Bronze, Ivory, and Dragon’s Blood: Making the Middle Ages in the Indian Ocean World (Session D)
Mon-Thurs / 12-2:00pm
How did ivory, a material sourced from the corpse of a slain elephant, affect a carved Buddha icon? What did tin have to do with the global obsession with blue and white porcelain? From monumental stone temples to tiny bronze lions, ivory oliphants to glazed earthenware “imitating” porcelain to mythologized “dragon’s blood” pigment, in this course we will explore how materials themselves functioned to define and create cultural, technological, and aesthetic continuities throughout the medieval Indian Ocean world, which includes East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and West Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and sometimes by extension, parts of the Mediterranean world. Through analyses of a diverse corpus of architecture, carved and molded sculpture, ceramics, and painting, our inquiries will focus on the medium of the artwork, keeping in mind pre-modern perceptions of various materials and their ability to shape the artwork or object itself.
The term “medieval,” coming from the Latin term medium aevum meaning “middle age,” suggests that the historical period is defined more by what came before and after, than as a period worthy of its own name (such as Classical, Renaissance, or Modern, for example). While in European history the medieval period’s other (now outdated) name “the Dark Ages” has further inscribed the fifth through fifteenth centuries as a millennium of ideological degeneration and material scarcity, in the Indian Ocean world the generation and mobility of objects and raw materials, religions, and ideas were burgeoning during this period. In this course, we will begin by interrogating the usefulness of applying this term “medieval,” and the meaning of doing so, within the context of the Indian Ocean world from approximately the eighth century, when Islam had begun to spread across seas and continents, to the end of the fifteenth century, when the first Portuguese expedition arrived in India.
This course fulfills the following Major requirements: Geographical area (E) [or (B) or (D), if needed] and Chronological period (I) or (II), based on the topic of the final research paper or project.