Indian Ocean History Course term paper
Reading Questions for Amitav Ghosh, In An Antique Land (London: Granta, 1992)
[Up to p. 105]
Q: Who are “the Slave of MS H.6” and Ben Yiju?
Q: What two times and/or historical periods does the narrative thread together?
Q: What gave Abu Ali power in his village? [hint: “passport to prosperity”]
Q: What’s in a name? What’s the history and significance of the names Egypt and Misr (or Masr)?
Q: What does it mean to say that Cairo (Masr) is a geographical “hinge”?
Q: How was Fustat’s appearance deceptive? [hint: adobe]
Q: Which competing allegiance or affiliation takes the wind out of Ustaz Mustafa’s zeal to convert the “Indian” to Islam?
Q: What in the world do the Mounties have to do with the Ben Ezra Synagogue?
Q: Is there an example of life continuing after death here? Whose life? How?
Q: What is a zikr?
Q: What is thar, damm?
Q: How does a simple water pump help the author’s reputation?
Q: How does the disposal of the Geniza records map onto the history of colonialism?
Reading Questions from p. 106 to the end
Q: How does the year 1952 impact the Egyptian peasantry?
Q: What does the question of male circumcision bring up for Ghosh? How does its symbolic value change with the nation-state?
Q: Who is Ashu and what is her relationship to Ben Yiju?
Q: What does it mean to be part of a historical civilization? What makes one feel that way?
Q: In perhaps the most poignant scene in the novel, the village Imam launches a
verbal assault on Ghosh. What are his charges? Why do you think he makes them?
Q: How does Ghosh react? How does he then make this a teaching moment (for readers) about global history in the Indian Ocean World?
Q: What is meant here: “We were both travelling, he and I: we were travelling in the West.” (236)
Q: On the trail of the slave of MS H.6 again, does Ghosh find out his name? How does he characterize medieval Indian Ocean slavery.
Q: What does he discover in the process of searching for the slave’s origins about the politics of India ca. 1990?
Q: Based on class discussions, what do you make of Ghosh’s account of the significance of Vasco da Gama’s arrival?
Q: What story of Indian Ocean migrations might new consumer goods in an Egyptian village tell?
Q: Ghosh’s attempt to visit a Jewish shrine in Egypt prompts this reflection: “I had been caught straddling a border, unaware that the writing of History had predicated its own self-fulfillment.” (340) What does he mean? What happened to provoke this thought?
General Questions for the Essay
What is the author trying to achieve by braiding medieval and modern, archival and auto-ethnographic threads in one book? What framework (of time-space-structure) is suitable for making sense of these disparate stories told together? Do the stories in fact illuminate a unity and how does it change over time?
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