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A day in the life of a teenager in medieval Baghdad - Birte Kristiansen and Petra Sijpesteijn


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It’s 791 CE. As the morning sun shines on the Golden Gate Palace, brother and sister Hisham and Asma prepare for the journey of a lifetime: the hajj, a holy pilgrimage to Mecca. They intend to travel with the big hajj caravan— but a last-minute mishap threatens to undo months of careful planning. Birte Kristiansen and Petra Sijpesteijn detail a day in the life of siblings in medieval Baghdad.

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In 750 the Abbasids build a new city: Baghdad. It was the beginning of an immensely interesting period in history. A period that had in fact already started prior to the building of Baghdad and would continue long after the prime days of the Abbasid empire were over. In this video we tried to give you a glimpse of what life might have looked like in Medieval Baghdad.

If you enjoyed this video, then consider visit our MOOC to learn much more about the Cosmopolitan Medieval Arabic World. It’s a free course!

One of the important issues we wanted to raise is that the portrayal of the early medieval world as the ‘dark ages’ is only true if you focus on very specific parts of the world. If you focus on the Middle East there were many flourishing cities and the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans on hygiene, water management and medicine for example was as alive as ever. Combined with the knowledge coming from Persia and India, Baghdad was an exciting place to be.

Travel was very central in the sharing of knowledge. The Hajj was one opportunity to do so, but certainly not the only travelling going on. Besides, a large part of the population wasn’t Muslim at all and they would conduct their own pilgrimages, for example towards Jerusalem.

As historians of the Middle East we feel that this part of world history is underrepresented in many history curricula around the world, which tend to be Eurocentric in their approach. The reason why this era is worth knowing about (besides the fact that it is simply interesting to know about history) is because it formed the basis or starting point for many events that happened afterwards. The story that is still too often told is that there was the classical period, then a thousand year gap in which all advancement basically came to a hold, and then the Renaissance. This is in essence a falsification of history: the thousand year gap never existed, not even in Europe, but certainly not if you take a wider range of world history in consideration.

Our intention is to show how the medieval world tied in with the period before and after. Of course a three minute video is not enough to do so. The MOOC mentioned above existing of five modules gives us some more time already. And if you really want to know more there luckily exist a lot of good books written by our colleagues. Here you find some online resources and a bibliography.

MOOC: The Cosmopolitan Medieval Arabic World
The Abbasid History Podcast
Mouse and Manuscript
Khan Academy
Leiden Islam Blog
MOOC: Christian-Muslim Relations
Access to Mideast and Islam Resources

Robert Irwin. Night and horses and the desert: An anthology of classical Arabic literature. (London: The Penguin Press, 1999.)
Amira K. Bennison. The great caliphs: The golden age of the Abbasid empire. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009.)
Ira M. Lapidus. A history of Islamic societies, 2e ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.)
Muhammad M. Ahsan. Social life under the Abbasids. (London/New York: Longman, 1979)
Hugh Kennedy. When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty. (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005).
Peter Frankopan. The Silk Roads. A New History of the World. (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Birte Kristiansen, Petra Sijpesteijn
  • Director Mohammad Babakoohi
  • Narrator Safia Elhillo
  • Storyboard Artist Mohammad Babakoohi
  • Animator Elahe Baloochi, Mohammad Babakoohi
  • Compositor Poorya Goodarzi
  • Art Director Yijia Cao , Mohammad Babakoohi
  • Music Aron Fard
  • Sound Designer Mohammad Babakoohi
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Senior Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler

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