Workshop emphasizes medieval Baghdad and Nishapur as sites of global knowledge exchange

Workshop emphasizes medieval Baghdad and Nishapur as sites of global knowledge exchangeAbdul Qadir al-Rassam (Photo: Arab Museum of Modern Art, WikiMedia Commons, cropped) CC BY-SA 3.0

This Sites of Encounter in World History teacher workshop focused on the role of Baghdad and Nishapur as important hubs for technological, scientific, and literary innovation from the 3rd to 12th centuries.

As part of an ongoing teacher training initiative spearheaded by the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES), UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) and UCLA History-Geography Project (HGP), a virtual teacher workshop took place via Zoom on June 18-19, 2020 to assist K-12 public school educators in conceptualizing and implementing lesson plans on the medieval Islamic world. The workshop is part of a 4-year teacher workshop series focused on exploring different historical sites around the world.

The 2020 workshop focused on Baghdad and Nishapur, both of which have historically been rich repositories of culture, science, and the arts. These two cities embody the concept of “Sites of Encounter in World History,” which the American Historical Association defines as “places where merchants, travelers, and scholars exchanged products, technologies, and ideas over a broad range of geographic areas, incorporating historical texts, literature, and art.”

Developed into a webinar due to COVID-19, the workshop was designed to provide resources and knowledge about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in accordance with the California K-12 History-Social Science (HSS) Framework. Workshop facilitators from HGP and teacher leaders provided training that specifically aligned with this framework.

Over the course of the two days, teachers had opportunities to work with curriculum model lessons on medieval Baghdad and Nishapur developed by two teacher leaders, Keli Arslancan and Hala Dillsi, who are also K-12 educators from local school districts. Participants discussed the overall components and priorities of the HSS Framework in order to analyze its pliability and effectiveness in the classroom setting. Faculty experts on the two cities also gave lectures to provide area studies content for teachers to use and build upon in their classroom instruction.

Professor Beeta Baghoolizadeh from Bucknell University talked about the history of Nishapur and its religious, economic, and literary legacies. From Ferdowsi in the 10th and 11th centuries to Reza Shah in the 20th, Nishapur was a significant center of political and cultural activity. Baghoolizadeh emphasized how learning about Nishapur is useful in thinking critically about how interpretations of history and the creation of national narratives transform over time.

Professor Michael Cooperson from UCLA presented an overview of the many eccentricities of early Islamic history, which gave Baghdad its unique political and cultural character during the rule of the Abbasid Dynasty between the 8th and 13th centuries. He provided deep contextual analysis of the various factors that lead to the flourishing of art forms such as architecture and literature in the middle-Abbasid era.

Both lectures offered historical background information for teachers to expand upon in their instruction of this region. Moreover, teachers were able to get a comprehensive view of how scholars and political figures in Baghdad and Nishapur were studying and adapting knowledge from other cultures. These two cities were fundamental in establishing the early fields of science, mathematics, engineering, literature, and medicine. The model lessons created by the two teacher leaders reiterated this emphasis on the role of scholars and religious leaders in this region in contributing transformative changes to areas such as cartography, calculus, medical knowledge, technological innovations, poetic construction, and story-telling.

At the conclusion of the workshop, teachers were invited to design and submit new lesson plans which utilized the content discussed over those two days. The lessons will be reviewed and posted online on the Sites of Encounter resource page developed by CNES and CSEAS and the UCLA History-Geography Project website. They will remain available as resources for other educators to access and implement in their own teaching of this region.

The workshop was funded by a Department of Education Title VI grant. As designated National Resource Centers under the grant, CNES and CSEAS work together to provide K-12 educators with tools for framing and teaching different cultures, perspectives, and societies throughout history.

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Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2020