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Power, Piety, Poetry, Prosperity

The essay assignment addresses three of the course goals listed on the Course Syllabus:

Developing core knowledge about political and religious history

The role of primary sources in understanding the past

Practice at formulating and supporting plausible historical arguments in essays where you express yourself clearly and convincingly

By the time of al-Tanukhi (the mid 900s), Muslims had a large and fast-growing body of writings that gives historians abundant material. The challenge for historians is to turn raw material by writers like al-Tanukhi into an account that makes sense to modern readers. That is your challenge as well in this essay.

For this assignment, you will use a primary source, al-Tanukhi’s Ruminations and Reminiscences, to compose an essay about power, piety, justice, wealth, and status in Abbasid Baghdad. You may focus on a single topic or a combination of two or more. That is up to you. Your objective is to identify a theme and show how the stories in al-Tanukhi illustrate that theme. Examples might be the arbitrary nature of power, the different forms of piety (knowledge of Prophetic Traditions or fasting), or the concept of justice.

Think broadly about the topics. Power has less tangible dimensions like the power of a rumor about cheating merchants to raise or lower a caliph’s reputation for justice, or the spiritual power afforded by a pious way of life, knowledge of the Quran and the Prophetic Tradition. How you deal with the theme is up to you. Use your imagination but make sure you present your ideas in a logical and organized way. The key is to work with the material to come up with an approach or angle that allows you to discuss this phase of history in a clear, organized and compelling way that demonstrates close reading of the primary source and understanding of how stories and information in the primary source relate to political and religious history.



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