Thursday, September 17, 2009

Problems of Data

When I saw that I had to read this book, I thought it was going to be very boring. I was wrong though. Abu-Lugbod brings up some very interesting points. One that interested me in particular was The Problems of Data. It think it is absolutely amazing we have so much knowledge of the past. Considering how the ancient world didn't even have enough paper to write things down on, it's astonishing how much knowledge of the ancient world was preserved so that we can learn from it today.
Abu-Lughbod says that "uniform and equally reliable data" isn't something that one always has. Some valuable documents in some places do not always have parallels elsewhere, or worse she says "virtually no data survived." That would be very frustrating, but think of all the data that has survived and how we have learned so much from it.
Abu-Lugbod points out how much knowledge on business transactions there is from the Genoese traders who produced "thousands of notarized documents." It's hard to believe that all that information was able to be preserved so that we can learn from it. And not only Genoa but China too.
It is sad though that three important places that contributed to trade in the thirteenth century were not able to produce and preserve important data. The Mongols were all about conquest and did not produce important data about trade. Thank goodness for Marco Polo. For the principalities along the straights of Malacca, they didn't have a solid place to contribute such information. The Muslims thought other things were more important to write down over commerce and trade.
I find the story about the Egyptian Jewish in Cairo very interesting. For fear of their religious superstitions they threw all papers with writing on them into the repository called the Geniza. These seemingly insignificant pieces of paper offered so much information on Jewish life and trade with "Spain, North Africa, the Levant, and India." I find that so incredible.
Even though Abu-Lugbod says "lack of comparable data has made it difficult to trace levels of living within and relationships between the areas selected for study," I believe that just from what we have discovered, there is still so much to learn from it. Yes there is so much more we wish we knew, but we must be grateful for what we do know from the ancient world and use it.
J. McCracken

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