June 16, 2016

Through the Heart of Afghanistan

Through the Heart of Afghanistan is an English translation of Emil Trinkler’s Quer durch Afghanistan nach Indien, published in Berlin in 1927. Trinkler (1896‒1931) was a German geographer and explorer who went to Afghanistan in 1923‒24 as a geologist for the German-Afghan Trading Company. The book is an account of Trinkler’s voyage, which began in Riga, Latvia, and included a trip by train across Russia followed by a seven-week delay at the Russian-Afghan border. Trinkler eventually succeeded in entering Afghanistan and traveled on to India. The book contains vivid accounts of the places he visited, including Herat, central Afghanistan, Kabul, Peshawar, and the “Valley of the Great Buddha,” where Trinkler viewed the large, rock Buddhist statues of Bamian (destroyed by the Afghan Taliban in 2001). The chapter on Kabul describes the opening up of the country brought about by the amir, Amanullah Khan (ruled 1919‒29), and the work of German architects and engineers in building roads, of the German medical mission in superintending the hospitals, and of “the celebrated German-Afghan Company [in] trying to reorganize the administration and business of Afghanistan.” The book includes 44 photographs by the author and a fold-out map of Afghanistan. Trinkler published the scientific results of his trip in a separate volume, Afghanistan: Eine landeskundliche Studie auf Grund des vorhandenen Materials und eigener Beobachtung (Afghanistan: A country study based on existing records and personal observation, Gotha, 1928). In 1927‒28 Trinkler led a German scientific expedition to Tibet, which he documented in two books published in 1930. His career as an explorer and Asia expert was cut short the following year when he was killed in an automobile accident near his native Bremen.

To Caubul with the Cavalry Brigade

To Caubul with the Cavalry Brigade is an account by a British officer, Major Reginald Mitford, of the actions of his unit, the 14th Bengal Lancers, during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80) in the period between September 1879 and January 1880. The war began in November 1878 when Great Britain, fearful of what it saw as growing Russian influence in Afghanistan, invaded the country from British India. The first phase of the conflict ended in May 1879 with the Treaty of Gandamak, which permitted the Afghans to maintain internal sovereignty but forced them to cede control over their foreign policy to the British. Fighting resumed in September 1879 after an anti-British uprising in Kabul that resulted in the death of Sir Louis Cavagnari, the British resident in Kabul and a negotiator of the Treaty of Gandamak, and of nearly all the British soldiers at the residency. The Kabul Field Force, commanded by General Sir Frederick Roberts and composed of British and Indian army regiments, including the 14th Bengal Lancers, was sent to Kabul to restore order and take revenge. Mitford’s book offers a first-hand account of the march to and operations in Kabul, including the harsh suppression of the uprising and the execution of many Afghans judged guilty of participating in it. Mitford and his unit also took part in the bloody siege of the Sherpur Cantonment of December 1879, in which Afghan forces mounted a nearly successful attack on the Anglo-Indian forces. The 14th Bengal Lancers were ordered back to India in January 1880, and marched to Peshawar by way of Jalalabad. The Second Anglo-Afghan War finally ended in September 1880, after the decisive Battle of Kandahar. The book contains illustrations based on sketches and a fold-out map of the Kabul district.

The Dynasty of the Kajars

The Dynasty of the Kajars is an English translation of an original manuscript, Maʼāsir-i sulṭānīyah, published in London in 1833 in an edition of 250 copies. The translator, Sir Harford Jones Brydges (1764–1847), was a British diplomat in the service of the East India Company who served as the company’s envoy-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary to the court of Persia from 1807 to 1811, and who received the manuscript from the shah of Persia, Fath ʻAli Shah (reigned 1797–1834). The author of the original work, ʻAbd-al-Razzaq Beg Donboli (1762 or 1763‒1827 or 1828), was a poet, historian, and biographer who lived and worked in Isfahan, Shiraz, and Tabriz. The history is mainly an account of the early part of Fath ʻAli’s reign. In addition to the translation, Brydges provided preliminary matter running to more than 200 pages that includes an explanation of how he came to possess the manuscript, an overview of the dynasties and rulers of Persia, and an account of his own time in Persia. The Qajar dynasty ruled Persia (present-day Iran) from 1794 to 1925. ʻAbd-al-Razzaq’s history begins with a chapter on the “illustrious lineage” of the Qajars, a Turkmen tribe that held ancestral lands in present-day Azerbaijan. The dynasty was founded by Shah Aqa Muhammad, who defeated numerous rivals to bring all of Persia under his rule by 1794. Aqa Muhammad was assassinated in 1797 and was succeeded by his nephew, Fath ʻAli. Much of the history is taken up by Russo-Persian War of 1804‒13, in which Persia was defeated and forced to cede to the Russians extensive territories in the Caucasus. The history also covers Fath ʻAli’s interactions with Afghanistan and with his Arab neighbors. The book is illustrated with plates and a map.

Guide to the India Office Records, 1600‒1858

A Guide to the India Office Records, 1600‒1858 is a short book intended for use by historians and other researchers, written by the registrar and superintendent of records of the India Office in London. The book is in five sections. The first covers the records of the home administrations, meaning the East India Company from the time of its chartering by Queen Elizabeth in 1600 to the end of its rule over India in 1858, and the Board of Control, or Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India, which functioned in London from 1784 to 1858. Section two covers the records of the administrations in India, including Bengal, the government of India, Agra, the North-Western Provinces, the Punjab, Madras, and Bombay. Section three provides an overview of the records of the India Office relating to third countries and regions, for example, the Cape Colony, Persia and the Persian Gulf, and Egypt and the Red Sea. Section four deals with records relating to shipping. Section five concerns personal records, including records of baptisms, marriages, and burials of Europeans in the service of the East India Company, wills, army lists, and lists of civil servants. Each section or sub-section contains a brief introduction to the entities that created the records described and listed, making the book a succinct and authoritative guide to the organization and structure of British rule in India. The author notes that the “volumes dealt with in this little handbook are estimated to number about forty-eight thousand.”

June 30, 2016

The Birch-bark Book

This book was handwritten in October 1991 on 18 sheets of finely worked birch bark by Afanasii Gerasimovich Murachev, an instructor of the Old Believer schismatic sect. It consists of a collection of previously unknown compositions by Old Believer peasant writers, including Murachev himself. Most of the compositions concern the history of the Enisei (or Yenisey) monasteries. The latter were Old Believer monasteries that in 1937‒1940 secretly relocated from the Ural Mountains to the left bank of the Lower Yenisey River and the Dubches River and its tributaries. In 1951 the monasteries were spotted from the air by the Soviet authorities and subsequently demolished by a punitive detachment. The hermits associated with the monasteries and the peasants who had supported them were arrested, and all the buildings, icons, and books were burned. This birch-bark book primarily contains religious poems on the themes of the destruction of the Enisei monasteries, the trial of the monastery residents, and the subsequent death in prison of the head of the Dubches monasteries, Father Simeon, in 1953. The book is enhanced with a few small instructional compositions in verse by Murachev. Some of the compositions are of a personal nature, while others are addressed to the congregation as a whole. Exhorting his religious flock to a righteous life, Murachev seeks to embrace all aspects of human existence and create a unique code for the God-fearing Christian. The birch-bark book is from the collections of the Institute of History of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (II SO RAN). It was digitized in the early 2000s as part of the Meeting of Frontiers project of the Library of Congress and partner institutions in the Russian Federation, the United States, and Germany.

The Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes

The Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes is a literary monument of Byzantine origin. The book was written in the sixth century by the monk Cosmas, whose sobriquet, Indicopleustes, points to an earlier career as a merchant and traveler. The work was widely disseminated in translation in Russia, where it had a long manuscript tradition and was read and transcribed for centuries. Among the Old Believers (dissenters from Russian Orthodox reforms in the mid-17th century), the work remains popular to the present day. In terms of content, the composition is a medieval encyclopedia of a unique character. It contains knowledge of both a theological and a natural philosophical or scientific character, and describes, from the perspective of Christian dogma, human understanding of the surrounding world: the structure of the universe, the geography of the world, the nature of humanity, the animal world, and so forth. Manuscripts of the work as a rule were illustrated. This copy contains many colorful miniatures illustrating the book’s themes. The manuscript, which dates from the early 19th century, is from the collections of the Institute of History of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (II SO RAN) in Novosibirsk, Russia, and was acquired in Vostochno-Kazakhstanskaia Oblast (part of present-day Kazakhstan). It was digitized in the early 2000s as part of the Meeting of Frontiers project of the Library of Congress and partner institutions in the Russian Federation, the United States, and Germany.