’s be real, the “ranks” were probably just other celebrants.  (But isn’t it fun to imagine it was a bunch of faeries and demons and ghosts wandering around Ireland?)  Trick or treating began as a threat, that if you didn’t offer these faeries and other evil spirits a treat, they would play a trick.

Happy Halloween

When Christianity swept into the region Christian priests and missionaries appropriated Halloween, among other holidays, to facilitate easier conversion of the locals.  Ironically enough, later Christians rejected the holiday as pagan, from Puritans in the sixteenth century to modern fundamentalists who use “Hell Houses” to try to prevent sinning.

 

Because of the puritans and other sects who rejected Halloween, it faded to the background until waves of immigration from Ireland and Scotland brought the holiday back.  By the early twentieth century Halloween had once again become a mainstream holiday.  Complete with creepy children’s costumes ca. 1950s.

 

Of course, the United States isn’t the only place that celebrates October 31.  Many places celebrate the Catholic holiday, and many others celebrate local traditions.  The most famous is, of course, Día de Muertos – the Day of the Dead.  Because I have never celebrated Día de Muertos and I don’t want to accidentally insult celebrants, let me direct you to some great resources to learn more.

This Halloween, I’ll be watching spooky movies, listening to Dracula on audiobook, playing in the leaves with my dog, and probably not handing out candy as there are like 2 children in my neighborhood.  For more Halloween check out my All Hallows Reads recommendations, and the Legend of the Jack O’Lanterns.

Great Zimbabwe: An African Archaeological Site

Let’s get this out of the way first, Africa is a continent, not a country.  There is an incredible amount of biodiversity among the animals on the continent, and there is at least as much diversity among the human cultures on the continent of Africa.  There are flourishing beautiful cities, and there are impoverished rural farms.  African history is an area in which American schooling lags behind.  We study and teach our own history, we teach European history, and then we teach “world history” which so often ends up meaning Ancient European history.

Today’s post is a bit of background on Great Zimbabwe.  I first learned about Great Zimbabwe as a sophomore in an archaeology class.  But I think it should be just as famous as Stonehenge.  Let me tell you why.

Great Zimbabwe

Original image by Jan Derk in 1997, released into the public domain.

 

Great Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Zimbabwe, and it dates to the eleventh century.  The nation of Zimbabwe also considers it a National Monument, and a source of national pride.  In fact, the nation’s name is derived from that of the monument.

 

There are actually two possible etymologies for “Zimbabwe”, both from the Shona word for houses, dzimba.  One possibility is “Dzimba-dza-mabwe” which translates as “large houses of stone” in the Karanga dialect of Shona.  The other possibility is “Dzimba-hwe” which translates to “venerated houses” in the Zezuru dialect of Shona, and was usually reserved for the homes or gravesites of kings and rules.  Shona is a subgroup of Bantu, and it refers to both a cultural group and the language they speak.

 

The first European record of Great Zimbabwe was recorded by Vicente Pegado, a Portuguese captain, in 1531.  But he recorded it as Simbaoe.  This spelling carried on among Europeans for a century or more, and it was recorded on a 1570 map.

Great Zimbabwe on a 1570 Map as Simbaoe

Abraham Oretlius’ Africae Tabula Nova Map (1570)

 

Radiocarbon dating puts the construction of the structures at Great Zimbabwe in the eleventh century CE.  There is, however, archaeological evidence of a settlement on the same location as far back as the fifth century CE.  Who exactly built Great Zimbabwe has been a source of contention for centuries.  Most scholars agree that the Gokomere people, an ancestral group of the Shona people, built and inhabited Great Zimbabwe, but there is a cohesive dissent in favor of the Lemba people.  The Lemba people, a fascinating group themselves, assert that their ancestors built the structures at Great Zimbabwe.  Some scholars support this origin, including Ken Mufuka.  As we’ll discuss later, there have been a lot of theories surrounding the origin of Great Zimbabwe.

 

This site is actually three groupings of structures.  Great Zimbabwe covers 7.3 square kilometers, approximately 1,800 acres.  For reference Central Park is 843 square acres.  Within the overall title “Great Zimbabwe” there is the Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure, and the Valley Complex.  Within the Hill Complex is the Eastern Enclosure, and this is where the Zimbabwe Bird sculptures were found.  The Great Enclosure encompasses two sets of walls and a series of structures inside of the inner walls.  The Valley Complex is actually two complexes: Upper Valley, and Lower Valley, which were occupied at different times, and seem to have housed more people.  As to the purposes of each complex, there are two competing theories.  The first theory is a chronological explanation, wherein the Hill Complex was occupied in the eleventh to twelfth centuries, and then the inhabitants moved to the Great Enclosure, then the Upper Valley complex, and finally to the Lower Valley complex in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  There have been even more modern structures found in the Valley Complex, dating to the nineteenth century.  Some scholars also say that the structures and complexes were the work of different successive rulers.

Great Zimbabwe Hill Complex

View of the Hill Complex from the Valley.
Image by Jan Derk in 1997, released into the public domain.

The other theory of occupation is a structuralist idea.  According to structuralists, the Hill Complex was likely a temple, the Valley Complex the home of citizens, and the Great Enclosure the home of rulers.  In support of this, many scholars have said that the walls of the Great Enclosure were symbolic of power.  Possibly in opposition to this theory, there is evidence of multiple dwellings within the Great Enclosure¹.

Two early accounts from Arab merchants indicate that there was, at least at that time, writing above the entrance to Great Zimbabwe, which they could not read.

 

Within the Hill Complex archaeologists found sculptures in the shape of a bird seeming to sit on a throne.  These sculptures have been referred to as the Zimbabwe Birds, and are now a symbol of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean people.

Zimbabwe Bird

Zimbabwe Bird by J. Patrick Fisher, under a CC Attribution 3.0 License

 

Archaeological evidence during the time of occupation suggests that, at its height, Great Zimbabwe housed upwards of 10,000 people, perhaps even up to 20,000.  Most of those likely lived in the valley, though, as scholars believe that only 200-300 lived in the actual stone buildings.

The residents of Great Zimbabwe were part of a huge network of trade, from the Swahili Coast to India and on to China.  Archaeologists have found potsherds that originate in China, as well as thousands of glass beads, copper coins from the Swahili Coast and the Arabian peninsula, and dishes from Persia².  While there are other structures in Southern Africa that have similar architecture, especially the mortarless construction, there doesn’t seem to be any architectural exchange between Great Zimbabwe and the other cultures with whom they traded.  The hills surrounding Great Zimbabwe produced enormous amounts of gold, which was the main item of trade for the residents.

Great Zimbabwe is surrounded by land, but it is not highly arable land.  Instead, scholars think that most of the farming in the valley consisted of raising cattle, and growing cereal crops².  The residents likely imported most of their other food from other locales, trading for the cattle, cereal grains, or even the gold that was plentiful in the area.

Great Zimbabwe's Conical Tower

Inside the Great Enclosure.
Image by Marius Loots, licensed under Creative Commons.

 

In the fifteenth century, probably between 1450 and 1500 CE, the population of Great Zimbabwe began to decline.  By the sixteenth century it was abandoned.  Most scholars agree that the decline was due to a lack of resources.  The hills had been mined to exhaustion, the land was running out of nutrients for farming, and the trade world had moved north.  Great Zimbabweans had founded two new settlements: Mutapa in the north, and Torwa in the south.  The founder of Mutapa, Nyatsimba Mutota, had been sent north to find a new source of salt, which supports the theory that the resources were drying up.  There is also a theory that the region was experiencing political instability and warfare, but that is far less supported than the resource explanation.

 

The history of Great Zimbabwe was only beginning when the population dissipated.  With the arrival of European colonialists in the nineteenth century, the speculation about Great Zimbabwe’s origins and use began.

Great Zimbabwe Closeup

Image by Wikipedia uploader Macvivo, licensed under Creative Commons.

Cecil Rhodes funded a handful of archaeologists and scholars to find non-black origins for Great Zimbabwe.  The first was J. Theodore Bent.  He had no training in archaeology, although to be fair at the time training was always ad hoc, and he determined that the structures were ancient rather than medieval.  Bent also determined that the builders were not black Africans, but rather Phoenicians, Egyptians, ancient Semitic groups, or ancient Arabian groups.  Later, he clarified his findings, and claimed only that it was an ancient Semitic or Arabian group.

After Bent finished his time at Great Zimbabwe, Rhodes hired another man with no archaeological training to be the Curator of Great Zimbabwe.  This man was Nicklin Hall, who was charged not with research or study, but only with preservation.  During his tenure at Great Zimbabwe he overstepped his job description and instigated archaeological digs that destroyed several layers of earth and all the artefacts contained therein.

This is also where the Lemba claims get interesting.  The Lemba people have always claimed ancestry from a Jewish group, and much of their culture is similar to practices found in Judaism.  Just as an example, they observe Shabbat, identify themselves as a chosen people, refrain from eating pork, practice male circumcision, and have recently placed stars of David on their gravestones.  A recent DNA study has supported this claim, finding that Lemba men share 50% of their Y-chromosome specific genes with people of Semitic ancestry – Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs³.  What’s interesting about the Lemba claim is not that it exists, it’s possible, as I mentioned above.  What’s interesting is the reason that many non-Lemba supported it.  They supported the Lemba claim because the Lemba had an ancestry that was not all black African.  Those in charge at the time were white colonists, and part of keeping citizens in a colony under control is often about denigrating their abilities.  By clearly saying that Great Zimbabwe was not created by black Africans, the colonial oppressors squashed their citizens’ pride.

The tide began to turn in the mid-twentieth century, though.  David Randall McIver studied the ruins and proposed a medieval construction date.  Gertrude Caton-Thompson studied them and determined that yes, they were created by Africans, not by a people who came from elsewhere4.  Although she is to be taken with a grain of salt because she also said that Great Zimbabwe was the product of an “infantile mind.”  All scholarship on the site since the 1950s has supported African origins and construction.

But of course, there’s more to the story.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the government of Rhodesia (the state before Zimbabwe became independent) held the position that Great Zimbabwe was built by non-blacks, and they took a hard line to enforcing it.  Any archaeologists or scholars who dissented were censored.  Paul Sinclair, an archaeologist at the site during this time, stated in an interview “Censorship of guidebooks, museum displays, school textbooks, radio programmes, newspapers and films was a daily occurrence. Once a member of the Museum Board of Trustees threatened me with losing my job if I said publicly that blacks had built Zimbabwe.”5

This covering up and denial of the African origins and construction of Great Zimbabwe went on for decades.  Professor Innocent Pikirayi, a lecturer at the University of South Africa, called it “antiquarian revisionism” in a BBC project6. The truth finally came to light as Rhodesia was speeding along the road to revolution.  After the 1979 revolution the country became known as Zimbabwe, taking its name from the archaeological site.  The national symbol is the Zimbabwe Bird, the sculpture found at Great Zimbabwe.

Now, Great Zimbabwe is a symbol of accomplishment in Zimbabwe and outside of it.  It shows the world that it is not only Europeans who are capable of creating big things and complex societies.


Go forth with your new knowledge and defeat ignorance.  I’d like to make a series about underrecognized historical and archaeological sites, so consider this part one.  When’s part two coming?  No idea.  For more historical content, check out my history category, and my history playlist on YouTube.

Endnotes:
1. UNESCO http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364
2. South African History Online http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/great-zimbabwe-case-study
3. The origins of the Lemba “Black Jews” of southern Africa: evidence from p12F2 and other Y-chromosome markers. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1914832/
4. Ascribes Zimbabwe to African Bantus http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9505E6DB133AEE32A25753C2A9669D946895D6CF
5. None But Ourselves by Julie Frederikse http://www.bookdepository.com/None-But-Ourselves-Julie-Frederikse/9780852553299/?a_aid=JFloyd&a_bid=ba35a05b
6. BBC “The Story of Africa” http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/10chapter1.shtml

 

References:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/10chapter1.shtml

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/zimb/hd_zimb.htm

http://archive.archaeology.org/9807/abstracts/africa.html

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/29/travel/900-year-stone-great-zimbabwe/

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/mysteries-of-great-zimbabwe.html

http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/great-zimbabwe-case-study

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1914832/

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9505E6DB133AEE32A25753C2A9669D946895D6CF

http://www.bookdepository.com/None-But-Ourselves-Julie-Frederikse/9780852553299/?a_aid=JFloyd&a_bid=ba35a05b

5 Reasons To Read Classic Literature

I’m a historian, not a literary scholar, but for most of my time studying history, I read at least one novel per class.  So I know just how great classic literature can be.  Personal enjoyment is great, but how about five other reasons to choose a classic book to read this summer?

5 Reasons To Read Classic Lit

1. You can get a great sense of the culture at the time.

This is part of what I loved about reading Dickens.  I learned so much about the cultural expectations for noble women in France and England in the late 18th century when I read A Tale of Two Cities.

 

2. You see the references to them in all kinds of modern media.

The people who write books now, often studied literature in school.  Even if they didn’t, writers are always avid readers.  Screenwriters, movie directors, television showrunners, they’re all often avid readers.  So you’ll find Gatsby references wrapped in Odyssey parallels, tied up with a bow first tied by Dostoevsky.  When you’ve read the original source material, you find a lot of parallels, and you can really understand current media.

 

3. Increase your analytical skills.

Really, all reading will do this.  But because when we read classic literature we’re usually reading the best of the era, we’re getting really good books.  If you were to just select what was popular, you’d probably find a lot of badly written books.  Instead, you’re getting a choice selection of good books, with complex storylines, often written to be published in separate sections, which have been influencing culture for decades, centuries, or in some cases, millennia.  By reading complex books, and analyzing them, you can develop your analytical and critical thinking skills.

5 Reasons To Read Classic Lit

4. Cultures change, people don’t.

When you read classic literature, you discover something really incredible.  While the cultures and societies change, underneath that people stay the same.  So many girls grow up seeing themselves reflected in Jane Eyre, or Elizabeth Bennet, or one of the March sisters.  People are ultimately the same no matter if they’re from 21st century America, 18th century Peru, or Ancient Greece.  The first joke written down in English was a penis joke, written by an English monk.  Medieval monks loved writing down dirty jokes.  Yes, there are a lot of differences between the cultures that Odysseus and Telemachus encounter, and the ones that you and I will encounter, but when you read their stories you find the same types of people you’ll meet in your own life.

 

5. Imagine others complexly.

The cultures in these books are so wildly different from our own, that by living in them just temporarily, we see a totally different world.  By getting to live in someone else’s head for the duration of the book – in some cases multiple people’s heads – you see our own world in a different way.  When you read the Great Gatsby, you can look at the world through Nick Carraway’s eyes, as someone who’s learned the lessons of Gatsby’s obsessive love.  While you can get into lots of different types of heads in modern literature, the variation in culture really helps you learn to imagine others complexly.

 

My favorite pieces of classic literature are The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, and Chretien De Troye’s Arthurian Romances.  You can find a lot of classic literature for free in ebook format, widely in libraries, or fairly cheaply in print format through Amazon or used book stores.  This is your casual reminder that I am a sometimes booktuber.  What’s your favorite classic novel or short story?