Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, & Africa: An Encyclopedia

Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, & Africa: An Encyclopedia

Encyclopedias

Edited by: Andrea L. Stanton, Edward Ramsamy, Peter J. Seybolt & Carolyn M. Elliott

Abstract

In our age of globalization and multiculturalism, it has never been more important for Americans to understand and appreciate foreign cultures and how people live, love, and learn in areas of the world unfamiliar to most U.S. students and the general public. The four volumes in our cultural sociology reference encyclopedia take a step forward in this endeavor by presenting concise information on those regions likely to be most “foreign” to U.S. students: the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The intent is to convey what daily life is like for people in these selected regions. It is hoped entries within these volumes will aid readers in efforts to understand the importance of cultural sociology, to appreciate the effects of cultural forces around the world, and ...

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      About the Volume 1 Editor

      Andrea L. Stanton teaches in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Denver. Trained as a historian (Ph.D., Columbia University, 2007), her research focuses on the 20th-century Middle East, and particularly the intersections between technology, communications media, and identity formation. Her dissertation, now undergoing revision as a manuscript, analyzes the history and impact of the Palestine Broadcasting Service, which broadcast from Jerusalem from 1936 to 1949. Her most recent work considers expressions of religious identity in print and broadcast media and investigates the sometimes conflictual, sometimes cooperative relationship between new technologies and claims to religious authority. A forthcoming article examines government management of religious broadcasts in Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s. She connects this to a broader history of Middle Eastern states controlling religious communities' access to radio and television, including the complications engendered by the satellite phenomenon that started in the late 1990s.

      She has previously taught at Sarah Lawrence College and the American University of Beirut, and currently serves on the Board of the Syrian Studies Association as editor of the association's quarterly newsletter. She also serves as editor of H-Levant, an academic listserv with over 900 members, and as a manuscript reviewer for the Digest of Middle East Studies and the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies.

      About the Volume 2 Editor

      Edward Ramsamy, Ph.D., is associate professor of Africana studies and a member of the graduate faculty of geography and the graduate faculty of urban planning and policy development at the Bloustein School at Rutgers University. He is the author of the book The World Bank and Urban Development: From Projects to Policy (2006). In addition to his research in international development planning and geographies of globalization, Ramsamy's fields of study include the political economy of transition and nation-building in postcolonial/developing societies, as well as the comparative politics of identity and race relations in South Africa and the United States. He has edited The Black Experience in America (with Gayle T. Tate, 2006). In addition, he has published numerous articles on regional integration in southern Africa, as well as racial, ethnic, and national identity in post-apartheid South Africa. Ramsamy is a founding trustee of the Global Literary Project, Inc. He is also the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture, the Institute for Research on Women, and the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis.

      About the Volume 3 Editor

      Peter J. Seybolt is professor emeritus of history (east Asia) at the University of Vermont where he taught courses on east Asia and U.S.–Asian relations from 1969 through 2007. He has a Ph.D. in history and east Asian languages (Chinese and Japanese) from Harvard University. For many years he was director of Asian Studies and of Chinese and Japanese language programs at the University of Vermont. He has published six books, including translations and edited works, and many articles in academic journals on a variety of topics, including education, youth, Chinese language reform, village leadership, and the communist movement in China during World War II. For more than a decade, he was editor of Chinese Education and Society, a journal of translations (Chinese to English). He currently resides in Vermont with his wife of more than 50 years, Cynthia Taylor Seybolt.

      About the Volume 4 Editor

      Carolyn M. Elliott is professor emerita of political science at the University of Vermont. She holds a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University specializing in comparative politics and the politics of South Asia. Over the course of her career she has resided in India for more than 10 years for the purposes of research, program administration, and development work. She has also made several visits to China, beginning in the Mao Zedong years, and to central Asia.

      Her primary research interest is in the development of democracy in India. With several Fulbright awards, she has studied the role of caste in electoral politics, the rise of populism, and the political impact of development programs. She has also written on educational policy, civil society, and women and development. Recent edited volumes are Civil Society and Democracy and Global Empowerment of Women.

      Introduction to Volume 1

      The year 2011 was one of change for the Arab world, with echoes of political revolutions and calls for reform reverberating throughout the entire Middle East—which this volume defines as stretching from north Africa in the west to Iran in the east, including the Arab world, Turkey, and Iran. The eyes of the region and the entire world turned first to Tunisia and then to Egypt, where peaceful protests in which millions of citizens took to the streets led to the resignation of each country's “president for life” and the end to decades-long emergency laws.

      Subsequently, protests in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere have met with bloody and harsh repressive measures by the governments in power—measures that have resulted in mass detentions and imprisonments as well as hundreds of deaths. It is a testament to the strength of these national cultures and their survival despite decades of repressive governance that these protests have continued into mid-2011 and have garnered regional and global support.

      Given the severely truncated space allowed in most contemporary Middle Eastern states for political activity, what roles do the spheres of social and cultural activities play for ordinary citizens? What are the contours and characteristics of daily life? How do people spend their leisure time? What media do they see, read, hear, and discuss? How do they relate to one another as family, friends, neighbors—whether co-religionists or not? How do they navigate religious and governmental structures? What, in short, can we learn from looking at the cultures of the historic and contemporary Middle East and taking seriously the role that culture plays in society?

      Cultural Sociology

      Cultural sociology brings cultural analysis to the field of sociology, creating space for analytic questions about meaning. It looks at society through the lens of culture, considering how cultural theory can inform sociological understandings of individual and group behaviors and activities.

      In particular, cultural sociology considers how culture inflects and affects social structures and organizations, whether at the community, national, or global level. Conversely, it has also been used to approach cultural phenomena from a sociological perspective—phenomena such as mass media, consumption, art, ethnic identities, and gender relations. In this case, scholars from a range of disciplines, trained and located around the world, have brought cultural theories and sociological perspectives to bear upon the historic and contemporary Middle East, using sociological tools to analyze cultural phenomena while taking culture seriously as a field of sociological inquiry.

      The Encyclopedia

      The purpose of this volume is to provide readers with a comprehensive reference work that can answer their questions and guide their research on the historic and contemporary Middle East, through the lens of cultural sociology. As a scholarly, multiple-author work, this volume will serve as an accessible but cogent resource for undergraduate and graduate students, scholars of other geographic areas considering comparative projects, and serious-minded general readers.

      This volume is divided into three subsections: Prehistory to 1250 covers the years from the evolution of humanity through the foundations of the three Abrahamic faiths, the establishment of the caliphate, the rapid and widespread adoption of Arabic and the slow emergence of a Muslim majority throughout the region, and ends with the Mongol invasions of the late 1240s.

      The years 1250 to 1920 cover the medieval, early modern, and part of the modern period—nearly seven centuries of crucial and wide-sweeping developments. That period covers the institutionalization of Islam's religious scholarly class, the ulama, as well as of its more spiritual approach, known as Sufism. Politically, it covers the region's reconstruction in the wake of the Mongol invasion and the emergence of the two great early modern empires: the Ottoman Empire, which stretched from modern Turkey to modern Algeria, and the Safavid, which governed Iran and which transformed Iran from a Sunni state into a Shiite state. Finally, it includes the many cultural, social, political, and technological developments of the period—from the capitalist speculation of the Tulip Period to the dismantling of the millet system and the push for constitutional governments in the late 1800s—and the final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

      The third section, 1920 to Present, looks at the modern and contemporary Middle East—a period primarily defined by the rise of nation-states, the last throes of European colonialism, cold war politics, and state-heavy, socialistic postcolonial regimes.

      Topics addressed in the first section of this volume include the origins of the alphabet, Byzantium, Christianity, the figure of Abraham and his family in the Muslim tradition, art, architecture, major intellectuals of the early Muslim period like Ibn Rushd (known in Europe as Averroes), nomadism, understandings of race and skin color, the institution and morality of slavery, the position of women throughout this period, and the Turkic influence on the Muslim world starting from the early medieval period. These subjects range from the political to the religious, from the artistic to the familial; together they help paint a portrait for readers of daily life in the Middle East during this period.

      Topics addressed in the second and third sections continue in the same vein, with articles on key modern reformers like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, fields of inquiry like mathematics, broad themes like nationalism, key economic and political drivers like oil, cultural figures like Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, and daily life matters such as food and health. Readers who use this volume as an encyclopedia and search for particular articles of interest will find these articles' combination of conciseness and depth to be invaluable; readers who read through the volume as a coherent work will gain even more insight, developing a chronological, historically grounded sense of the culture and society of the Middle East, past and present—one deeply grounded in the analytic interplay between the fields of sociology and cultural studies.

      Andrea L. Stanton Volume Editor

      Introduction to Volume 2

      Africa is a continent of immense cultural, political, and linguistic diversity. The historical experiences, cultural and religious traditions, systems of government, and patterns of everyday life vary considerably among the more than 800 million people living on the African continent. This volume aims to provide a comprehensive analysis on the history and cultures of Africa as well as to explore important sociocultural, political, and economic developments across the continent. The volume is divided into three sections which are periodized as follows: The first section spans prehistory to 1400, the second subsection is from 1400 to 1900, and the third dates from 1900 to the present time.

      Social science research is often divided between a focus on social and political structures; that is, material circumstances, economic and political institutions on one hand, and patterns of human behavior and human agency on the other hand. This volume attempts to overcome the tension by taking advantage of the intersection of sociology and cultural studies and adopting the perspective that structure and agency are inseparable. In other words, while structural circumstances shape particular events or practices, the role of human actors and agency in resisting, modifying, or conforming to those circumstances should also be taken into consideration. Such a perspective allows for a more nuanced examination of particular historical processes as they unfold in different socio-cultural contexts.

      Sociological and political developments on the African continent have always been the subject of much debate and discussion in the West. In his book The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin speculated (as it turns out, correctly) that human beings originated in Africa. Christian Europeans, however, were deeply skeptical of Darwin's idea of natural selection, but found it particularly preposterous that he would consider Africa as the birthplace of humanity. Such a proposition went against not only the biblical narrative of the Garden of Eden, which, according to Christian thought, was believed to be located somewhere in the Caucasus valley of the Middle East, but also the prevailing European views of Africa as spiritually or morally stagnant. Today, although there is widespread agreement, in the scientific community at least, that Africa is indeed the “cradle of humanity,” public opinion is still divided.

      There is a long tradition in mainstream Western intellectual discourse of treating Africa's early history and accomplishments without integrity. For example, the great German philosopher and political theorist Friedrich Hegel claimed that “Africa proper, as far as history goes back, remained, for all purposes of connection with the rest of the world, shut up. … It is a land of childhood … enveloped in the dark mantle of the night. The Negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state.” Like Hegel, many Western travel writers and explorers echoed the view that Africa had made no significant contribution to human civilization before the age of Europe.

      In his far-reaching but much debated two-volume work Black Athena, Martin Bernal interrogates the Eurocentric characterization of Africa. Bernal distinguishes between two traditions in Europe's view of Africa, the Ancient Model and the Aryan Model. In the Ancient Model, Bernal argues, it was accepted that Greece was the foundation for European civilization and that classical Greece drew intellectual inspiration from the older civilizations of Egypt and Phoenicia. The Ancient Model also recognized Egypt as an African civilization. However, as ethnocentrism and racism developed, along with European imperial pursuits, the Ancient Model was replaced by the Aryan Model, which argued that classical Greece owed nothing to Egyptian civilization or any other outside influences. The Aryan Model also denied that Africa had any history or agency of its own, or shared a common humanity with peoples elsewhere in the world. One of the many negative consequences of this mode of thinking was that ancient Egypt ceased to be seen as part of Africa.

      The first part of this volume focuses on the period from antiquity to 1400. Most of the entries in this section are written from perspectives that are similar to Martin Bernal's Ancient Model. The articles serve as correctives to representations of ancient Africa as a place of backwardness, superstition, and irrationality. This section aims to capture the vibrancy of economic and political institutions of Africa before the age of Europe, as well as the diverse cultural practices and rituals.

      Some entries in this section engage the debate on the African origins of Egyptian civilization, examining the complex cross-fertilization between ancient Egypt and African societies to the south. A number of entries examine centers of tool-making and technology in ancient Africa. Along with analyses of rock paintings and other archeological artifacts, these articles offer insights into patterns of population movements, settlement centers, and agricultural practices during the period of African antiquity. Population movements from east Africa to other regions on the continent led to the formation of some notable empires during this period, such as Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. Attention is also paid to trading centers and networks across the African continent. For example, domestication of the camel revolutionized trans-Saharan trade, and products from sub-Saharan Africa were able to reach the Mediterranean as a consequence. West African gold was an important commodity in Africa's early history. The artistic and cultural achievements of Africa are also examined in this section, as well as the close relationship between art, architecture, and religion.

      The second section of this volume explores the period from 1400 to 1900, an era of tremendous flux and transition in the social, cultural, and economic relations of Africa. The continent's interactions with the rest of the world intensified and expanded during this period. The two most decisive impacts upon Africa during this period were the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. Like most societies of antiquity, Africans practiced forms of slavery. However, the scale of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the racism associated it had a devastating effect on the continent. Together, slavery and colonialism resulted in the depopulation of large parts of West Africa and distorted the development of the entire continent.

      In the 1400s, Portuguese sailors tried to find a sea route to the east by circumnavigating Africa. In addition to finding an alternative route to lucrative trading centers in Asia, the Portuguese also wanted to bypass Muslim north Africa and gain direct access to gold-producing areas in west Africa. They reached the Akan gold fields of west Africa around 1470 and built a fort (Elmina) in 1482 to protect their trading interests in the region from other European competitors.

      The Portuguese established sugar plantations on the islands of Príncipe and São Tomé, off the coast of west Africa, where they began to use African slave labor. As the plantations thrived, slave labor on the Portuguese islands became the prototype for the subsequent expansion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, especially as Portugal and Spain began to colonize the Americas. African slaves were used by the Portuguese and Spanish for agricultural commodity production in the Americas and the Caribbean. As other European nations became involved in the slave trade by the 1600s, the number of Africans captured and transported to the Americas increased phenomenally, becoming the greatest forced migration in history.

      The role of Africans themselves in the trans-Atlantic slave trade has ignited a passionate debate in many circles. This issue was highlighted in Henry Louis Gates's PBS television series Wonders of the African World, in the episode on slavery. Gates tries to demonstrate that Africans participated in, facilitated, and were culpable in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. On the other hand, Ali Mazrui, the Kenyan political scientist, claims that while Africans did indeed participate in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, they were neither the primary beneficiaries of the trade nor the primary actors in it.

      The problem with Gates's contention of African involvement, according to Mazrui, is that it allows Europeans to absolve themselves of blame for the brutality and tragedy of slavery. A number of entries in this volume deal with the controversial issue of African complicity in the slave trade. The enormous benefits reaped by the Europeans as a consequence of the triangular trade in human beings, raw materials, and finished products between Africa, Europe, and the Americas are also discussed in this section. Some entries show that European slave traders usually did not venture beyond the coastal regions. Drawing on the examples of Asante, Benin, and Dahomey, among others, the entries show that internal African conflicts and rivalries resulted in the selling of captives to European slave traders.

      The political, sociocultural, and economic impacts of the slave trade on the African coastline from Senegal to southern Angola, and the interconnected interior regions, are explored in great depth. Furthermore, entries on the lives of particular individuals, such as Olaudah Equiano, give the reader insight into the lived experience of slavery. Other entries examine the disrupting effect of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on the cultural and political institutions of Africa.

      The second major theme that informs this section is European colonialism. From the onset of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, European merchants and traders became interested in gaining access to Africa's natural resources and trading systems in the interior of the continent. However, until the mid-1800s, with the exception of the French in Algeria, and the Dutch and English settlers in southern Africa, European conquest of African territory was limited to coastal enclaves. Europeans gradually formed alliances with local African leaders in order to gain a foothold in African society.

      By the late 1800s, the nature and scope of European contact with Africa began to change dramatically, as European nations tried to bring African countries under direct political control. This process was formalized at the Berlin Conference of 1884–85, convened in the Berlin residence of the Prussian Emperor Otto Von Bismarck. The intention of this conference was aptly captured by King Leopold of Belgium, who stated that he was present at the conference to get his share “of this magnificent African cake.” At the Berlin Conference, the different European powers carved up Africa and divided it among themselves.

      The negative repercussions of colonialism on the African continent are taken up in this section, including the fragmentation and division of the continent, the marginalization of rural people (especially women), and the creation of top-down structures of governance. Peoples of similar cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds often found themselves on different sides of colonial boundaries as a consequence of the imposed geography of the Berlin Conference. The colonial borders also divided and disrupted dynamic precolonial trading and commercial systems. Colonialism marginalized rural peoples, especially as fast-produced cash crops replaced earlier farming systems. This new crop production system had a particularly adverse effect on rural women, who were central to precolonial crop production but who found themselves increasingly marginalized under colonial commercial agriculture.

      Finally, colonies were run by colonial officers and bureaucrats who had dictatorial powers and were largely unresponsive to the needs and aspirations of the subject African population during colonial rule. A number of episodes of resistance against colonial incursion are discussed in this section, including the defeat of the Italians by the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) in 1896. However, superior military technology enabled the Europeans to quell and defeat these uprisings and—with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia—Africa was under the firm control of European nations by the early 20th century.

      The third and final section of the volume examines the period from 1900 to the present. During the early part of the 20th century, colonial rule continued to leave its imprint on the continent. The Herero of Namibia, a Bantu people who migrated to Namibia in the 17th and 18th centuries from the eastern part of the African continent, bore the brunt of German colonial expansion in South-West Africa (Namibia). More than 65,000 Herero perished between 1904 and 1907 as German colonial forces tried to suppress Herero resistance to German colonial intrusion. The war of colonial expansion in Namibia soon changed to a genocidal campaign against the Herero people. In fact, many German military figures who participated in the atrocities of World War II had first served as colonial military officers in Namibia during the Herero genocide. This section examines the Herero genocide as well as other instances of colonial oppression in the early 20th century Africa.

      The rise of national liberation movements against colonial and white settler rule was one of the most significant cultural and political developments of the 20th century in Africa, a theme that is explored at great length in the final section. The rise of these movements, as well as the international Pan-African movement, were important developments in the struggles of marginalized populations to assert their identities and agency. Africans paid a heavy price to free themselves from colonial domination.

      In Algeria alone, more than 1 million people died fighting to overthrow French colonial rule. In South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), Africa's oldest national liberation movement, waged a century-long struggle against white-supremacist rule in that country, which ended in 1994.

      However, the exuberance of national liberation was short lived. National elites who came into power following the demise of colonial rule employed the same divisive techniques used by colonial rulers to guarantee their own privileges and maintain their power base. The project of building and consolidating national unity was undercut by a variety of ethnic, regional, and cultural interests. This issue is examined across various regions in Africa in this volume.

      Contemporary Africa faces a number of challenges. These include autocratic leaders and governments, poor systems of governance, shortage of food, the AIDS crisis, cultural and ethnic conflict, gender oppression, lack of educational resources, and massive socioeconomic inequality. However, there is also increasing hope that Africa will develop its own way forward through the 21st century.

      For example, there is a great deal of cultural vibrancy on the continent. Music, literature, film, and other forms of cultural production from various regions of Africa have become part and parcel of global culture. Africa has produced a number of award-winning novelists, film directors, musicians, and athletes.

      Nelson Mandela's visionary leadership in fostering a sense national unity in South Africa, a country with a deeply fractured past, is a cause for celebration and optimism. In addition to analyzing the problems facing contemporary Africa, a number of entries in this section highlight the positive trends mentioned above, focusing on how Africans are harnessing their own intellectual, cultural, and economic capital to improve their living conditions and life chances.

      In sum, the primary purpose of this volume is to serve as a reference guide on important themes pertaining to the intersection of sociology and culture in African society. The entries provide a general overview of major issues and themes, as well as offer an introduction to some contemporary debates. These reviewed entries, written by experts from around the world, serve as a comprehensive resource for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as researchers interested in the sociology and culture of Africa beyond narrow disciplinary specializations. These cross-referenced, alphabetically arranged articles also provide insight into a range of topics such as empires, states, and elites. It is our hope that the volume will contribute toward a new vision of Africa.

      Edward Ramsamy Volume Editor

      Introduction to Volume 3

      The geographic area covered by this volume, east and southeast Asia, is huge and diverse. It encompasses a land area of more than 6 million square miles that is inhabited by more than 2 billion people, almost one-third of the population of the world. It includes China, with the world's largest population, 1.35 billion, and East Timor, with one of the world's smallest, approximately 1.3 million. Culturally, it is as diverse as it is geographically. Dozens of distinct languages and more than 1,000 dialects are spoken. All of the major religions of the world are practiced, including Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Daoist folk belief, as well as Shinto in Japan, Shamanism in parts of Korea, and animism throughout the region. Racial diversity resulting from numerous migrations to the area over the millennia is seen in a polyglot mixture of colors and physical characteristics.

      Despite these and other differences, there are cultural features, as well as geographic proximity, that give cohesion to the concept of east and southeast Asia. Some of these have considerable significance throughout the area, and others are particular to one of the two major geographic divisions, east and southeast. East Asia, as delineated in this volume, includes China, Taiwan (a politically independent part of China), Korea (North and South), and Japan. Southeast Asia includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, East Timor, and Brunei. In examining cultural influences and similarities we will consider these areas separately first, and then collectively.

      East Asia, throughout most of its history, has been heavily influenced by Chinese thought and institutions: political, economic, and cultural. The Chinese culture sphere included north and central Vietnam as well as Japan and Korea. All of these countries adopted, and then adapted, the Chinese writing system. The Confucian ethos had, and continues to have, a profound effect on the thought and values of the whole region. Governing institutions were patterned on the Chinese centralized bureaucratic system, though with considerable variation, especially in Japan, where there has been but one dynasty throughout history. But even in Japan during the era of military rule (Bakufu or Shogunate), the samurai warriors were schooled in Confucian thought and guided by Chinese bureaucratic behavior.

      In all of east Asia, Chinese art, architecture, poetry and literature, music and dance, ceramics, cuisine, and couture served as models for other east Asian countries. All of the latter developed their own distinctive variations on the model, but the essential influence is readily apparent to the untrained eye even today. Tea and silk cultivation and connoisseurship originated in China and spread throughout east Asia as a defining cultural feature of the area. Silk fabric production in China began perhaps as early as the 3rd millennium b.c.e. Production techniques were a closely guarded secret, but by the 3rd century b.c.e. they had been discovered by Korean artisans and by the 3rd century c.e. they had traveled to Japan. Chinese legend asserts that the discovery of tea as a medicinal and refreshing beverage dates back to the 3rd millennium b.c.e., but tea production and drinking became common only in the 8th century c.e. in China and quickly spread throughout the area. Imbibing rituals became a distinctive art form, with differing characteristics in all east Asian countries, including Vietnam.

      Economically, the main occupation of the majority of the populace in all of the countries of east Asia was rice paddy agriculture. Chinese agrarian inventions and techniques spread throughout the area, playing an important role in creating a common culture. Commerce between China and many other countries was carried out during much of the dynastic period under the aegis of the Tribute System, whereby those who wished to have trade and other relations with China formally acknowledged the superiority of the Chinese “Son of Heaven” and presented gifts in the form of tribute. The court would reciprocate with gifts valued by the vassal state. Korea and Vietnam were regular tributary states; Japan did not participate in the system except very briefly in the 14th century and never sent tribute missions, but there were periods of considerable trade between the two countries nevertheless.

      Chinese preeminence in east Asia was shattered in the 19th century by Western imperialism. Japan, the first country in the region to Westernize, quickly became dominant, defeating China in a war in 1895, colonizing Taiwan, and, in 1910, incorporating Korea as part of metropolitan Japan. During World War II, Japanese troops occupied almost all of east and southeast Asia. Today, relations among the nations of east Asia are in flux. Ancient cultural commonalities are still very much in evidence, and China has regained much of its lost stature in the area, but in the present global age the culture of the region is subject to influences from a great variety of sources, with unknown consequences.

      The term southeast Asia refers to the land mass and archipelago south of China and east of India. The culture of the region has been greatly influenced throughout history by proximity to both of these great civilizations, and eventually by civilizations in the West and Middle East. Successive migrations over a number of millennia from the China mainland account for the majority of the population in the southeast Asia mainland and archipelago. Peoples of the Austronesian language group migrated from south China between 3500 and 1500 b.c.e., populating areas that are now Malaysia, Sumatra and Java, and many Pacific islands, supplanting Austro-Melanesian peoples who had migrated, perhaps from Africa, at an earlier time. Mon and Khmer peoples (Mon-Khmer language group) also migrated south from China and Tibet, probably through Burma, about 3,000 years ago. Much later migrations beginning in the 9th century c.e. brought Tibeto-Burman, Thai, Shan, and Lao tribes from southern China, and, finally, the Mongol conquest of China in the 13th century sent a renewed influx of Thai and Shan into Burma and Cambodia, significantly influencing the culture of the area.

      Aspects of Chinese culture were transmitted by these migrating tribes, but Indian culture brought by merchants from south Asia had a more pervasive and profound influence, except in northern Vietnam, until about the 16th century. Early polities were mostly Hindu kingdoms; Angkor Wat, for instance, was built as a Hindu temple, but Theravada Buddhism eventually supplanted Hinduism in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. In eastern Java, a powerful Buddhist dynasty ruled in the 7th century, but later monarchs reverted to Hinduism, and later still to Islam. On the island of Bali today Hinduism is still the predominant faith, and in other parts of southeast Asia Hindu influences continue to be conspicuous in the cuisine, clothing, art, and languages, but Buddhist and Islamic influences predominate.

      Middle Eastern culture, and especially the Islamic faith, had been introduced to much of the populace of southeast Asia by Arab traders and sailors as early as the 7th century c.e., but it was not until the 13th and 14th centuries that several Hindu monarchs and their subjects in Java, Sumatra, and the Malay peninsula converted to Islam. Conversion was greatly accelerated after the 16th century, when Muslim Mughal rulers became dominant in much of India and spread the faith rapidly down the Malay peninsula and into much of southeast Asia through conquest, trade, and proselytism. Islam remains the faith of the majority of the populace in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei today.

      European culture became an important part of the cultural mix in southeast Asia in the 16th century c.e. The Portuguese took the lead in establishing trade routes to China and India, and thence to the “Spice Islands” (Indonesia). In 1510 Portugal acquired the port city of Goa from India and established a base in Macao in southern China in 1557 and successfully fended off its Spanish rivals, who then concentrated their activities on the Philippines. The Dutch, in turn, displaced the Portuguese, who had been weakened by armed clashes in Europe, as the dominant trading power in southeast Asia in the early 17th century. The Dutch East India Company, a quasi-governmental trading institution established in 1601, became the paramount power in much of Indonesia thereafter (the Dutch government took over when the company was dissolved in 1798).

      The British became major players in the area mainly in the 19th century. The British East India Company had been formed in 1600, but it had concentrated its activities mainly in India after failed attempts to challenge Dutch supremacy in the Spice Islands. In the early 19th century Great Britain relied on its superior military might to take over Burma and the Malay peninsula. British-ruled Singapore became the leading port and naval base in southeast Asia, assuring access to the vital trade route through the Malacca Strait.

      France, a latecomer to imperial conquest in southeast Asia, invaded Annam (Vietnam) in 1859, ostensibly to protect Christian missionaries there. By 1884 it had taken control of Cambodia and in 1895 following a war with China declared a “protectorate” over all of Vietnam and Cambodia. Laos was added in 1893, completing the geographic borders of what was then referred to as French Indochina. By the end of the 19th century all of southeast Asia, except Thailand, had been colonized by European powers.

      Japan, during World War II, justified its invasion of east and southeast Asia as a righteous war to liberate peoples oppressed by racist European imperialism. It enjoyed support for this effort in many parts of Asia, until it became apparent the Japanese overlord-ship was as bad, or worse, than what it had displaced. Defeat of Japan in the war saw the return of European colonial powers to many areas, but only briefly. All of the countries of east and southeast Asia had become independent by 1957.

      The cultural sociology in east and southeast Asia today is as diverse as it was historically. There is a great variety of political systems, from democracy to Leninist authoritarianism to military dictatorships. There is also a huge disparity of wealth. In Singapore, the average per capita income is greater than the U.S. $36,000. In nearby Myanmar, it is $571.

      The population of Indonesia, the world's largest predominantly Muslim country, is more than 240 million people; in Brunei it is approximately 395,000. Thirty million ethnic Han Chinese live among other immigrants in southeast Asia from east Asia, south Asia, Polynesia, Melanesia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.

      This summary of the historic roots of diverse ethnic and cultural influences on east and southeast Asia over the millennia is intended to provide background to the many topics addressed in this encyclopedia. Articles on particular subjects are necessarily brief and designed to be only an introduction to essential characteristics of a particular topic. They are written to inform, not to persuade, and there is no attempt by the authors to be comprehensive.

      Articles are arranged alphabetically in each of three chronological units: Prehistory to 1200 c.e., 1200 to 1900, and 1900 to the present. There are cross-reference notes to assist the reader. For instance, a reader interested in the arts will find articles entitled “Art” in each of the chronological divisions, and might also wish to read related articles on ceramics, ink painting, music, dance, theater, architecture, and religion. Scholars from many different countries have participated in the creation of this work. It is truly an international enterprise.

      Peter J. Seybolt Volume Editor

      Introduction to Volume 4

      This volume is concerned with the cultural sociology of south, central, and west Asia. It is sociological in that it covers features, movements, and habits that permeate the lives of the people, not only the practices of political elites. It is cultural in that it is as concerned with values, arts, and beliefs as it is with the material circumstances that generally dominate sociological writing. And it is historical, moving from very early settlements, known only through archaeology and linguistics, to the contemporary period. The volume covers a broad range of topics from religion to popular culture to empire to food habits.

      The common theme of the collection is this diversity, not only in the array of topics, but also in the countries covered and the diversity within each country. South, central, and west Asia are positioned very differently in terms of geography, ecology, and resources, which have brought forth very different economies and societies. South Asia's rivers and rich soils gave rise to an agriculture-based civilization with much surplus to support layers of empires and kingdoms and an elaborate religious culture. Over the centuries, it attracted many invasions over land and traders by sea, which led both to a pluralism of cultures and to a mode of accommodating them that emphasized separatism and hierarchy. The caste system of India provided a way of absorbing newcomers and allowing them to carry on their cultures while enabling other resident groups to continue their own ways. India's political system of sharing sovereignty among emperors, regional governments, and local kings enabled the preservation of diverse regional cultures and their languages.

      Central Asia historically was criss-crossed by extensive overland trade routes that connected it to the great civilizations of China, Iran, and Russia. Merchants and their caravans brought not only riches but also religions and conquerors. The vast arid steppes supported vigorous nomadic cultures but few cities or dominant stationary cultures. The diversity in central Asia was a product of its political fragmentation. The tribal organization of society provided a way of preserving local cultures in the face of outside domination, and of resisting central authority.

      West Asia, represented in this volume principally by Iran, was a major political and cultural force in central Asia, providing it both languages and empires at different times in history.

      The articles in the volume seek to address regional differences and also to capture the diversity within each society, among linguistic and religious groups, genders, and the material circumstances of class and rural/urban differences. Though it is not possible to cover all these bases in each article, the accumulated profile of the collection is one of immense variety.

      But there are several unifying themes. One is the ongoing presence of change. The articles show the societies adapting to environmental changes, conquest, internal disorganization, leadership dilemmas, economic opportunity, demography, and new ideas. Many empires—the Sogdians, for example—that were once strong are not even known to us. Trade routes shifted from land to sea, enriching ports and depriving many inland cities of an economic base. Religions that were once spread throughout the region now have few followers and no one to protect their important sites, which is the fate of Buddhism and Christianity in central Asia. And cultural systems that we now see as “traditional,” such as caste in India, are shown to have been much more flexible historically than it now appears. Indeed, as one becomes aware of the change that has occurred over history, the appropriateness of labeling anything as traditional, signifying unchanging, is suspect.

      Another unifying theme is religion. India's culture was immensely creative in religious terms, giving birth to not only Hinduism and Buddhism, but also Jainism and numerous localized religions. And, like central Asia, it received Islam and Christianity from abroad and creatively adapted them. The spread of Islam throughout central Asia is particularly noteworthy.

      A third is the role of the physical landscape in shaping these cultures. Mountain ranges separate central Asia from south Asia, and within India, they separate the Hindi-speaking north from the Dravidian-language regions of southern India. The mountains separate valleys in Nepal and Afghanistan that cradle distinctive cultures close together in miles but distant in the effort to cross over. Rivers are another very significant feature. They gave rise to ancient civilization, notably the Harappan civilization in what is now Pakistan; they enabled rich agriculture that supported cultural flowering, such as on the plains of the Ganges; they created deltas that even became countries, such as Bangladesh; and they provided water for the industrialization of agriculture, as in the cotton cropping in central Asia. Throughout the regions, rivers connected people, fostering regional cultures and spreading ideas.

      It is left to the encyclopedia reader to identify other themes that unify the regions of south and central Asia such that it makes sense to treat these regions as social and cultural entities, not simply spaces on a map.

      The Encyclopedia

      The purpose of this volume is to provide readers with a comprehensive reference work that can answer their questions and guide their research on historic and contemporary south and central Asia. As a scholarly, multiple-author, reviewed work, this volume will serve as an accessible but cogent resource for undergraduate and graduate students, scholars of other geographic areas considering comparative issues, and serious-minded general readers.

      Readers who use the volume as an encyclopedia and search for particular articles of interest will find the articles' combination of conciseness and depth to be invaluable; readers who read through the volume as a coherent work will gain even more insight, developing a chronological, historically grounded sense of the culture and society of south and central Asia, benefiting from the analytic interplay between the fields of sociology and cultural studies.

      The volume is divided into three subsections: “Prehistory to 1200” covers the years from the first settlements identified by archaeologists through the formulation of Hinduism as we now know it and the spread of Islam. “1200 to 1900” covers what might be called the medieval and early modern period during which Muslim empires rose and fell, ending with the establishment of the Russian Empire in central Asia and the British in south Asia. “1900 to Present” looks at the establishment of independent India and subsequently the countries of central Asia.

      Articles are arranged alphabetically in each of three units. There are cross-reference notes to assist the reader. For instance, a reader interested in the arts will find articles titled “Art” in each of the chronological divisions and might also wish to read related articles on music, dance, theater, architecture, and religion. Scholars from many different countries have participated in the creation of this work. It is truly an international enterprise.

      Carolyn M. Elliott Volume Editor

      Map of the Middle East

      Map of Africa

      Maps of East Asia and Southeast Asia

      Map of South, Central, and West Asia

      Reader's Guide

      List of Entries

      Volume 1: The Middle East
      Volume 2: Africa
      Volume 3: East and Southeast Asia
      Volume 4: South, Central, and West Asia

      List of Contributors

      Faina C. Abaya-Ulindang, Mindanao State University

      Mohamed Alaa Abdel-Moneim, American University and Cairo University

      Hamid Abdollahyan, University of Tehran

      Tosin Funmi Abiodun, University of Texas at Austin

      Ahmed Achrati, Howard Community College

      Benjamin T. Acosta, Claremont Graduate University

      Lady Jane Acquah, University of Texas at Austin

      Nassef M. Adiong, Middle East Technical University

      Razi Ahmad, University of Arizona

      Hossam I. Ahmed, University of Utah

      Akram Al Ariss, Champagne School of Management

      Allison Alexy, Lafayette College

      Adam Ali, University of Toronto

      Shatha Almutawa, University of Chicago

      Asaad Al-Saleh, University of Utah

      Katherine Althlathini, American University in Cairo

      Vivian Djokotoe Amantana, Western Oregon University

      Kyle David Anderson, Centre University

      Grace Annor, Ohio University

      Anatoliy Anshin, Russian State University for the Humanities

      Arif Arshad, Independent Scholar

      Meera Ashar, City University of Hong Kong

      Abimbola O. Asojo, University of Oklahoma

      Serpil Atamaz-Hazar, University of Arizona

      Abdellatif Attafi, College of Charleston

      Mark Auslander, Brandeis University

      Kobina Ayittey, Ohio University

      Heba Aziz, University of Alexandria

      Tierno S. Bah, Smithsonian Institution

      Jayant Bhalchandra Bapat, Monash University

      James Barry, Monash University

      Jennifer E. Beamer, University of Alberta

      Abdessamad Belhaj, Pázmány Péter Catholic University

      Alexandre Benod, Université Jean Moulin–Lyon 3

      Lars Berger, University of Salford

      Thomas J Berghuis, University of Sydney

      Amos J. Beyan, Western Michigan University

      Nilanjana Bhattacharya, Visva-Bharati University

      Laurel Birch de Aguilar, University of Edinburgh

      Shampa Biswas, Whitman College

      Sarah Boslaugh, Kennesaw State University

      Odette Boya Resta, Johns Hopkins University

      Joyce Tang Boyland, Alverno College

      Jaquelene Brinton, University of Kansas

      Walton Brown-Foster, Central Connecticut State University

      Elizabeth Summer Buckner, Stanford University

      Noah Butler, Northwestern University

      Qing Cao, Liverpool John Moores University

      Christina Cappy, University of Wisconsin, Madison

      James Casey, Princeton University

      Elizabeth Chacko, George Washington University

      Nawaraj Chaulagain, Harvard University

      Pin-Hsi Chen, University of Pittsburgh

      Sheng Yao Cheng, National Chung Cheng University

      Jepkorir Rose Chepyator-Thomson, University of Georgia

      Sam Cherribi, Emory University

      Omar Cheta, New York University

      Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

      Justin Corfield, Geelong Grammar School

      Bezen Balamir Coskun, Zirve University

      Russ Crawford, Ohio Northern University

      Christopher Cusack, Keene State College

      Peter T. Daniels, Independent Scholar

      Anandini Dar, Rutgers University

      Kamala Kanta Dash, Monash University

      Gareth Davey, Hong Kong Shue Yan University

      Carmen De Michele, Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich

      Alper Y. Dede, Zirve University

      Marco Demichelis, University of Genoa

      Anitha Deshamudre, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

      Eric G. Dinmore, Hampden-Sydney College

      Courtney Dorroll, University of Arizona

      Philip Dorroll, Emory University

      Teresa M. Downing-Matibag, Iowa State University

      Richard Jean Dumbrill Sr., University of London

      Debalina Dutta, Purdue University

      Mohan Dutta, Purdue University

      el-Sayed el-Aswad, United Arab Emirates University

      Moulay Youness Elbousty, Emory University

      Alix Méav Ellinwood-Jerome, College of William & Mary

      Aykan Erdemir, Middle East Technical University, Ankara

      Ifeanyi Ezeonu, Brock University

      Thomas Feldhoff, Goethe University Frankfurt

      Mario D. Fenyo, Bowie State University

      Matthew James Forss, Independent Scholar

      Kim Foulds, Teachers College, Columbia University

      Vanessa Frangville, Université Jean Moulin–Lyon 3

      John T. Friedman, Utrecht University

      Allen Fromherz, Georgia State University

      Caren J. Frost, University of Utah

      Kazuya Fukuoka, Saint Joseph's University

      Benjamin Geer, University of London

      Ioannis Georganas, Foundation of the Hellenic World

      Christina Ghanbarpour, University of California, Irvine

      Mohammad Gharipour, Morgan State University

      Fatma Müge Göçek, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

      Francis Ebenezer Godwyll, Ohio University

      Casey Golomski, Brandeis University

      June Grasso, Boston University

      John Aron Grayzel, University of Maryland

      Fiona Rose Greenland, University of Michigan

      Terje Grönning, University of Oslo

      Allison Hahn, University of Pittsburgh Honors College

      Michael R. Hall, Armstrong Atlantic State University

      Shak Hanish, National University

      Kelly J. Hansen, University of British Columbia

      Rachel S. Harris, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

      Reza Hasmath, University of Toronto

      John C. Hawley, Santa Clara University

      Zackery M Heern, University of Utah

      Kevin Hewison, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

      Jun Seong Ho, Academy of Korean Studies

      Elaine Hsieh, University of Oklahoma

      Yongguang Hu, State University of New York, Binghamton

      LaRese Hubbard, California State University, Long Beach

      Tin-bor Victoria Hui, University of Notre Dame

      Wonjae Hwang, University of Tennessee

      Dina A. Ibrahim, San Francisco State University

      A.R.M. Imtiyaz, Temple University

      Heather Inwood, Ohio State University

      Abdul Jabbar, City College of San Francisco

      W. James Jacob, University of Pittsburgh

      Julio A. Jeldres, Monash University

      Xiaoqian Ji, University of Pittsburgh

      Hong Jiang, Northwestern University

      Hyejung Ju, University of Oklahoma

      J. Seraphin Kamdem, SOAS, University of London

      Kristen Kao, University of California, Los Angeles

      Hasan Karatas, New York University

      Loveleen Kaur, Monash University

      Sarah Elizabeth Keil, Indiana University

      Jay Keister, University of Colorado, Boulder

      Mohammed Abdul Mujeeb Khan, University of Tokyo

      Belinda Kong, Bowdoin College

      Mickie Koster, Lonestar College

      Eric Mark Kramer, University of Oklahoma

      Bill Kte'pi, Independent Scholar

      Vani S. Kulkarni, Yale University

      Andrew Kurt, Georgia State University

      Priya Lal, New York University

      Robert G. Launay, Northwestern University

      Samantha Lauren, University of California, Santa Barbara

      Robert Lawless, Wichita State University

      Anthony A. Lee, University of California, Los Angeles

      Che-Wei Lee, University of Pittsburgh

      Hee Sook Lee-Niinioja, Oxford Brookes University

      Stefano A.E. Leoni, University of Urbino

      Hongling Liang, City University of Hong Kong

      Pei-Yin Lin, University of Cambridge

      Isidore Lobnibe, Western Oregon University

      Matthew L. Long, Chatfield College

      Rui Oliveira Lopes, University of Lisbon

      Jonathan Z. Ludwig, Rice University

      Brandon D. Lundy, Kennesaw State University

      Solomon Chiemene Madubuike, Bowen University

      Driss Maghraoui, Al-Akhawayn University

      Cuong T. Mai, University of Vermont

      Sebastian Maisel, Grand Valley State University

      Sarasij Majumder, Kennesaw State University

      Ntambwe Malangu, University of Limpopo

      Josep Martí, Spanish Council of Scientific Research CSIC

      Sara Martins, Goldsmiths University of London

      Mary Mazzilli, University of London–SOAS

      Babacar M'Baye, Kent State University

      Deric McNish, University of Colorado, Boulder

      Liuxi Meng, Kennesaw State University

      Aaron L. Miller, Kyoto University

      Patit Paban Mishra, Sambalpur University

      Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir, University of Western Sydney

      Barry Mowell, Broward College

      Debali Mookerjea-Leonard, James Madison University

      Fatima Mueller-Friedman, Utrecht University

      Sucharita Sinha Mukherjee, Saint John's University

      Todd S. Munson, Randolph-Macon College

      Jennifer Murtazashvili, University of Pittsburgh

      Todd Eric Myers, San Diego State University

      Jeffrey Neilson, University of Sydney

      Sajjad Nejatie, University of Toronto

      Karen W. Ngonya, Ohio State University

      Elizabeth Ngumbi, Ohio University

      Thien-Huong Ninh, University of Southern California

      Segun Obasa, University of Texas at Austin

      'BioDun J. Ogundayo, University of Pittsburgh

      Benjamin Akíntúndé Oyètádé, University of London

      Cenk Ozbay, University of Southern California

      Ramazan Hakki Oztan, University of Utah

      Gairoonisa Paleker, Stellenbosch University

      Sharon L. Parker, Zayed University

      Michael John Paton, University of Sydney

      Hillary Pedersen, Independent Scholar

      Daniel C. Peterson, Brigham Young University

      Ihor Pidhainy, Marietta College

      Scopas S. Poggo, Ohio State University

      Xun zhang Pomponio, St. Olaf College

      Elizabeth Rholetter Purdy, Independent Scholar

      Marina Pyrovolaki, American University of Beirut

      Danielle Ooyoung Pyun, Ohio State University

      Tahera Qutbuddin, University of Chicago

      Harith Bin Ramli, Oxford University

      Edward Ramsamy, Rutgers University

      Francesca Recchia, Independent Scholar

      Alena Rettová, University of London

      Wylene Rholetter, Auburn University

      David Alexander Robinson, Edith Cowan University

      Jack Drake Rollins, Indiana University, Bloomington

      Ashok K. Roy, Kennesaw State University

      Emrah Sahin, McGill University

      Abdulkareem Said Ramadan, Gettysburg College

      Takuya Sakurai, University of Oklahoma

      Anthony Mawuli Sallar, Ohio University

      Samiparna Samanta, Florida State University

      Natasha Sarkar, National University of Singapore

      Bryce Sasaki, Western Washington University

      Amita Satyal, Rutgers University, Newark

      Leonardo Schiocchet, Boston University

      Sven Alexander Schottmann, Monash University

      John Schroeder, St. Mary's College of Maryland

      Ulrike Schuerkens, école des Hautes études en Sciences Sociales

      Alexander Hugo Schulenburg, Independent Scholar

      Peter J. Seybolt, University of Vermont

      Yochanan Shachmurove, City College of New York

      Purnima Shah, Duke University

      Mordecai George Sheftall, Shizuoka University

      Nahda Shehada, Erasmus University Rotterdam

      Robert J. Shepherd, George Washington University

      Chuan-kang Shih, University of Florida

      Vicensia Shule, University of Dar es Salaam

      Benjamin R. Siegel, Harvard University

      Kapila D. Silva, University of Kansas

      Rita J. Simon, American University

      Srini Sitaraman, Clark University

      Nancy Snow, California State University, Fullerton

      Andrea L. Stanton, University of Denver

      Matthew Stavros, University of Sydney

      James McLeod Steele Jr., University of Southern California

      Lior Betzalel Sternfeld, University of Texas at Austin

      Kearsley Stewart, Northwestern University

      Chen-Jui Su, University of Pittsburgh

      Mike Tadashi Sugimoto, Pepperdine University

      Shunichi Takekawa, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

      Naoko Takemaru, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

      Nicholas Charles Tapp, East China Normal University

      Betsy Taylor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

      Alexis B. Tengan, Independent Scholar

      Aysecan Terzioglu, City University of New York

      Tharaphi Than, University of London

      Christina Torns, Briarcliffe College

      Marcella Bush Trevino, Barry University

      Lik Hang Tsui, University of Oxford

      Krzysztof Ulanowski, University of Gdansk

      Pheroze Unwalla, SOAS, University of London

      Ivan Vander biesen, Catholic University of Leuven/McGill University

      Rodolfo M. Vega, University of Pittsburgh

      Lavanya Vemsani, Shawnee State University

      Elena Vezzadini, University of Bergen

      Florent Villard, Université Jean Moulin–Lyon 3

      Anne J. Waliaula, Independent Scholar

      Ken Walibora Waliaula, University of Wisconsin, Madison

      John Walsh, Shinawatra University

      J. Thomas Walzer, Independent Scholar

      Ning Wang, Arizona State University

      Cy Ashley Webb, Stanford University

      R. Charles Weller, Yale University

      Christine M. Westphal, Suffolk University

      Ken Whalen, University of Brunei Darussalam

      J. Tia Wheeler, University of St. Andrews

      Mark Douglas Whitaker, Kookmin University

      James H. Williams, George Washington University

      Alex Wilson, Ohio University

      Khonsura A. Wilson, California State University, Long Beach

      Justin T. Winslett, University of Oxford

      Chuen-Fung Wong, Macalester College

      Pichamon Yeophantong, Australian National University

      Almaz Zewde, Howard University

      Xiaowen Zhang, Augustana College

      Willa Zhen, University of London

      Liren Zheng, Cornell University

      Jonathan Zilberg, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

      Chronology

      ca. 40,000 b.c.e. Aterian toolmaking originates in the northern Sahara and spreads to Egypt.

      ca. 8000 b.c.e. First settlements in Nevali Cori, in present-day Turkey.

      ca. 7500 b.c.e. Catalhüyük established, a large-scale settlement in present-day Turkey.

      ca. 6000 b.c.e. Ancestors of the Egyptians form numerous permanent settlements in the Nile region. Some historians have suggested that these may have been Nile-area natives who had migrated to the Fertile Crescent in the prehistoric Near East and were now returning generations later.

      ca. 5500 b.c.e. The Samarra culture flourishes in northern Mesopotamia, developing crop irrigation.

      ca. 5400 b.c.e. Mesopotamian cultures develop the wheel and the plow.

      ca. 4500 b.c.e. Descendants of the Samarra culture historians refer to as the Proto-Euphrateans settle the Sumer region of southern Mesopotamia, the site of present-day Iraq.

      ca. 4000–3100 b.c.e. The Proto-Euphratean culture gives way to the Uruk period, named for its most prominent city, east of the Euphrates River. The first true city in the Near East, Uruk ushers in the Bronze Age and introduces cuneiform writing.

      3150 b.c.e. The regions of Lower and Upper Egypt are unified under a single dynasty. Tradition has it that Menes was the first pharaoh of Egypt, but archaeologists have uncovered a stone palette called the Narmer Palette in which a pharaoh named Narmer claims to have united Egypt. The conventional view is that Narmer and Menes are names for the same pharaoh, in lieu of any evidence to the contrary. Egyptian chronology, which is based on the regnal years of pharaohs, begins at this point and is key to various hypothetical chronologies of ancient north Africa and the Near East.

      3150 b.c.e. Egyptian culture develops quickly and changes remarkably little for the next 3,000 years, despite advances in technology and contact with numerous foreign peoples.

      ca. 3000 b.c.e. The origins of the Akkadian culture, named for the city of Akkad, are unclear. The earliest evidence of them indicates that they were already quite common in southern Mesopotamia, with frequent contact with Sumer.

      ca. 2900 b.c.e. Sumer at this time is organized into about a dozen independent theocratic city-states, each of which includes a temple dedicated to the city's patron deity. The Sumerian culture follows the Uruk period, with the establishment of the first hegemonic dynasty. Hegemony—the rule of one city-state over the others—shifts from city to city as dynasties gain and lose power. Many of the names of kings recorded are of Semitic Akkadians—a separate ethnic and language group from the Sumerians, one of many indications of significant ongoing contact and population exchange between the civilizations.

      ca. 2700 b.c.e. Gilgamesh rules over the Uruk city-state. Though most stories about Gilgamesh are clearly myth—he becomes the most prominent hero in Sumerian legend—historians believe those myths developed around a real historical king.

      2686 b.c.e. The Old Kingdom period begins in Egypt, noted for its capital in Memphis and the construction of a great many pyramids. While in the earlier dynastic period Egyptian states were independent and owed fealty to the pharaoh, beginning in the Old Kingdom period the pharaoh is the sole authority and is worshipped as the god who ensures the annual Nile flooding that irrigates crops.

      2580–2560 b.c.e. The Great Pyramid is built in the necropolis of Giza, in Egypt. Taking approximately 20 years to build, the Great Pyramid serves as the tomb for Pharaoh Khufu. For 3,800 years, it remains the tallest man-made structure in the world, though nearly all of the original casing stones (which gave the pyramid a smooth surface) have been lost.

      2270 b.c.e. Sargon the Great, ruler of Akkad, conquers Uruk and turns Akkad into an empire. His name (“Sharru-Kin”) means “legitimate king” and may be a title bestowed on him. In time, he conquers much of the Mesopotamian region.

      2181 b.c.e. First Intermediate Period in Egypt. Central control splits between competing power bases, following years of famine that ended the Old Kingdom period.

      2060 b.c.e. Mentuhotep reunifies Egypt, beginning the Middle Kingdom period.

      ca. 2000 b.c.e. The Sumerian Renaissance: Ur-Nammu founds the Third Dynasty of Ur, putting Sumerians in control of Sumer again and making Sumerian the official language of the region. In truth, however, the population has already become heavily influenced by the Akkadians. The Akkadian language, in turn, becomes more heavily influenced by Sumerian, at every scale. Before long, Akkadian becomes the common tongue of Mesopotamia, and Sumerian is retained principally for religious and literary uses.

      ca. 2000 b.c.e. A minor Akkadian kingdom in the north, Assyria, remains outside Ur control and begins to amass power. As the Sumerian Renaissance fades, Assyria establishes colonies in Asia Minor and expands its territory.

      1894 b.c.e. Babylon, once a minor town in the Akkadian Empire, emerges as an independent city-state, built up by Sumuabum, a chieftain of the Semitic Amorite people, who adopts the town as his capital. He and his successors begin slowly to absorb settlements around Babylon.

      1792 b.c.e. Hammurabi becomes the king of Babylon, still a small kingdom, especially compared to neighboring Assyria. But Hammurabi is a gifted ruler with a gifted mind, and Babylon quickly becomes Assyria's principal rival for control of Mesopotamia. He is best known today for assembling a code of laws binding on Babylonians, based on laws from Sumeria and Assyria. The shifting back and forth of territory between Babylon and Assyria over the coming centuries results in tangled cultural ties between the two cultures.

      1640 b.c.e. The Second Intermediate Period of Egypt begins when the Hyksos, a nomadic tribe using war chariots, invade.

      1595 b.c.e. Having declined after Hammurabi in part because of the difficulty in defending the city, Babylon is conquered by King Agum II, who founds the Kassite dynasty. The Kassites may have originated in the Zagros mountains; their language was related to neither Akkadian nor Sumerian, and they were neither a Semitic nor an Indo-European people. Babylon is renamed Kar-Duniash.

      1550 b.c.e. The New Kingdom period sees the greatest expansion of Egyptian territory, with the empire reaching from Nubia in Africa to Syria in the Middle East.

      1508 b.c.e. Hatshepsut rules Egypt as a female pharaoh—not the first such, but the most successful of the indigenous Egyptian women to rule as a pharaoh in her own right, rather than as the regent for a son. (Cleopatra, who ruled later, is part of a non-native dynasty.)

      ca. 1300 b.c.e. The Sea Peoples, a nomadic seafaring group of raiders, begin attacking the empires of the Middle and Near East, causing the fall of many cultures.

      1279–1213 b.c.e. Rameses the Great (Rameses II) rules Egypt at the height of its power.

      1206–1150 b.c.e. The Bronze Age Collapse: throughout the Near East and eastern Mediterranean, the transition from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age is a violent one, both physically and culturally. Literacy and trade drop significantly. Numerous major cities are destroyed or abandoned, and many major governments and dynasties are disrupted. The exact cause is unclear; most likely, a combination of natural disasters (earthquakes and an eruption of the Hekla volcano in Iceland, with its climatic effects) and the violent arrival of new ethnic groups from the north worked together to create the ancient world's most calamitous period.

      1156 b.c.e. For the first time, Babylon is ruled by a native Akkadian dynasty.

      1124 b.c.e. Nebuchadnezzar I becomes king of Babylon, drives out invaders who have occupied much of its territory, and again turns Babylon into a viable rival of Assyria.

      1070 b.c.e. Egypt's Third Intermediate Period sees Egypt effectively divided, with the High Priests of Amun at Thebes governing the south, though both the priests and the dynastic pharaohs ruling the north are part of the same family.

      ca. 1050 b.c.e. The Phoenicians create their phonetic alphabet, which would become the basis for later phonetic alphabets, making written language easier to learn and use.

      11th–10th centuries b.c.e. The United Monarchy period of Israel and Judah, under the legendary kings Saul, David, and Solomon.

      ca. 940 b.c.e. Under Solomon's reign, a temple is built in Jerusalem, capital of Israel, as the center of worship. The period in Israel from this point until the Temple's destruction is known as the First Temple period in Jewish history.

      722 b.c.e. Assyria conquers Israel, and the population of Jerusalem swells to considerably greater than that of its neighbors, thanks to an influx of immigrants and a vassal relationship with Assyria centered around the local olive industry.

      649–609 b.c.e. Josiah, king of Judah, institutes influential religious reforms. Solomon's Temple is renovated and is reclaimed for exclusively Jewish use; in previous reigns it had been used for non-Jewish religious practices as a result of the Assyrian influence. Josiah is also thought to have begun the process of assembling Jewish stories and religious teachings that eventually form a considerable portion of the Bible.

      ca. 600 b.c.e. The Assyrian Empire collapses. In the next 20 years, Judah is considerably damaged by the series of campaigns fought over it by regional powers Egypt and Babylon.

      586 b.c.e. Solomon's Temple is destroyed, ending the First Temple period of Israel, as Babylon lays waste to Jerusalem and ends the dynasty of the House of David. The city is soon rebuilt, and the temple at Bethel may have become the new temporary center of the Jewish religion. Many residents are displaced to Babylon, and the Jewish exile community in that city is responsible for assembling the history of Israel as recorded in the Bible (from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings) as well as writing numerous other sections.

      550 b.c.e. Cyrus the Great founds the Persian Empire and the Achaemenid dynasty that is the first to rule it. His method of administering his empire provides a blueprint for many successful empires to come: he centralizes administration but allows local autonomy in matters of traditional custom and religion, so long as they do not interfere in matters of empire (such as the paying of taxes and the conscription of soldiers).

      539 b.c.e. The Persian Empire conquers Babylon and turns Judah into a Persian province.

      525 b.c.e. The Persian Empire occupies Egypt.

      515 b.c.e. Parsa—commonly referred to now as Persepolis, “city of the Persians”—is founded as the capital of the Persian Empire. The belief of historians is that Cyrus the Great chose the site, but his son's successor Darius the Great oversaw its construction. The city is built primarily with wood, making use of Indian teak and Lebanese cedar, often with stone column bases.

      6th and 5th centuries b.c.e. The Jewish exile community returns to Jerusalem from Babylon and rebuilds the Temple, beginning the Second Temple period. Jerusalem ascends to the capital of Judah around 450, and Judah effectively becomes a theocracy, ruled by hereditary high priests and Persian-appointed governors. Aramaic supplants Hebrew as the commonly spoken language of the community, with Hebrew remaining in use primarily as a written language.

      402 b.c.e. Persian occupation of Egypt briefly ends.

      343 b.c.e. Artaxerxes III, the shah of Persia, reconquers Egypt.

      330s b.c.e. Alexander the Great conquers much of Mesopotamia, as well as Egypt.

      305 b.c.e. Ptolemy I, a successor of Alexander, declares himself Pharaoh of Egypt.

      198 b.c.e. The Seleucids seize Israel from the successors of Alexander the Great.

      165 b.c.e. When the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempts to impose Hellenic culture on Israel, a popular uprising called the Maccabean Revolt, for its leader Simon Maccabaeus, expels the Seleucids. Maccabaeus establishes the Hasmonean dynasty ruling over a newly independent Jewish state. Non-Jewish residents are forcibly converted in an attempt to return the land to the Jerusalem described in the Bible.

      69–30 b.c.e. Cleopatra VII is the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, first ruling jointly with her father, then her brothers, then enjoying sole rulership, which she retained in part through a romance and alliance with Julius Caesar of Rome (with whom she had a son, Caesarion).

      64 b.c.e. Pompey conquers Israel for the Roman Empire, turning it into a client kingdom. Historians often simplify the many terms for the region by simply referring to it as Palestine.

      30 b.c.e. Rome conquers Egypt; Cleopatra commits suicide by asp bite. Egypt is ruled as a Roman province for almost 700 years.

      ca. 30 c.e. Jesus of Nazareth begins his ministry and within a few years is condemned to death by Roman authorities and executed by crucifixion.

      66–73. The First Jewish–Roman War begins with an uprising of Jews against the Roman governors of Palestine. The rebellion ultimately fails, and in 70, the Jewish Temple is destroyed, ending the Second Temple period. Many historians and some schools of Christian theological thought believe that the eschatological material in the New Testament—proclamations of the end of the world—refer to this destruction during the first generation of Christians.

      132–135. The Bar Khoba Revolt, led by Messianic figure Simon Bar Khoba, ends with the Roman emperor Hadrian dispelling the Jewish people from Jerusalem and renaming the province Syria Palaestina.

      324. Constantinople becomes the capital of the eastern Roman Empire (soon known as the Byzantine Empire), which governs Palestine. Jews are not allowed to live in Jerusalem, which is now a holy city to Christianity, the official religion of the empire, but are allowed to visit. Elsewhere in Palestine, Judaism is the only non-Christian religion permitted, but Jews are barred from holding public office or owning slaves.

      610. Muhammad ibn Abdullah begins preaching in the area around Mecca in modern Saudi Arabia, founding the religion of Islam.

      611–614. Persia invades the Byzantine Empire; Jews assist with the capturing of Jerusalem.

      622. Muhammad and his followers are expelled from Mecca and move to Medina in the Hijra.

      630. Muhammad and his followers return to and conquer Mecca.

      632. The death of Muhammad.

      634–636. Arabs conquer Palestine. Jews are again allowed to live there, but Islam gradually becomes the dominant religion of the area.

      661. From their base on the Arabian Peninsula, the Umayyad caliphate conquers north Africa, parts of Spain, and southwest Asia.

      661. After the death of Ali, the fourth caliph to follow Muhammad, the Islamic world splits into the Sunni and Shia traditions. Sunnis such as the Ummayads advocate following Muhammad's spiritual successors while the Shia such as the Fatimids follow direct descendents of Ali, and Muhammad before him.

      750. The Islamic Golden Age begins. The Abbasid dynasty replaces the Umayyad and Islam enters its Golden Age. During this time, Islamic culture absorbs and synthesizes many cultures, including those of classical Greece and Rome.

      810. In Baghdad, Persia, the House of Wisdom is founded, a place of learning where Greek and Indian scientific and mathematical works are translated into Arabic.

      830. Persian mathematician al-Khwarizmi, from whose name the word algorithm is derived, develops algebra.

      1071. The Seljuk Turks conquer an empire that includes the modern Middle East. Part of the area conquered includes the city of Jerusalem.

      1095. The Crusades begin, motivated by the European goal of liberating the Holy Land of Jerusalem from the Seljuks.

      1099–1291. Palestine is invaded by Europeans who found the Kingdom of Jerusalem, ruled by Crusaders.

      1250. Mamluks seize control of Egypt in a military coup.

      1291. The Mamluk sultanate of Egypt conquers Palestine.

      1299. Osman I establishes the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. The Ottoman Empire expands to control much of southwest Asia until the end of World War I.

      1492. After the Crusades, anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe rises steadily and peaks with the expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497). Many of the expelled Jews relocate in Palestine.

      1501. Shah Ismail I founds the Safavid dynasty in Persia, turning the country into a Shia Islamic state.

      1517. Palestine and the city of Jerusalem are conquered by the Ottoman Empire and become a province of Syria until after World War I.

      1722–1723. The first Russo–Prussian War, resulting in an alliance between Persia and Russia.

      1794. The capital of Persia is relocated to Tehran by the newly founded Qajar dynasty.

      1798. Napoleon Bonaparte of France invades Egypt and ends Mamluk rule. An expedition into Ottoman-controlled Syria is repulsed, however, and following Bonaparte's departure, an Anglo-Ottoman offensive results in French capitulation and Ottoman control of the Levant and Egypt.

      1813. Following Russian victory in the third Russo–Persian War, the Great Game begins between Russia and the United Kingdom—a prolonged conflict, lasting the rest of the century, over control of central Asia. Persia is key to the conflict because its alliance with Russia is what gives Russians access to the central Asian lands beyond the Middle East. Persia's great accomplishment in this period is maintaining its sovereignty.

      1853. Czar Nicholas I of Russia calls the Ottoman Empire the “Sick Man of Europe,” referencing the decline in power that followed Ahmed I's 1603 abandonment of the Law of Fratricide, which required Sultans to kill their brothers to avoid factionalism.

      1869. The Suez Canal opens in Egypt.

      1870–1871. Famine in Persia kills 2 million people.

      1896. Theodor Herzl publishes The Jewish State, asserting that the solution to the anti-Semitism throughout Europe is to create a Jewish state.

      1897. The Zionist Organization is founded with the goal of establishing a legal Jewish territory in Palestine.

      1906. The Persian Constitutional Revolution grows out of protests over tariffs levied to pay off the country's significant debts to Russia, and culminates in the adoption of the country's first constitution. Constitutional monarchy prevails for the remainder of the Qajar dynasty.

      1916. The Arab Revolt against the Ottomans aided by Captain T. E. Lawrence of the British Army begins. Britain seems to agree to Arab independence following the war under the terms of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence.

      1917. British and Arab forces under the command of General Edmund Allenby capture Jerusalem. The British also issue the Balfour Declaration, promising support for the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

      1920. Under the mandate system set up by the League of Nations, the colonial possessions of Germany and the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East are divided between the French and the British. France gains control of the modern nations of Syria and Lebanon. Britain gains Iraq, Jordan, and the territory that will become Israel.

      1925. Reza Khan overthrows the Qajar dynasty and becomes shah of Persia. Modernization begins in earnest, including a national education system.

      1932. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is officially created by Abdul Aziz bin Saud.

      1932. Iraq is granted independence by Britain, on the condition that British military bases remain.

      1935. Persia becomes known internationally as Iran, the native term for the country for centuries.

      1938. Oil is discovered on the Arabian Peninsula.

      1941. During World War II, Reza Khan abdicates as shah of Iran because his ties to Germany make the Allies nervous. He is succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

      1941. The government of Iraq is overthrown by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and his supporters, precipitating a British invasion because the United Kingdom is afraid Rashid Ali's ties to the Axis powers may impel him to cut off oil supplies to the Allies. After a month, the previous government is restored and the British military occupies Iraq.

      1945. In Cairo, the Arab League is formed with six members: Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan (soon renamed Jordan), Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Syria. Yemen joins within the first year. Many Middle Eastern and north African countries join in the following decades. The league exists to promote Arab interests.

      1946. Decolonization in the Middle East begins, with Jordan gaining independence from the British mandate that followed World War I. Other countries follow.

      1947. The United Nations Partition Plan divides Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

      1947. British occupation of Iraq ends.

      1948. After the final departure of British troops from Palestine, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, declares the creation of the Jewish state of Israel.

      1948. Five Arab states led by Egypt attack the new Israeli state in the first Arab–Israeli War. In the aftermath of the war, over 700,000 Palestinian refugees resettle in refugee camps in surrounding states.

      1953. After the prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddeq, nationalizes the oil industry, the British government entices the Americans to intervene in order to protect Western oil interests. CIA operatives arrest Mosaddeq, the first time the United States has openly overthrown an elected government. The United States becomes an important ally to Reza Pahlavi thenceforth, helping him with the modernization efforts begun by his father.

      1953. After the revolution that overthrew the monarchy of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser becomes Egypt's first prime minister and a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.

      1958. The July 14 Revolution: the Iraqi Army overthrows the Iraqi monarchy and establishes friendly diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

      1963. The White Revolution, a series of reforms in Iran intended to modernize the country, downplays the political influence of the Islamic clergy and extends the right to vote to women. The social changes resulting from the end of Iranian feudalism and the rapid growth of free enterprise increase frictions between Iranian modernists and religious traditionalists.

      1963. The military government of Iraq is overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif.

      1964. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) forms at the Arab League's Cairo Summit. Led by Yasser Arafat, the PLO becomes the leading force working for an independent Palestine.

      1967. Six-Day War: In anticipation of an attack, Israel launches an air strike against amassing Arab forces, winning a fast and decisive victory. Israel acquires considerable Arab territory, including the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. Over the next three years, the War of Attrition is fought between Egypt and Israel, primarily in the form of small-scale incursions.

      1967. The Khartoum Resolution of the Arab League introduces the “three no's” policy in its third paragraph: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”

      1968. Abdul Salam Arif of Iraq is overthrown by the Arab Socialist Baath Party. Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakir becomes the first socialist president of Iraq, but the party is dominated by his close friend, Saddam Hussein.

      1973. Yom Kippur War: Egypt and Syria stage a surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. The conflict lasts the rest of the month of October (with Iraq and Jordan entering the fray), as the Arab states attempt to reclaim the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights, areas captured by Israel during the Six-Day War. The Soviet Union backs the Arabs; the United States, Israel. The conflict threatens to become a cold war proxy war before Israel successfully pushes the Arab armies back and a United Nations ceasefire is declared.

      1975. Civil war between religious factions begins in Lebanon. The war claims more than 100,000 civilian lives, and hundreds of thousands more are displaced.

      1977–1978. The Iranian Revolution grows out of protests against the shah. One of the most notable events in the 20th century, the revolution manages to overthrow a modernizing regime that had strong support and financing from the United States, and to replace it with a theocracy—and with both secular and religious support, without a crisis precipitating the uprising. Political pundits and historians are flummoxed. The revolution succeeds because it has the support both of the conservative faction that opposes the shah's secularization and Western influence and of the liberal faction that seeks a strong Iranian government that does not owe its strength to Western allies. The leader of the revolution, Islamic cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had first become famous during his 1963 arrest for protesting the White Revolution.

      1978. President Jimmy Carter's ongoing diplomatic efforts in the Middle East culminate in the Camp David Accords. After 13 days of meetings held in secret at the Maryland presidential retreat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat sign two framework agreements witnessed by Carter. Though the first, dealing with the Palestinian territories, sees little progress in implementation, the second lays the groundwork for the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty signed a few months later, followed by trade and diplomatic relations opening up between the two states. Sadat and Begin are jointly awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.

      1979. Ayatollah Khomeini consolidates power in Iran and becomes Supreme Leader under a new constitution that turns the country into a theocracy. The shah is denied the support he expects from the American government, because while Iranians see him as too Western and liberal, Americans consider him too conservative to rescue his regime. However, he is admitted to the United States for cancer treatment and convalescence, resulting in the new Iranian government's demanding he be returned to Iran for trial and execution. This is the motivation for the Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 U.S. embassy staff are held hostage in Iran for 444 days.

      1979. Saddam Hussein overthrows Al-Bakir and becomes president of Iraq, killing his rivals. He remains in power for over 30 years.

      1980–1988. Even as Iran's new government organizes itself, the Iran–Iraq War begins, when Iraq under Saddam Hussein invades Iran in an attempt to capitalize on the chaos. By 1982 Iran regains most of the territory lost in the initial invasion and shifts from the target of the war to the aggressor. Most of Iran's arsenal is American made and provided, both from the days of the shah and from arms sales conducted by the Reagan administration. Iraq's arsenal initially consists of arms and equipment purchased from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, but it is able to purchase helicopters from the United States, along with dual-use technology that augments its missile programs. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conducts efforts to arm the Iraqi army with equipment from third party nations and the private sector, and President Reagan orders that tactical advice be given to the Iraqi military to assist it in its efforts, which includes extensive training for Hussein's military elite at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The United States also provides Iraq with chemical and biological weapons.

      1982. Lebanon War: Israel invades Lebanon and expels the PLO. The invasion leads to the formation of Hezbollah, a Shia group dedicated to ending the Israeli occupation.

      1987. The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, begins. Through both violent attacks and nonviolent resistance, the Palestinians increase international pressure for an independent Palestinian state.

      1989. Ayatollah Khomeini dies and is succeeded as Supreme Leader of Iran by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

      1990s. The collapse of Eastern European communism leads to population growth in Israel as many Soviet Jews emigrate. Concurrently, the price of oil falls as cheap Russian oil becomes more readily available to the West, and many Arab states lose their strongest financial and diplomatic supporter with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

      1990–1991. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait leads to the Gulf War, led by the United States. When Iraq is invaded, Hussein counters by launching missile attacks at Israel, hoping to draw the Israeli military into the war and thus inspire anti-Israeli Arab countries to come to Iraq's aid; the gambit fails. Iraq is repulsed from Kuwait but Saddam Hussein's regime is left untouched. A permanent U.S. military presence is established in the region, centered in Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Popular sentiment in the Middle East turns increasingly anti-American.

      1993. The Oslo Accords call for Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This is preceded by Arafat's signing documents recognizing Israel's right to exist.

      1994. The Palestinian National Authority, established by the Oslo Accords, takes control of the Gaza Strip.

      1996. Al Jazeera, the satellite television network operated by the state of Qatar, begins broadcasting.

      2000. Israel withdraws from Lebanon.

      2000. The Camp David Summit convened by U.S. President Bill Clinton brings together Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat but fails to make significant progress.

      2000. The Second Intifada breaks out as Palestinians react to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.

      2001. In Egypt, the Taba Summit between Israel and Palestinians produces no movement.

      2002. The Roadmap for Peace, crafted by the United States, United Nations, Russia, and the European Union, calls for a halt to Israeli settlement of the West Bank.

      2002. Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are confined to their Ramallah headquarters.

      2003. Supported by a multinational coalition, the United States invades Iraq and removes Saddam Hussein from power after 21 days of combat as the Iraq War begins. The coalition creates the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern Iraq during the time of transition until a new democracy can be established in the country.

      2004. Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority is dissolved in July and succeeded by the Iraqi Interim Government, created by the United States as a caretaker government.

      2004. Yasser Arafat dies after a week in a coma following a rapidly worsening illness. Rumors surrounding his death include AIDS and poisoning by ricin. He is succeeded as president of the Palestininan National Authority by Rawhi Fattuh until elections can be held, at which point Mahmoud Abbas takes the presidential post.

      2005. The Iraqi Transitional Government succeeds the Interim Government, with the primary purpose of drafting a constitution that will be the foundation of its succeeding permanent government. In December, general elections are held for the new permanent government.

      2006. Israel invades Lebanon in response to Hezbollah's cross-border attacks and rocket fire.

      2006. Al Jazeera launches its English-language channel. It is widely considered to have the best and most comprehensive coverage of Middle East events, particularly once the Arab Spring revolutions begin.

      2006. In May, the new permanent government of Iraq succeeds the Iraqi Transitional Government.

      2007. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proposes the Arab Peace Initiative, deriving borders from the initial 1948 partition plan.

      2009–2010. Dissatisfaction over the reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leads to protests in the summer of 2009, dubbed the Green Revolution. Twitter is instrumental in providing protesters with a voice heard internationally. Many political commentators worldwide see in the irregularities of the 2009 election (including, for instance, two Ahmadinejad-supporting provinces in which the number of votes cast were greater than the number of eligible voters) the unofficial shift from an Islamic republic to an emirate over which Ahmadinejad has no intent of releasing control. The protests lead to numerous arrests and the torture and rape of many prisoners.

      2010. The Arab Spring begins: In December, the solitary protest of vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, who lights himself on fire (self-immolation) and later dies of his injuries, sets off the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, eventualy leading to the overthrow of the government.

      2010. Self-immolation protests follow in Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

      2010. Algerian protests and riots lead to the lifting of the nation's state of emergency after almost 20 years.

      2011. Protests in Jordan result in King Abdullah II's dismissing Prime Minister Rifai and the cabinet.

      2011. In response to protests, Sudanese President Bashir announces he will not seek reelection.

      2011. Protests in Oman lead to the firing of numerous government officials and amplified powers for the legislature.

      2011. Wide-scale protests in Saudi Arabia lead to economic changes.

      2011. President Hosni Mubarak is overthrown in Egypt after a 30-year rule. The military takes over, dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution.

      2011. Protests in Bahrain lead to the release of political prisoners and economic reforms.

      2011. Protests in Kuwait lead to the resignation of the cabinet.

      2011. In Libya, nationwide protests turn into a prolonged civil war; United Nations forces intervene.

      2011. Nationwide protests lead to widespread resignations of politicians and officials and the release of political prisoners, but also military reprisals in some areas.

      2011. President Ali Abdullah Saleh flees Yemen after an attack after months of protests, leaving the future of his government uncertain.

      2011. In Syria, protests begun in January escalate into a full-scale uprising in mid-March. Unemployment, lack of state support for industry or the poor, and human rights violations fueled protests inspired by the ongoing Arab Spring, and the government's attempt to placate the public by making high-speed Internet available is insufficient. Like the Tunisian protests, those in Syria begin with a self-immolation, that of Hasan Ali Akleh. By March, protests spread to all major Syrian cities, and the government push-back includes the use of tanks and snipers to remove crowds from the streets and the denial of power and water services in some neighborhoods. The uprising grows, with protesters demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and his administration.

      5–10 million b.c.e. The first hominids, bipedal ancestors of humans, evolve in Africa.

      1.5 million b.c.e. Homo erectus, a small-brained primitive tool maker, learns to make fire. It is the first hominid to leave Africa to settle other parts of the world.

      ca. 150,000–100,000 b.c.e. Homo sapiens, the modern human species, evolves in southern and eastern Africa.

      ca. 40,000 b.c.e. Homo sapiens begin to colonize the rest of the world.

      ca. 10,000 b.c.e. The Neolithic Revolution begins in northeast Africa. The first agricultural revolution, this is the transition from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to one at least partially dependent on planting and harvesting crops. Agriculture in turn leads to permanent settlements, food storage, the diversification of labor, and the institution of trade—the hallmarks of civilization.

      ca. 8000–6000 b.c.e. A climatic wet phase in Africa following the last glacial period turns the Ethiopian highlands into a forest and encourages the expansion of rainforest and savannah in west Africa. The Sahara region is grassy plains during most of this time.

      ca. 6000 b.c.e. Ancestors of the Egyptians form numerous permanent settlements in the Nile River region. Some historians have suggested that these may have been Nile-area natives who had migrated to the Fertile Crescent in the prehistoric Near East and were now returning generations later.

      ca. 5000 b.c.e. Ice sheets in the north, the melting of which had fed the wet phase, are exhausted. The northern Sahara begins to dry out. The southern Sahara experiences a regular monsoon season.

      ca. 4000 b.c.e. Bronze, copper, and lead smelting begin.

      ca. 3500 b.c.e. The sacral kingdom of Ta-Seti develops in northern Nubia, along the Nile, and likely controls much of Upper Egypt.

      ca. 3400 b.c.e. The southern Sahara monsoon shifts further south. Deprived of seasonal precipitation, the Sahara begins its process of full desertification. Remaining Saharan settlements are abandoned as their inhabitants relocate in other regions. Dry conditions have persisted in east Africa ever since.

      3150 b.c.e. The regions of Lower and Upper Egypt are unified under a single dynasty. Tradition has it that Menes was the first pharaoh of Egypt, but archaeologists have uncovered a stone palette called the Narmer Palette in which a pharaoh named Narmer claims to have united Egypt. The conventional view is that Narmer and Menes are names for the same pharaoh, in lieu of any evidence to the contrary. Egyptian chronology, based on the regnal years of pharaohs, begins at this point, and is key to various hypothetical chronologies of ancient north Africa and the Near East.

      3150 b.c.e. Egyptian culture develops quickly and changes remarkably little for the next 3,000 years, despite advances in technology and contact with numerous foreign peoples.

      ca. 3100 b.c.e. Shortly after the unification of Egypt, it invades Ta-Seti, under first dynasty pharaoh Hor-Aha; Ta-Seti is effectively destroyed.

      2686 b.c.e. The Old Kingdom period begins in Egypt, noted for its capital in Memphis and the construction of a great many pyramids. While in the earlier dynastic period, Egyptian states were independent and owed fealty to the pharaoh; beginning in the Old Kingdom period, the pharaoh is the sole authority, and is worshipped as the god who ensures the annual Nile flooding that irrigates crops.

      ca. 2500 b.c.e. The Sai and Kerma kingdoms emerge as powerful sacral kingdoms in the Nubia region.

      2181 b.c.e. First Intermediate period in Egypt. Central control splits competing power bases following years of famine that ended the Old Kingdom period.

      2060 b.c.e. Mentuhotep reunifies Egypt, beginning the Middle Kingdom period.

      ca. 2000 b.c.e. Tichit, along the west African coast, becomes an early urban center with the domestication of millet.

      ca. 1700 b.c.e. When Kerma conquers Sai, it becomes a dangerous rival for Egypt.

      1640 b.c.e. The Second Intermediate period of Egypt begins when the Hyksos, a nomadic tribe using war chariots, invade.

      1575–1550 b.c.e. Kerma invades Egypt and makes allies of the Hyksos.

      1550 b.c.e. The New Kingdom period sees the greatest expansion of Egyptian territory, with the empire reaching from Nubia in Africa to Syria in the Middle East.

      1508 b.c.e. Hatshepsut rules Egypt as a female pharaoh—not the first such, but the most successful of the indigenous Egyptian women to rule as a pharaoh in her own right, rather than as the regent for a son. (Cleopatra, later, is part of a non-native dynasty.)

      1500 b.c.e. Egypt conquers Kerma, which it calls Kush.

      1279–1213 b.c.e. Ramses the Great (Ramses II) rules Egypt at the height of its power.

      1100 b.c.e. Egypt withdraws from Kush, which regains its independence. The culture retains heavily Egyptianized influences, and the worship of Amun is now central to its religion.

      1070 b.c.e. Egypt's Third Intermediate period sees Egypt effectively divided, with the High Priests of Amun at Thebes governing the south, though both the priests and the dynastic pharaohs ruling the north are part of the same family.

      ca. 1000 b.c.e. Ironworking is introduced in northern Africa, possibly from Mesopotamia.

      ca. 1000 b.c.e. The Nok culture in modern central Nigeria features the use of iron tools and beautiful terra-cotta art.

      814 b.c.e. Carthage, a Phoenician trading city and the capitol of the Carthaginian Empire, is established in modern-day Tunisia.

      8th century b.c.e. In modern-day Eritrea, the state of D'mt is one of the principal traders of frankincense to Egypt and the Mediterranean.

      730 b.c.e. Kush invades Egypt and founds the Nubian Empire, which includes parts of Egypt and extends to Palestine.

      7th century b.c.e. Nubian culture begins to become more distinctive from Egyptian culture. The Meroitic alphabet is adopted in place of the Egyptian writing system, new gods join the pantheon, and trade with Mediterranean Greece becomes more key to the economy. Lions, ostriches, giraffes, and elephants are especially prominent motifs in Nubian art.

      670 b.c.e. Iron is introduced to Egypt by the invasion of Assyrians with iron weapons, ending the Twenty-Fifth dynasty and expelling the Nubians.

      631 b.c.e. Greeks found the city of Cyrene in Libya, the first Greek city in the region. Four more cities—Tocra, Euesperides, Balagrae, and Barce—are founded in the next few decades, forming the Pentapolis. The Pentapolis raises cattle and sheep and produces olive oil, wine, and figs for Greece; Cyrene soon becomes one of the Greek world's intellectual centers, thanks to its medical school.

      600 b.c.e. Carthage is a major power in the trade between tropical Africa and the Mediterranean civilizations. As it becomes more powerful, it expands through the region and will make attempts to gain greater power elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

      525 b.c.e. The Persian Empire conquers Egypt and the Pentapolis.

      435–356 b.c.e. Aristippus of Cyrene, the founder of the Cyrenaic school of philosophy, teaches that pleasure is the only virtue—but that pleasure can be derived from altruism, from meeting social obligations, and from finding the good in any experience.

      402 b.c.e. Egypt regains independence briefly.

      ca. 400 b.c.e. The kingdom of Axum (or Aksum), in modern Ethiopia, is an important intermediary in trade between the Roman Empire and India. Later tradition holds that its first king was Menelik I, the son of King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba.

      343 b.c.e. The Persian Empire once again takes over Egypt, briefly.

      332 b.c.e. Alexander the Great conquers Egypt and the Persian Empire. Alexander's empire does not survive his death, but is divided among the generals who are his successors.

      332 b.c.e. Alexander founds Alexandria in Egypt.

      305 b.c.e. Alexander's general Ptolemy takes control of Egypt after his emperor's death. Ptolemy orders construction of the fabled library at Alexandria, which becomes a center for intellectual activity in the Hellenic world until it burns down during Julius Caesar's visit in 48 b.c.e.

      ca. 300 b.c.e. The west African city of Koumbi Saleh is founded in the Ghana Empire, and lasts for more than 1,000 years before its eventual abandonment.

      276–195 b.c.e. Eratosthenes of Cyrene, a poet and scientist, invents geography, calculates the circumference of Earth and develops a system of latitude and longitude, and attempts a scientific chronology of known historical events.

      264–241 b.c.e. The first Punic War, between Carthage and Rome, over control of Sicily, ends with Carthage's loss.

      218–201 b.c.e. The second Punic War results in another Carthaginian loss, despite Carthaginian general Hannibal's legendary western Mediterranean campaign featuring war elephants and one of the largest armies in the ancient world.

      202 b.c.e. The kingdom of Numidia is founded in present-day Algeria, by Berbers. For the past few centuries, the region has become more prosperous thanks to the trade introduced by Carthage.

      200 b.c.e. Djenné, a city involved in trans-Saharan trade, is established in present-day Mali.

      200 b.c.e. Settlers from southeast Asia (Borneo) arrive on the island of Madagascar by canoe. Slash and burn agriculture is used to clear coastal rainforests in order to plant crops, and hunters contend with the island's megafauna: hippopotamuses and giant lemurs, among others.

      149–146 b.c.e. The third Punic War ends with Carthage's destruction.

      112–104 b.c.e. Numidia loses a lengthy war to Rome and becomes a Roman province.

      96 b.c.e. Having passed through the hands of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Ptolemies, the Pentapolis is given to the Roman Republic when its ruler Ptolemy Apion dies without heirs, and is referred to as Cyrenaica. Initially governed as a single administrative province along with Crete, it goes through several administrative changes under Roman rule.

      69–30 b.c.e. Cleopatra VII is the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, first ruling jointly with her father, then her brothers, then enjoying sole rulership, which she retained in part through a romance and alliance with Julius Caesar of Rome.

      30 b.c.e. Rome conquers Egypt; Cleopatra commits suicide by asp bite. Egypt is ruled as a Roman province for almost 700 years.

      1st century c.e. Christianity spreads to Cyrenaica and Egypt very early. An early tradition, recorded in the Gospels, has Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus's cross for him, and several contemporaries of Paul are from Cyrenaica. However, there may have been no organized church in Cyrenaica until the 4th century, when Coptic churches spread from Egypt. Tradition holds that the first Coptic Orthodox church in Egypt was founded by St. Mark the apostle, only a few years after Jesus's death.

      150. Fragments of a copy of the Gospel of John indicate that Christian writings were being translated into Coptic, the common language of Egypt.

      3rd century. Numbers of Egyptian Christians go into the desert to dedicate their lives to worship in seclusion. This is the foundation of the monasticism movement, which later spreads to Europe. Monasteries begin to spread in Egypt, reaching their height in the 5th century.

      314–432. The Diocese of Africa, with a seat at Carthage, incorporates all of Rome's African provinces into one administrative unit. Mauretania Tingitana—northern Morocco—remains separately administered.

      325. Axum converts to Christianity, and is the first state to use the cross on its coins.

      350. Axum conquers Kush.

      395. As the old Roman Empire splits between east and west, Egypt is taken over by the eastern half, the Byzantine Empire. Egyptian Christians become influential in the development of the monastic movement that spreads throughout western Europe in later centuries.

      5th century. The invasion of Vandals and acceleration of desertification contribute to Numidia's decay.

      451. The Council of Chalcedon separates the Oriental Orthodox family of Christian churches from the mainline (which will later divide again, into the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches). The split occurs over technical Christological issues, and the separate development since accounts for greater difference than the theological arguments at the time. The Oriental Orthodox family includes the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, which administers other Orthodox churches in Africa, and from which the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches will later split.

      639–643. Egypt and Cyrenaica are conquered by Muslim Arab forces. Islam begins to displace Christianity as the most popular religion in the region.

      ca. 700. The Kanem Empire is founded by the Zaghawa people in the area of modern Chad and Libya.

      ca. 700. The Swahili people—found along the east African coast from Kenya to Mozambique, and from the Bantu ethnic group—establish trade relations with Arab merchants. Ports like Mombasa and Zanzibar are soon established by the Swahili kingdoms, trading ivory, gold, and slaves with Arabs, Persia, China, and India.

      ca. 700. Arabs establish trading posts along the coast of Madagascar, and introduce their alphabet and religion.

      711. Arab Muslims have conquered all of north Africa by this date. Axum becomes isolated, its economy going into decline due to the loss of trade, but remains Christian.

      8th–9th century. While much of north Africa is controlled by the Abbasid caliphate based in Baghdad (Persia), the Berbers insist on their independence, to the extent of adopting Shia and Kharijite Islam instead of the then-orthodox Sunni denomination. The Berbers found a number of brief-lived Kharijite kingdoms.

      ca. 830. The Ghana Empire in west Africa controls a large area in west Africa with large armies and plays an important role in trans-Saharan trade. The decline of the empire coincides with the growth of Almoravid power in Africa, which results in the conversion of the people to Islam.

      900. Mogadishu, in present-day Somalia, becomes a thriving Indian Ocean trade center. Originally part of the Persian Empire, the area comes under Muslim control.

      900. By about this time, north Africa is predominantly Muslim.

      950. The Fatimids, a Shia Muslim caliphate claiming descent from Muhammad's daughter, conquer the western region of north Africa. Egypt follows in 969.

      ca. 1000. Timbuktu, a prosperous trading center along the Niger River, is established as a semi-permanent settlement by Tauregs, and becomes an important trading hub.

      1040. The Almoravid dynasty, a Berber dynasty, is founded in north Africa. Weak leadership makes it a brief-lived dynasty, lasting barely a century.

      1050–1200. Vast numbers of Bedouin nomads migrate gradually from the Arabian peninsula to the Maghreb, contributing to the spread of the Arabic language and culture throughout north Africa.

      1075. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe, the first state in southern Africa, is established.

      1100. The southern city of Great Zimbabwe (meaning “stone building”) is established.

      1121. The Almohad dynasty, another Berber dynasty, conquers the Almoravids in northwest Africa and Spain. Central control suffers as the Almohads allow power to fragment. Under pressure from the Spanish Reconquista and internal fissures, the dynasty falls in 1269.

      1137. The Zagwe dynasty turns Axum into the Ethiopian Empire (also called Abyssinia, especially by the West), the area includes the northern halves of present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea and parts of Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Djibouti.

      1220. The kingdom of Zimbabwe arises, including both Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe and extending its rule in all directions. Zimbabwe controls the ivory and gold trade on Africa's southeastern coast.

      1235. Sundiata Keita founds the Mali Empire along and to the north of the Niger River in west Africa. The Mali Empire controls a large part of west Africa for over 400 years.

      1250. Mamluks, Christian children taken from eastern Europe as slaves and trained as soldiers, take control of Egypt.

      1270. The Zagwe dynasty of Ethiopia is overthrown by Yekuno Amlak, who claims direct descent from the Axumite kings, and thus from Solomon. The new Solomonic dynasty remains in control of Ethiopia until the 20th century.

      14th century. Sufis help popularize Islam in Nubia.

      14th century. The Buganda kingdom forms near Lake Victoria in present-day Uganda.

      14th century. Around this time, but perhaps earlier, the Batembuzi dynasty establishes the Kitara Empire in the Great Lakes region, and is soon succeeded by the Bachwezi dynasty. Great Lakes kingdoms to come will claim descent from the Bachwezi, but little to nothing is known about them.

      14th century. The Ajuuraan sultanate, a Muslim empire, is established in Somalia and soon controls large portions of east Africa. It is instrumental in converting many east Africans to Islam, and introduces new agricultural techniques and systems of taxation.

      1324. Mansa Musa, the emperor of the Mali Empire, performs his Hajj. His retinue consisted of 60,000 men, and the gold that he took with him distorted the economies of cities such as Cairo and others that he traveled through.

      1340. The Songhai Empire gains independence from the Mali Empire under the leadership of Sonni Ali. Its territory includes the trade center of Timbuktu.

      1390. The kingdom of Kongo is founded by Lukeni lua Nimi. A Christian kingdom, Kongo rules a relatively small area of west Africa around present-day northern Angola.

      15th century. In Madagascar, the Sakalava, Tistiambala, and Merina kingdoms are founded.

      15th century. The kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi are founded by the Tutsi people.

      15th century. When Vasco de Gama passes by Mogadishu, he describes it as a large, prosperous city, with many impressive mosques, and houses five stories high.

      15th century. Arabs begin to immigrate to Nubia, introducing their language and culture, and increasing the spread of Islam.

      1400. The Oyo Empire is established by the Yoruba people, in present-day western Nigeria.

      1430. Prince Nyatsimba Mutota travels north from Zimbabwe in search of salt, and conquers lands that become the kingdom of Mutapa.

      1440. The Benin Empire is formed by the Edo people in a small part of what is now Nigeria. (It is not the predecessor of present-day Benin; Dahomey is.)

      1450. Much of Zimbabwe is abandoned as Mutapa becomes the economic powerhouse of the region. Mutota's successor, Matope, extends Mutapa's territory.

      1492. After centuries of Muslim control of the Iberian peninsula, Spain defeats the occupying Muslims and Spain and Portugal proceed to claim southern Mediterranean ports along the coast of north Africa: Tangiers, Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis.

      1493. Muhammed Toure, or Askia the Great, takes control of the Songhai Empire. Askia encourages trade with Europe and Asia, and solidifies Islam as the religion of his empire.

      1498. Portugual attempts to establish economic and religious control of the Swahili coast, with little success.

      16th century. The empire of Kitara falls when Luo people invade from the north. Bunyoro, the northernmost province of Kitara, becomes the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara, and soon becomes one of the most powerful east African kingdoms.

      16th century. The Saadis, an Arab tribe of nomads claiming descent from the daughter of Muhammad, conquer and unify Morocco, expelling the occupying Portuguese. Morocco is able to stop the Ottoman Empire from spreading to the Atlantic coast.

      16th century. Nubia becomes fully Islamized.

      ca. 1502. The first Atlantic system that saw the removal of Africans to the South American colonies of Spain and Portugal becomes a significant scale. From the 16th to 19th centuries, between 9 and 12 million Africans are brought as slaves to the Americas, with millions more dying en route.

      1517. Cyrenaica and Egypt are annexed by the Ottoman Empire.

      1560. Portugal establishes trade relations with Mutapa.

      1561. A Portuguese Jesuit missionary converts Mutapa's king to Christianity, resulting in the king's assassination only days later by angered Muslim merchants. The Portuguese play up the religious angle of the assassination and begin assembling an expedition force.

      1568. The Portuguese send an expedition force of 1,000 soldiers into Mutapa to seize control of the gold and ivory trade, ostensibly to avenge the death of the Christian king. Local diseases kill most of the expedition over the course of the next few years, and the Portuguese kill numerous Swahili traders, seizing control of the trade by replacing them with Portuguese captains with African families.

      1575. The Portuguese Empire establishes its first colony in Africa at Luanda in present-day Angola. From this beginning, European powers conquer most of sub-Saharan Africa during the 19th century.

      1592. Morocco invades Songhai to divert its gold trade away from the European traders on the west coast.

      17th century. Control of Mutapa passes back and forth between the natives and the Portuguese, shifting frequently. Out of frustration, Mutapa eventually outlaws gold mining. The population declines, but so does the Portuguese interest in the region.

      1600. The kingdom of Dahomey, located in present-day Benin, is founded by Wegbaja. The kings trade slaves for European weapons.

      1603. Morocco splits into two sultanates, Fes and Marrakesh.

      1615. The Oyo Empire, after a period of nearly a century occupied by Nupe invaders, is reclaimed by the Yoruba, becoming stronger and better-organized in the process. It soon becomes one of the most powerful states in the region.

      1624. Ethiopian Emperor Susenyos converts from the Orthodox faith to Roman Catholicism, catalyzing a popular uprising and widespread protests from Orthodox Ethiopians.

      1632. Emperor Fasilides, Susenyos's son, expels Jesuits and Europeans from Ethiopia and declares Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity the state religion.

      1652. The Dutch East India Company founds Cape Town, an outpost on the Cape of Good Hope that becomes the center of Dutch Boer culture.

      1672. Morocco is reunified by Moulay al-Rashid, who founds the Alaouite dynasty.

      18th century. The kingdom of Rwanda begins to take control of the smaller states surrounding it.

      1700. The Ajuuraan sultanate declines, and other Somali states become more prominent.

      1701. The Ashanti Empire is formed in west Africa, benefiting from an early mastery of rifles introduced by European trade. The Empire's sophistication and military might makes it one of the most significant sub-Saharan powers.

      1814. The Anglo–Dutch Treaty cedes some Dutch African territory to Britain, and Cape Town becomes the capital of the newly created Cape Colony. Cape Town already has strict race-based rules in effect, similar to the segregation laws later adopted in the United States.

      1818. Shaka Zulu takes control of the Mthethwa Alliance in modern South Africa and expands the Zulu Empire.

      1822. Liberia is formed on the west coast of Africa by the American Colonization Society, which had raised funds in order to relocate freed American slaves to an African nation where they could enjoy autonomy.

      1823. The First Anglo–Ashanti War, between the Ashanti and the British Empire, begins with an attempted British invasion; the Ashanti prevail.

      1826. The Ashanti attempt to invade coastal territory controlled by the British, but the superior British firepower—particularly their use of rockets—forces them to withdraw.

      1852. Boer farmers establish the South African Republic in the Transvaal region of what is now South Africa, as an independent Boer-ruled nation in inland southern Africa.

      1854. Boers establish the Orange Free State, another independent inland Boer-ruled nation, east of the South African Republic.

      1863. After 30 years of peace between the Ashanti and the British, the Second Anglo–Ashanti War begins when Ashanti forces pursue a fugitive into British-controlled territory; it ends in a stalemate as a result of rampant disease among the troops of both sides.

      1871. In an internationally celebrated incident, Henry Morton Stanley of the New York Herald newspaper locates David Livingstone, a medical missionary who had dropped out of contact, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the modern-day Republic of the Congo.

      1873. The Third Anglo–Ashanti War, fought over territorial disputes and the British desire to increase their territory, leads to the Ashanti capitol being burned before the eventual ceasefire.

      1879. The Zulus defeat the British army at the Battle of Isandlwana. Of the nearly 2,000 British soldiers, native auxiliaries, and civilians, more than 1,300 are killed. The defeat spurs the British to expand efforts against the Zulu, culminating in the conquest of the kingdom in 1897.

      1880–1881. In the First Anglo–Boer War, Boer farmers in the Transvaal region rebel against British rule.

      1881. European powers, compelled by the need for new markets, raw materials, and strategic advantage, launch the Scramble for Africa that lasts until 1914. By the start of World War I, only Liberia and Ethiopia remain free of European control.

      1884. The Berlin Conference, organized by Otto von Bismarck, formalizes the Scramble for Africa by regulating European colonializing and trade activities in Africa.

      1885. During the Mahdist War, Muslim forces capture Khartoum and kill the commander of the city, Charles “Chinese” Gordon.

      1892. The sultan of Zanzibar leases Mogadishu to the Italians, who soon purchase it outright.

      1894. When Ashanti refuses an offer to become a British protectorate, the British invade out of anxiety that the French will if they do not, beginning the Fourth Anglo–Ashanti War, ending in Ashanti accepting a treaty of protection.

      1894. Dahomey is conquered by the French.

      1895. The Italo–Ethiopian War occurs. Italy invades Ethiopia but is repulsed. The victory is key to making Ethiopia the only African nation to fend off colonialism.

      1895. France invades Madagascar and makes it a protectorate.

      1897. Britain conquers the Zulus, as well as annexing the Benin Empire.

      1899–1902. The Second Anglo–Boer War ends with the British acquiring the Boer republics: the Orange Free State and the South African Republic.

      1910. Britain creates the Union of South Africa, combining Cape Colony with the territories taken from the Boers. Attempts at Anglicizing Afrikaners have failed, but Afrikaans is not recognized as an official language until 1925.

      1914. Egypt becomes a protectorate of the British Empire.

      1919. The League of Nations declares much of Africa to be mandate territories under the control of European powers, as follows: Belgium administers Ruanda-Urundi (Rwanda and Burundi) and retains control of the Belgian Congo; the United Kingdom administers Tanganyika; Togoland and Kamerun are split into two mandates each, one British and one French; the former German New Guinea becomes two mandates, the Territory of New Guinea and Nauru, both administered by Australia for the United Kingdom; and the mandate of South-West Africa is created, governed by South Africa, for the territory that is now Namibia.

      1931. South Africa is granted effective independence from Britain.

      1934. Uganda gains autonomy from the British Empire.

      1934. Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan are united as the Italian colony of Libya.

      1935. Italy, using modern weaponry including poison gas, invades Ethiopia. The League of Nations, which initially declares an embargo on selling arms to either side, finally lifts the embargo when it is too late for the Ethiopians. Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian emperor, warns the rest of the world of Italy's aggression, declaring that it will not end there.

      1935. Belgian authorities in Rwanda, considering the Hutu, Twa, and Tutsi peoples to be separate races, introduce identity cards identifying to which race each Rwandan belongs—one of many policies, continuing in the tradition of the German governors, emphasizing ethnic divisions in the country. The Tutsi are treated as the ruling class.

      1942. Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of north Africa, expels German and Italian forces from the region.

      1945. Decolonization, which began with early moves following World War I, begins in earnest now. In some cases, power is transferred from the imperial European countries to natives peacefully, albeit under pressure from other European countries and the United States. In other cases, violent wars follow independence.

      1948. South Africa adopts the policy of apartheid, or the legal separation of the races. Previous policies had been similar, but apartheid strengthened them.

      1951. Libya becomes independent from Italy.

      1953. After the revolution overthrew the monarchy of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser becomes Egypt's first prime minister and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.

      1955. Civil war begins between northern and southern Sudan, motivated by the fear that once Sudan becomes independent, it will be dominated by the Arab and Muslim north. The south is primarily Christian and animist.

      1956. After Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal, the French and British military take the Canal Zone by force, while the Israeli army occupies the Sinai Peninsula. Pressure from the international community forces the European powers to return control of the canal to Egypt the following year.

      1956. Sudan becomes independent from Britain.

      1956. Tunisia and Morocco become independent from France.

      1957. Ghana becomes independent from Britain.

      1958. Dahomey and Guinea become independent from France.

      1959. The earliest incidence of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in an adult male occurs in the Congo.

      1959. The Rwandan Revolution: disenfranchised Hutus begin a campaign of violence against Tutsis, leading to tens of thousands of deaths and many fleeing to Uganda before the Belgian army stops the massacres.

      1959. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is granted its own patriarch, becoming a separate unit from the Coptic Orthodox Church in an amicable split.

      1960. Somalia becomes independent from Italy.

      1960. Cameroon becomes independent from France and Britain.

      1960. Senegal, Togo, Mali, Madagascar, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Chad, the Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, and Mauritania become independent from France.

      1960. The Democratic Republic of Congo becomes independent from Belgium.

      1960. Nigeria becomes independent from Britain.

      1961. Following a whites-only referendum, South Africa becomes a republic and leaves the British Commonwealth.

      1961. Sierra Leone becomes independent from Britain.

      1961. Nelson Mandela becomes leader of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), an anti-apartheid organization in South Africa. The ANC became convinced that nonviolent protest would not bring an end to apartheid, and bombs government offices and other symbols of apartheid, during hours when no one was present.

      1961. Eritrea separatists begin their fight for independence from Ethiopia, resisted as strongly as it is in part because loss of that coastal territory would render Ethiopia landlocked.

      1962. Mandela is arrested by South African authorities, after a tip from the American Central Intelligence Agency. He and several of his associates are sentenced to life imprisonment.

      1962. Belgium abolishes the monarchy in Rwanda and grants the country its independence. Tutsi/Hutu violence continues in waves; the Hutu now possess greater power both in fact and in law.

      1962. Burundi becomes independent from Belgium.

      1962. Uganda becomes independent from Britain.

      1963. Kenya becomes independent from Britain.

      1964. Malawi and Zambia become independent from Britain.

      1965. The unrecognized state in southern Africa, Rhodesia, is formed with an all-white government. Consisting of the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia, it declares itself a self-governing colony.

      1965. Gambia becomes independent from Britain.

      1966. Botswana and Lesotho become independent from Britain.

      1968. Mauritius and Swaziland become independent from Britain.

      1972. The Sudan Civil War comes to a temporary halt as the south is allowed to self-govern as the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region.

      1973. A military coup ousts the Rwandan government.

      1973. Guinea-Bissau becomes independent from Portugal.

      1974. A Marxist military junta called the Derg overthrows Haile Selassie, king of Ethiopia, and seizes control of the country, beginning the Ethiopian Civil War.

      1975. The Republic of Dahomey changes its name to Benin.

      1975. Angola becomes independent from Portugal after a 13-year war, and a civil war immediately begins between two former liberation movements over control of the new nation. By the 1990s, a multiparty political system is formed, but an association of separatist militias fighting for the independence of Cabinda province continues to this day to resist the government.

      1975. Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Cape Verde become independent from Portugal.

      1975. Comoros becomes independent from France.

      1976. Seychelles becomes independent from Britain.

      1977. The Ogaden War: Somalia invades Ethiopia in order to reclaim the territory of Ogaden. Previously a Somali ally, the Soviet Union gives military aid to Ethiopia, forcing a Somali withdrawal.

      1977. Djibouti becomes independent from France.

      1977–1979. The Red Terror: The new Ethiopian government launches a campaign of mass murder against its internal enemies, including the burning of churches, the deaths of at least 1000 children, and the systematic rape of women by soldiers. Amnesty International later estimates the death toll in this period alone as 500,000.

      1978. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords, making Egypt the first Islamic state to recognize the state of Israel.

      1980. Rhodesia is officially granted independence from Britain and international recognition, under a new government, as the Republic of Zimbabwe.

      1980. The government of Liberia is overthrown by a military coup.

      1981. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat is assassinated by Islamic extremists. Vice President Hosni Mubarak succeeds Sadat and remains in office nearly 30 years.

      1983. The Sudan Civil War resumes when President Gaafar Nimeiry puts aside the Addis Ababa agreement that had granted autonomy to southern Sudan, in order to create new federal administration units. Southern troops rebel and attack.

      1984–1985. Famine in Ethiopia reaches critical levels, killing at least 1 million.

      1989–1996. The First Liberian Civil War is fought against the dictatorial military government, ending in the regime being overthrown.

      1990. South Africa decriminalizes anti-apartheid organizations, and Nelson Mandela is released from prison. He returns to his position as leader of the ANC and devotes himself to the negotiations to end apartheid.

      1990. The Rwandan Civil War begins when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a group of Tutsi refugees, invades the country.

      1990. Namibia becomes independent from South Africa.

      1990–1995. Tuareg groups in Niger and Mali stage a rebellion with the goal of forming their own nation-state. Peace accords are eventually signed.

      1991. The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front overthrows the Ethiopian government, 72 officials of which are later found guilty of genocide.

      1991. A lengthy civil war begins in Somalia, which continues to this day. The war originates as conflicts between tribalist factions, but in the 21st century Islamist insurgencies will play a major role.

      1991–1993. Eritrea secedes from Ethiopia.

      1991–2002. The Algerian Civil War is fought off and on, between Islamist rebels and the Algerian government.

      1993. The Rwandan Civil War comes to an ostensible end after the signing of a treaty creating a power-sharing government between the Hutus and Tutsis.

      1994. President Juvenal Habyarimana is assassinated, leading to recriminations in the form of the Rwandan Genocide: the mass murder of at least 500,000 people—a tenth of the country's population. Victims included Tutsis and “collaborationist” Hutus. The RPF resumes the war and is able to take control of the country by the end of July.

      1994. Apartheid in South Africa officially ends, and Nelson Mandela is elected president in the country's first multiracial elections.

      1996. The Rwandan army, now Tutsi-controlled, launches attacks on Hutu refugee camps in neighboring countries.

      1996. Destabilization in the region resulting from the Rwandan Genocide leads to the First Congo War, resulting in the government of Zaire being overthrown and the country being reorganized as the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997.

      1998–2000. Cross-border warfare continues between Somalia and Ethiopia.

      1998–2000. The Eritrean–Ethiopian War begins with the Eritrean invasion of Ethiopia; the war ends with Ethiopia repelling Eritrea and occupying some of its territory. A United Nations Commission finds that the territory of Badme is rightfully Eritrean, but in 2011, Ethiopia continued to control it.

      1998–2003. The Second Congo War, the largest war in modern African history, begins when two brigades of the Congolese army form rebel groups to attempt to overthrow the new government. Rwanda and Uganda support the rebels, with Rwanda claiming that a large part of eastern Congo is historically Rwandan and should be returned to it; Rwanda also claims to be protecting Tutsis in Congo from genocide. Over the next few years, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Chad enter the fray on Congo's side; Burundi joins the rebels' side. A ceasefire is declared in 2003, with an agreement to create a new government, but internal conflicts continue to the present day.

      1999–2003. The Second Liberian Civil War ends in the government being exiled to Nigeria and a new government being installed.

      2002. Mount Nyiragongo erupts, displacing nearly 500,000 Congolese.

      2002. Libya and Sudan are among the seven nations named as sponsors of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.

      2003. Non-Arab Sudanese in the Darfur region of Sudan begin a guerrilla war over their treatment by the Sudanese government, which they allege favors Arabs. Hundreds of thousands are killed during the remainder of the decade.

      2003. Civil unrest in Darfur spills over into the Central African Republic, where a bush war breaks out, fought by rebels protesting the seizure of power by President Francois Bozize. A ceasefire is declared in 2007.

      2005. The Sudan Civil War ends with the Nairobi Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which grants the south six years of autonomy, to be followed by a referendum vote on independence.

      2005. In Algeria, a national referendum passes, granting amnesty to any civil war combatants no longer engaged in fighting, and providing compensation to the families of people killed by government forces. It is criticized for attempting to force closure too quickly instead of focusing on social change.

      2005. The Darfur conflict spills over into Chad, where conflicts between ethnic Arab Muslims and ethnic African Christians have recurred for decades. The civil war lasts until 2010, prolonged because of a slow implementation of reforms promised in 2007.

      2007–2009. The Second Tuareg Rebellion begins in Niger when a group of former Tuareg rebels begins a series of attacks on mining interests. After a 2009 ceasefire, an attempt is made to integrate the rebels into the military.

      2010. South Africa hosts the World Cup.

      2010. Large-scale famine strikes the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa, due to prolonged drought.

      2010. After a lengthy political crisis during which Nigerian president Mamadou Tandja attempts to extend his presidency for three years past his elected term, his government is overthrown by the military.

      2010. After the first election in Côte d'Ivoire in 10 years, incumbent Laurent Gbagbo claims victory in a case of apparent electoral fraud. Supporters of his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, launch a military offensive.

      2010. The Arab Spring, a series of protests and demonstrations throughout the Arab world, begins in Tunisia with the self-immolation of vendor Muhammad Bouazizi, which inspires widespread protests and demonstrations that the Western media calls the Jasmine Revolution.

      2011. The Arab Spring continues. In Tunisia, political prisoners are released, the president and prime minister resign, and Constituent Assembly elections are announced for the end of the year, likely indicating a general election in early 2012. In Algeria, protests focus on economic problems, and feature a series of symbolic self-immolations in front of government buildings. In Egypt, revolution ends the rule of Hosni Mubarak; the military takes over, dissolving Parliament and suspending the constitution. In Libya, protests spiral into a full-fledged civil war. In Sudan, the president pledges not to seek re-election.

      2011. One of the key characteristics of the Arab Spring protests is the use of social media and online activism to coordinate demonstrations; this is inspired in part by the prominence of Twitter in the 2009 Iranian Green Revolution.

      2011. In Cote d'Ivoire, Ouattara's government establishes itself and Laurent Gbagbo is apprehended in April, and is expected to be tried in International Criminal Court for war crimes.

      2011. In Sudan, the south's six-year period of autonomy ends and the referendum vote on independence passes. South Sudan secedes from Sudan after 55 years of struggle.

      ca. 500,000 b.c.e. Peking Man, Homo erectus pekinensis—known as Peking Man from remains found in the 1920s—is active in the Beijing, China, area, and is the earliest known example of Homo erectus remains. Archaeological evidence suggests that fire and tools may have been used in China about 1 million years ago.

      ca. 67,000 b.c.e. The earliest human remains in the Philippines may be this old.

      ca. 38,000 b.c.e. The earliest stone tools in Japan are attested to this date.

      ca. 14,000 b.c.e. The Jomon (“cord-patterned”) Period begins in Japan, producing the region's first pottery. Pottery was introduced to Japan from elsewhere on the Asian continent. The Jomon and their neighbors were among the world's first sedentary or semi-sedentary people, most likely depending on coastal and deep water fishing to supplement plant foraging and hunting with bows and traps.

      ca. 11,000 b.c.e. The most recent Ice Age ends. Among the geological changes it has wrought, the lands of Japan and the Philippines have become archipelagos, no longer attached to the Asian mainland.

      ca. 8000 b.c.e. Earliest known Korean pottery.

      ca. 7600 b.c.e. The first permanent settlements are established in China. The Zhenpiyan culture in southern China is the first known culture to domesticate pigs.

      ca. 7500 b.c.e. The Pengtoushan culture from the central Yangtze River region of China demonstrates the first cultivation of rice, which eventually becomes the staple food crop of east Asia.

      ca. 6000 b.c.e. Cliff carvings at Damaidi in Ningxia, China, feature over 8,000 individual pictographs, believed to be the earliest example of written Chinese.

      ca. 5000–3000 b.c.e. The Yangshao culture thrives around the central Yellow River region in China. Men wear their hair in topknots, women in buns. Meat, from hunting or domesticated livestock, is reserved for special occasions, and most meals consist of gruel, dumplings, or rice cakes, with turnips and cabbage.

      ca. 4000–2000 b.c.e. During the Holocene Climatic Optimum, average temperatures are several degrees higher and the sea level is about 20 feet higher. With ideal agricultural conditions and milder winters, Asian populations increase tremendously. In Japan, architecture becomes more sophisticated.

      ca. 3500 b.c.e. The first sericulture—raising of silkworms from which to harvest silk—is developed in China. According to legend, a silk cocoon fell into Empress Leizu's tea cup. Leizu began pulling the thread of the cocoon out and was inspired to weave it into cloth. An important ancient technology, sericulture eventually finds its way to India and Japan, and silk products become highly prized in the West.

      ca. 3000–2000 b.c.e. The Longshan culture thrives in the central and lower Yellow River area of China, known for its advanced pottery and the transition to walled and moated cities.

      ca. 2500 b.c.e. The Battle of Banquan is fought between the Huang (“Yellow”) Emperor and the Yan (“Flame”) Emperor somewhere in northern China. This is the earliest recorded evidence of organized warfare. Victorious, the Yellow Emperor's Huaxia tribe expands throughout the region and eventually becomes the Han ethnic group, the largest in China (and the world), who today still call themselves “the descendants of Yan and Huang.”

      2333 b.c.e. Legendary founding date of Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom.

      ca. 2100 b.c.e. Legends claim that the Xia dynasty of China dates to this period. There is little archaeological evidence about the period.

      ca. 1766 b.c.e. The Shang dynasty is the earliest Chinese dynasty for which there is historical and archaeological evidence, leading many historians to believe that the Xia, which allegedly preceded it, is a myth. Numerous Shang sites include turtle shells that had been thrown into ires, in order to produce markings that were used to divine the future.

      1350 b.c.e. The Shang dynasty relocates its capital to Yin, one of six times the capital is moved. The term Yin dynasty is sometimes synonymous with the Shang dynasty, or used to refer to the dynasty's golden age, which begins with that move.

      1100 b.c.e. The Chinese worship of tian begins. Tian is a natural force that governs all other gods, and its will is called the Mandate of Heaven, which determines who should rule China. The Mandate of Heaven is sometimes articulated through natural disasters.

      1046 b.c.e. The Chinese people come to believe that the Shang dynasty has lost the Mandate of Heaven, and a new house overthrows the ruling house, establishing the Western Zhou dynasty.

      770 b.c.e. The Eastern Zhou dynasty is established in China and becomes one of the most intellectually active eras in Chinese history.

      551–476 b.c.e. Confucius begins spreading his message that all members of society must adhere to their proper role in society and must be taught “goodness.” Confucianism eventually becomes the predominant political philosophy throughout east Asia, and the basis for the examination system that selects imperial bureaucrats to rule China under the emperor.

      ca. 550 b.c.e. The Daodejing is written by Laozi and becomes the principal text for the Taoist religion in east Asia. Tao means “path,” and the Tao is the path humans should follow in order to live in harmony with the world. Many historians believe that Lao Tsu was not a single person, but rather, like King Arthur, a legendary figure inspired by multiple historical figures in various eras.

      476–221 b.c.e. After the decentralization of power in China, the Zhou dynasty degenerates into multiple states. The era becomes known as the Warring States Period.

      ca. 400 b.c.e. In Japan, the Jomon period gradually gives way to the Yayoi period, which begins the Iron Age. Toward the end of the Jomon period, new technologies were introduced from the Asian mainland, through as-yet undiscovered means. Among the technologies were bronze and iron smelting, and intensive rice paddy agriculture.

      372–289 b.c.e. Mengzi (Mencius), an itinerant Chinese philosopher, who further developed Confucianism, lives during this time.

      300 b.c.e. The Deutero-Malay ethnic group, ancestors of modern-day Malaysians descended from the Cham ethnic group of Vietnam and Cambodia, arrives in the Malay Peninsula, displacing the Chinese ethnic group that had inhabited it. The Deutero-Malays introduce farming techniques and metal tools.

      3rd century b.c.e. The early states on the Malay Peninsula are strongly influenced by Indian culture.

      280–233 b.c.e. Han Fei, one of the ruling Chinese aristocrats, develops the philosophy of Legalism, which is based on the belief that humans are inherently evil and are motivated by personal gain and the attempt to avoid punishment. Legalism incorporates the ideas of earlier Chinese philosophers Shang Yang (390–338), Shen Dao (395–315), and Han Fei's contemporary Li Si (280–208), the chancellor of the Qin state and later Qin dynasty.

      221 b.c.e. Qin Shihuangdi establishes the Qin dynasty, the first imperial dynasty in Chinese history, and begins the construction of the Great Wall of China. Legalism becomes the philosophy of the empire, and Chancellor Li Si represses competing philosophies by burning books and burying scholars alive.

      206 b.c.e. The Han dynasty overthrows the Qin. Trade with the West is established, via the route the West calls the Silk Road. Confucianism replaces Legalism as the state's official philosophy, and will remain so until the 20th century.

      111 b.c.e. Chinese troops invade Nam Viet (present-day Vietnam) and divide it into new territories with Chinese governors; despite periods of revolt, Chinese domination lasts a millennium.

      1st century b.c.e. Steady trade is established between the Malay Peninsula and China and India.

      57 b.c.e. Three Kingdoms Period in Korea begins. Silla, Baekje, and Goguryeo dominate the Korean Peninsula and parts of Manchuria.

      1st century c.e. Buddhism is introduced in China. The philosophy and religion soon spreads to the Malay Peninsula, as does Hinduism.

      220–280. Following the loss of power of the Han dynasty, the Three Kingdoms Period begins in China, with Wei, Shu, and Wu ruling separate parts of China. Though short, the period is heavily romanticized by later Chinese.

      250. The Yamato period begins in Japan, ruled by the Yamato clans; the exact date when the Yamatos came to power is unclear, and in the early part of the period, they faced many challenges from clans in other parts of Japan.

      538. Buddhism is introduced to Japan.

      589. The Sui dynasty reunifies China. The Sui's principal accomplishment is the completion of the Grand Canal that connects Beijing with Hangzhou. Like the Qin dynasty, the Sui rulers use ruthless methods to consolidate their control but lose their Mandate of Heaven after popular discontent over the forced labor necessary for the construction of the Grand Canal and defeat in a massive invasion of Korea.

      607. With Buddhism rising in popularity in Japan, the Yamato court sends an embassy to China to obtain copies of the Sutras, the oral teachings of the Buddha.

      618–907. The Tang dynasty is established in China, leading to one of the country's most prosperous and innovative eras. Buddhism, adopted by the imperial family, becomes the country's predominant religion.

      660. The Yamato government of Japan begins sending envoys to the Chinese court. Cultural exchange with the Chinese is extremely influential; the Chinese calendar is adopted, and Confucianism and Taoism become popular in Japan. Many immigrants arrive in this period from China and the Korean kingdoms.

      676. The Korean kingdom of Silla, having conquered Goguryeo and Baekje, unifies the peninsula.

      7th–13th century. The Buddhist Srivijaya Empire rules most of the Malay Peninsula, its power and economy based on regional maritime trade and feudal relationships.

      710. The Japanese state becomes unified and the capital moves to Heijo-kyo (now Nara), halting the Shinto practice of abandoning the imperial capital on the death of the emperor. Heijo-kyo is modeled directly on the Chinese city of Chang'an, capital of the Tang dynasty.

      751. The Battle of the Talas River occurs between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang dynasty, each with armies in the tens of thousands, each seeking control of the Syrdarya River. The Tang dynasty is defeated, but the effect on both sides is the same: to stop expansion into the other's territory. The encounter also transmits Chinese paper-making technology to the Arab world, and thence to the West. The site of the battle is on the modern-day border of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

      794–1185. The Heian period is the final period of classical Japan, and the peak of its imperial court, a vibrant time for poetry, art, and literature.

      802–1463. The Khmer Empire is one of the most powerful empires in southeast Asia, ruling over parts of present-day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

      10th century. The Thai people migrate from southern China to present-day Thailand, which until now has been ruled by various Indianized states.

      900. The earliest Filipino document is an inscription clearing a debt. Written in Sanskrit, the document attests to the influence of Hindu and Malay cultures on the Philippines.

      907–960. During Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, the Tang dynasty is succeeded by five separate and brief-lived regimes in northern China, while 10 separate regimes occupy portions of the south and west.

      918. The Goryeo dynasty is established in Korea, ruling most of the peninsula until supplanted by the Joseon dynasty in 1392. Buddhism flourishes in this period. The English name “Korea” derives from “Goryeo,” which itself comes from the early kingdom Goguryeo.

      938. Instability in China makes it possible for Vietnam to finally reclaim its independence after troops from the southern Han dynasty are defeated in the Battle of Bach Dang River.

      960. The instability in China ends with the establishment of the Song dynasty. Bureaucrats replace aristocrats as the new elite class amid a period of technological sophistication. Many notable officials in the Song dynasty are also scholars.

      1021. During the Heian period in Japan (794–1185), Murasaki Shikibu writes The Tale of Genji, arguably the first fictional work centered on the lives of court officials. This period sees the decline of imperial influence and the rise of the bushi or warrior class that will dominate Japan into the 20th century.

      1161. Naval victories of the Song government of southern China over the Jin dynasty which has taken over the north are owed in large part to the new development of gunpowder weapons.

      1185. After defeating the Taira clan in the Genpei War (1180–85), Minamoto Yoritomo establishes the Kamakura Bakufu, or shogunate. This will see the virtual end of direct imperial rule of Japan, with a few exceptions, until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This long period also sees the establishment of the samurai class to centrality within Japanese culture. The next few centuries are dominated by daimyo (powerful families controlling specific regions).

      13th–14th century. The Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan in 1206, expands from a small part of central Asia to eventually become the largest contiguous empire in history. Much of China comes under its control, as does the entirety of the Silk Road. The peace under Mongol rule is referred to by historians as the Pax Mongolica.

      13th–14th century. Islam comes to the Malay Peninsula, introduced to the ruling elite by Arab and Indian traders before becoming popular with the common people. For at least the first century, the Islam of the Malays is an unorthodox syncretic faith incorporating elements of Hinduism and Buddhism.

      1238–1438. The Sukhothai Kingdom in northern Thailand secedes from the Khmer Empire, and is eventually unified with Ayutthaya to the south.

      1271. Marco Polo sets out along the Silk Road, traveling from Venice to Beijing and back, passing through numerous important cities in China and central Asia. His book about his travels is instrumental in introducing Europeans to the East, though he fails to mention such important details as chopsticks and the Great Wall.

      1279. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, reunifies China and establishes the Yuan dynasty, the first foreign dynasty. Gunpowder technologies travel along the Silk Road to the West, as does the bubonic plague.

      14th century. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a Chinese historical novel about the Three Kingdoms period, is written by Luo Guanzhong. Luo Guanzhong is also believed to have written the last third of Outlaws of the Marsh, an epic about 108 outlaws during the Song dynasty. These two books, along with the anonymously written fantasy epic Journey to the West (1590) and Cao Xueqin's semi-autobiographical Dream of the Red Chamber, are considered the four classical novels of Chinese literature.

      14th–15th centuries. Chinese merchants sail and trade throughout the Indian Ocean and the eastern coast of Africa.

      1336. After a brief return to imperial rule in Japan, Ashikaga Takauji establishes the Ashikaga Bakufu, which holds nominal rule, despite political disintegration into quasi-feudalism, until 1573.

      1351–69. King Ramathibodi I, the first ruler of the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya, establishes Theravada Buddhism as the state religion, to differentiate the kingdom from Angkor.

      1368. The Ming dynasty overthrows Mongol control of China after decades of peasant revolts. The Chinese population grows rapidly and becomes more urban, while specialized industries develop in paper-making, porcelain goods, and the manufacture of silk and oil. Perhaps because of new emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's peasant upbringing, agriculture is a bigger priority for the dynastic government than it has been in centuries. When trouble with foreign invaders rears its head, the Ming dynasty repairs and adds to the construction of the Great Wall; most of the wall today is Ming in origin.

      1392. The Joseon dynasty is established in Korea and rules until 1910. The longest lasting Confucian dynasty, the Joseon increasingly isolates itself from outside influences after invasions by Japan in 1592 and 1597, and invasions by Manchurians in 1627 and 1637. The so called “Hermit Kingdom” would maintain its isolation until Japan forced a friendship treaty in 1876.

      1402. The Malacca sultanate is established on the Malay Peninsula, a Hindu kingdom that quickly converted to Islam.

      16th century. Spanish explorers come to the Philippines in numerous expeditions, and unify most of the archipelago by conquering it.

      1511. The Malacca Sultanate is invaded and conquered by Portugal, and remains in European control (the Dutch taking over in 1641, the British in 1824) until 1946.

      1543. The first Europeans—Portuguese—arrive in Japan, beginning the Nanban trade period between Japan and the West.

      1565–1898. The Philippines is governed as a Spanish territory.

      1573. Central political control in Japan finally disintegrates into the Sengoku, or Warring States Period. During this time the daimyo, or great lords, each contend to be the supreme power and reunify the nation. The process, aided by European firearm technology, began under Oda Nobunaga and was completed in 1600 by Tokugawa Ieyasu.

      1592. Japanese forces under the direction of Toyotomi Hideyoshi invade Korea, with the ultimate goal of attacking China. After the initial invasion is defeated in 1593, the Japanese try again between 1594 and 1596. The invasions, which are defeated by Korea's armored “turtle ships,” cost the Koreans hundreds of thousands of casualties and lead to a prevailing isolationism.

      1600. Tokugawa Ieyasu defeats his rivals at the Battle of Sekigahara, and moves the capitol to Edo (Tokyo). The Tokugawa shogunate controls Japan, administered by a federation of over 200 daimyo, until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Tokugawa shoguns actively resist, and attempt to reverse, the changes of the previous century, and are arguably one of the most successful reactionary movements in history.

      1614. The first of several isolationist Sakoku (“locked country”) edicts, many of which are drafted in the next few decades, restricts foreign trade and interaction in Japan. When all the Sakoku edicts are in place, foreigners are forbidden entry to Japan, and Japanese are forbidden to leave the country, under penalty of death. The only exceptions are specific trading posts in peripheral provinces, which are heavily regulated.

      1627–1775. Two powerful Vietnamese families partition the country between them, with the lords of the Nguyen family ruling the south, and the lords of the Trinh family ruling the north.

      1644. The Ming dynasty becomes the last ethnically Han Chinese dynasty, as it is defeated by Manchus who establish the second foreign dynasty, the Qing dynasty. The last Ming emperor, Chongzhen, commits suicide when captured by peasant rebels. The Qing government requires the Han Chinese to abandon their traditional clothes and hairstyles in favor of Manchu traditions.

      1782. The Thai kingdom, known in the West as Siam, is unified with a new capital in Bangkok.

      1802. The Nguyen dynasty in southern Vietnam is established. Conservative and Confucian, the dynasty resists Westernization, and in so doing, resists the adoption of modern Western technology—leaving the country vulnerable.

      1839–42. During the First Opium War, the British defeat Qing forces and take Hong Kong. The British seek to sell opium to the Chinese to balance their trade with the empire, and when the Chinese take steps to end the trade, the British, reacting to pressure from their merchants, defeat the Chinese both on land and sea. Key to British victory is the West's superior weaponization of the Chinese invention of gunpowder.

      1851–64. The Taiping Rebellion in China results in the death of an estimated 20 million Chinese. The rebellion is begun by Hong Xiuquan, who had a vision that he was the younger brother of Jesus. The Taiping conquered large tracts of China until Hong died and both Chinese and international troops under “Chinese” Gordon defeated them.

      1852. Commodore Matthew Perry enters Edo (Tokyo) Harbor and forces the Japanese to sign the first of a series of unequal treaties beginning in 1854. Perry's arrival is precipitated by the growing importance of the whaling industry and the Tokugawa mistreatment of shipwrecked sailors. The arrival of the American fleet provides the impetus for the return to direct imperial rule during the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

      1856. The Second Opium War, another British victory, begins the dismemberment of Chinese sovereignty. This time British troops march through the Forbidden City in the capitol of Beijing.

      1858–69. A series of invasions brings southern Vietnam under French control.

      1868. In Japan, the Meiji Restoration brings back nominal direct rule by the emperor. Begun by samurai from the domains of Choshu and Satsuma, who had been excluded from any governmental power since 1600, the pro-emperor forces quickly defeat the shogunate's armies. The period that follows sees massive economic and military modernization as Japan seeks to emulate the Western nations that had forced them to abandon their isolation.

      1887. After conquering northern Vietnam, France creates the colony of French Indochina, encompassing modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

      1894. Japan signals that it is ready to join the imperialist powers by defeating China in the first Sino–Japanese War. Traditionally, Japan has been the receptor of culture flowing from China, but the war turns the tables on that relationship.

      1896–98. The Philippine Revolution against Spanish rule eventually ends in Filipino independence, thanks in part to American assistance; the United States promptly decides to annex the Philippines, leading to the prolonged Philippine-American War that lasts until 1913.

      1897. Freed from Chinese control by the 1895 Maguan Treaty that ended the Sino–Japanese War, the Korean kingdom of Joseon renames itself the Korean Empire. Domestic reforms and attempts at strengthening industry and the military are all part of the empire's efforts to establish itself as a strong independent sovereignty.

      1899. The Boxer Rebellion in China seeks to expel all foreigners. Begun by martial arts practitioners who believe they are impervious to bullets, the Boxers kill hundreds of Western missionaries. Foreign troops eventually rout the Boxers. China is forced to pay reparations and cede additional territory to foreign control.

      1904. Angered over European intervention in the treaty terms that ends the Sino–Japanese War that forced Japan to give up territory, Japan stages a surprise attack on Port Arthur, held by the Russians. The Russo–Japanese War ends with a Japanese victory and the destruction of much of the Russian fleet.

      1905. Korea becomes a protectorate of Japan, immediately inspiring patriotic movements calling for independence.

      1910. Japan annexes Korea, and in an effort to stamp out resistance, represses as much traditional Korean culture as it can. The Korean currency is abolished and a new banking system is created; new infrastructure and transportation networks are built in order to maximize Korea's economic potential.

      1911. The Wuchang Uprising ends nearly three millennia of imperial control in China. The Qing dynasty is replaced by the Republic of China led by Sun Yatsen and Yuan Shikai. Central control of China remains elusive, however, and government eventually degenerates into a period of warlord control of most of the nation.

      1913. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson adopts a policy to gradually establish Filipino independence. The new educational system uses English as the language of instruction because of the number of U.S.-trained teachers, and English becomes the lingua franca of the archipelago.

      1921. The Communist Party of China is established, with Soviet support.

      1931. The Imperial Japanese Army invades Manchuria. The next year, the puppet state of Manchukuo is established under Japanese control, with Henry Puyi, the last Qing emperor, in nominal control.

      1932. A revolution in Thailand, led by young military officers, ends absolute monarchy in Thailand and installs a constitution. When the reigning Thai king resigns and is replaced by his 10-year-old nephew, turmoil prevails until the military takes control.

      1935. The Commonwealth of the Philippines, with a constitution and federal government based in large part on that of the United States, is founded.

      1937. Japanese forces invade the remainder of China. Political parties in China form a united front to oppose the Japanese in the subsequent Second Sino–Japanese War (1937–45). The Nanking Massacre, in the weeks following the Japanese capture of the Chinese city of Nanking, becomes the focus of international outcry: hundreds of thousands of unarmed Chinese are killed, and tens of thousands of women are raped by the Imperial Japanese Army. The incident will remain a contentious issue in Japan and Japanese foreign relations for generations.

      1937. In Korea, Japan's efforts to stamp out Korean culture are redoubled. Worship at Japanese Shinto shrines is made compulsory. The Korean language and Korean history are no longer taught in Korean schools. Many cultural artifacts are destroyed or removed to Japan, and resisting assimilation into Japanese culture is outlawed. As many as 200,000 Korean women are conscripted into the Japanese army as “comfort women,” to provide a sexual outlet for male troops; tens of thousands of Korean men are conscripted as soldiers.

      1940. Japan forms the Axis Pact with Germany and Italy, and the Sino–Japanese War becomes part of the larger worldwide conflict of World War II.

      1941. The United States enters World War II after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and sends aid to the Republic of China under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.

      1945. After the Americans detonate atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrenders, ending World War II. American forces occupy the country.

      1945. Soviet forces liberate the northern half of Korea, while Americans liberate south of the 38th Parallel, resulting in two separate Koreas, one communist and one democratic.

      1945. The American government makes it clear to the French that they are to renounce their claim to French Indochina, which was invaded by the Japanese during World War II. The French refuse, and the First Indochina War is fought until 1954.

      1945. The decolonization of southeast Asia begins. Indonesia declares independence from the Dutch, and in subsequent years Burma and the Malay peninsula states are able to gain their independence from Britain.

      1946. The United States cedes its sovereignty over the Philippines.

      1949. Chinese communists, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, defeat the last nationalist armies. Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) flees to Taiwan with his government and many of his troops, establishing the Republic of China there. The Communist Party establishes the new People's Republic of China under Mao's leadership.

      1950. North Korean troops under the direction of Kim Il-Sung attack South Korea, prompting American and United Nations (UN) intervention. The UN Security Council, boycotted by the Soviet Union, votes to send troops to intervene, and counterattacks from the Naktong River and behind North Korean lines at Inchon force the withdrawal of the invaders with UN forces in pursuit. Chinese troops enter the war when UN troops near the Yalu River border with China, and the remainder of the war involves the creation of a bloody stalemate that ends with an armistice that restores the original borders that is signed in 1953.

      1952. The Treaty of San Francisco ends the American military occupation of Japan.

      1954. French forces surrender the garrison at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. The Geneva Accords divide the country into North Vietnam, ruled by Ho Chi Minh's communist government, and South Vietnam, ruled by the U.S.-backed Ngo Dinh Diem.

      1954–75. The Second Indochina War occurs between North and South Vietnam, which includes the Vietnam War once American combat troops are involved. Over the course of the war and in its immediate aftermath, well over 1 million Vietnamese flee the country. Many of the Vietnamese neighborhoods in the United States are populated by war refugees.

      1955. The Japanese Economic Miracle begins to transform the nation into an economic dynamo and the second-largest economy in the world.

      1960. Massive protests are held in Japan over the new Japan-United States Mutual Security Assistance pact, which extends the American postwar role as Japan's military protector. Within a month, the prime minister's cabinet resigns in protest.

      1964. China successfully explodes its first nuclear device.

      1965. American combat troops enter the struggle between North and South Vietnam. The American involvement lasts until 1973.

      1966. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution caused massive disruptions to the lives of the Chinese as intellectuals were forced to the countryside to learn from the peasants. In addition to the human toll, widespread historical destruction occurred with religious sites being especially targeted.

      1972. American president Richard Nixon travels to China to meet with Mao Zedong, ending decades of non-communication between the two nations. In a move that surprised the rest of east Asia, including American allies Japan and South Korea, the administration secretly negotiated the meeting, in part to attempt to open a wedge between the China and the Soviet Union. Initial diplomatic exchanges include ping-pong matches between national teams and the exchange of zoo animals. China is finally given a seat on the UN Security Council.

      1972. Okinawa is transferred from U.S. to Japanese control, the last Japanese territory to be returned to the Japanese.

      1973. Democracy is established in Thailand.

      1975. The Second Indochina War ends with a North Vietnamese victory.

      1975. Portugal gives up its claim to East Timor.

      1976. The death of Mao Zedong leaves a power vacuum in the People's Republic of China, eventually filled by Deng Xiaoping in 1980 after several turbulent years. Deng establishes Special Economic Zones where foreign investment is permitted with less regulation. The economic reforms under Deng helped create the Chinese middle class, increasing literacy and living standards.

      1984. Britain ends its protectorate of Brunei, finally bringing a close to European rule of southeast Asia.

      1986. Vietnam adopts economic reforms softening its hardline socialist stance taken after the war.

      1989. Spontaneous protests in China's Tiananmen Square, with students calling for democracy and social reforms, lead to the imposition of martial law and an unknown number of civilian deaths—at least hundreds and perhaps thousands—when the protestors are fired upon. References to the incident are censored from Chinese textbooks and the official historical record.

      1989. The Heisei period (the current period) begins in Japan a day after the death of Emperor Hirohito.

      1990. In Taiwan, a six-day demonstration called the Wild Lily student movement attracts over 300,000 protesters agitating for democratic reforms.

      1991–2000. Japan's bubble economy finally bursts, and unemployment rises significantly. The 1990s is referred to as the Lost Decade, in which economic expansion—so rampant in the previous decades—comes to a halt, and young Japanese adults have difficulty finding career-oriented work.

      1994. Kim Jong-il assumes leadership in North Korea. Under his leadership, North Korea continues the cult of personality initiated by his father Kim il Sung, and he rules the country with an iron hand. During the early years of the 21st century, widespread hunger grips many of the people, while the military grows and the country works to join the nuclear powers.

      1997. The Asian financial crisis begins in Thailand and threatens to spread globally. Many of the gains made by the economies of Japan, Indonesia, and other east Asian nations are slowed or halted. The economic crisis also leads to political crises for heads of state in Indonesia, Thailand, and other nations.

      1997. Hong Kong is returned to Chinese control.

      1997. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security takes its first steps to control Internet use, issuing detailed regulations on usage.

      2002. The Golden Shield, also known as the Great Firewall of China, goes online. Acting as a nationwide network firewall, the project blocks specific Internet content—particularly Western news sources and unfavorable accounts of Chinese history—from access within China's borders.

      2005. The Singaporean government approves a plan to legalize gambling at “integrated resorts” operated by the government-run Singapore Pools.

      2006. North Korea becomes a nuclear power.

      2007. The People's Republic of China issues a decree requiring that Buddhist temples file a Reincarnation Application for any individual they intend to recognize as a tulku (reincarnated teacher, of which the Dalai Lama is the most famous).

      2008. The Summer Olympics are held in Beijing, symbolizing China's ascent to equal rank among the global powers.

      2008. Direct flights between Taiwan and China are offered for the first time since shortly after World War II.

      2008. The 1025 Demonstration on October 25, organized by the Taiwan Solidarity Union and the Democratic Progressive Party, protests the newly elected Ma administration of Taiwan's pro-China policies. Two weeks later, students and activists protest the visit of Chinese diplomat Chen Yunlin. The student movement is soon nicknamed “Wild Strawberry,” a reference to the derogatory term strawberry older Taiwanese use to refer to the “soft” Taiwanese youth, and to the Wild Lily student movement of 1990.

      2009. Typhoon Morakot, the deadliest typhoon in Taiwanese history, leads to hundreds of deaths and injuries, and approximately $3.3 billion in damages.

      2010. Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore's first casino resorts, open for business.

      2010. The island of Yeonpyeong is bombarded by North Korea, killing four South Koreans and injuring 19 others. North Korea alleges it was retaliating after South Korean artillery exercises resulted in shells being fired into North Korean territorial waters. Tensions over the incident escalated to their most dangerous level since the end of the Korean War.

      2011. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake strikes Japan near Sendai, resulting in a 10-meter tsunami. The worst earthquake in Japanese history and the most expensive natural disaster, its damages include at least 15,000 deaths, thousands more missing, and a series of meltdowns and failures at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in a worldwide recoil from nuclear power.

      ca. 2 million b.c.e. Tools are crafted by pre-human hominins in what is now northern India.

      ca. 500,000–200,000 b.c.e. Central India is inhabited by Homo erectus.

      ca. 100,000 b.c.e. Homo sapiens reach southwest Asia from their origins in Africa.

      ca. 7000 b.c.e. Mehrgarh, the first settled culture in India, clusters to the west of the Indus River.

      ca. 3300 b.c.e. The Bronze Age begins as the first civilizations develop along the Indus River Valley in northwest India. The Harappan civilization evidenced domestication of crops such as peas and cotton, along with animals such as the water buffalo. With time, small settlements evolved into urban centers such as Mahenjo-daro. The Indus River Valley civilization is, along with Egypt and Mesopotamia, one of the world's first urban civilizations.

      1500–500 b.c.e. The Vedic period is named for the Vedas, the oldest scripts of the Hindu religion. Hindu tradition holds that they are divinely revealed documents. The civilization that produced them, which we call the Vedic culture, was centered in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. The later Vedic period sees a significant rise in urbanization across the subcontinent and parts of central Asia, and the founding of numerous monarchies known as the Mahajanapadas.

      ca. 877 b.c.e. Parshvanath, the earliest religious leader of the Jain tradition to be reliably attested to in the historical record, achieves enlightenment.

      800 b.c.e. The earliest recorded history of Nepal, a remote region in the Himalayas, begins with the reign of the Kirata people, which is later referenced in the Mahabharata and other sources. The legendary nature of these early sources may exaggerate the length of the Kirata rule, which may begin much later; in any case it does seem reasonable to assume they were Nepal's first human inhabitants.

      599–527 b.c.e. The Indian sage Mahavir establishes what will become the central tenets of Jainism: the idea that every soul is in bondage to karmic particles accumulated as the result of its actions, that this bondage drives people to seek superficial pleasure in the material world, and that that pleasure is the root cause of the self-centered attitude, which is the foundation of anger, hatred, greed, and other ills. The five vows he teaches as the heart of correct conduct are very similar to later Buddhist principles: nonviolence, truthfulness, to never steal, chastity, and to detach from materialism. Notably, Mahavir also teaches that the sexes are equal.

      ca. 563 b.c.e. Siddhartha Gautama, who becomes known as the Buddha, is born in India into a noble family.

      550 b.c.e. Cyrus the Great creates the Persian Empire by conquering the Medes, the Neo-Babylonians, and the Lydians to form the first of the universalizing empires. Under his rule, subjects are allowed relative autonomy in matters such as religion that do not directly affect the empire's operation.

      537 b.c.e. The traditional date of Siddhartha Gautama's attainment of the state of enlightenment, after which he is known as the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

      520 b.c.e. Much of the northwestern subcontinent is conquered by the Persian Achaemenid Empire and remains so for two centuries. Persian influence on India is significant, from its political system to numerous foods.

      4th century b.c.e. The Arthashastra is written by Mauryan minister Chanakya. A treatise on economic policy and military strategies, its clear-eyed pragmatism anticipated much of Machiavelli's The Prince.

      326 b.c.e. Alexander the Great's many conquests include the Achaemenid Empire and Asia Minor, extending his empire through the northwestern subcontinent. After conquering Punjab, his army is too exhausted to continue further east, and much of the remainder of the subcontinent is left alone. Trade and cultural ties between Indian civilization and Greece strengthen, and Buddhism is popularized in Greece for the first time, while Greek philosophy shapes the development of Buddhism.

      322–185 b.c.e. The Maurya Empire dominates most of the subcontinent, stretching west to include much of Afghanistan. After its founding, it succeeds in fending off an invasion by Seleucus I, one of Alexander's generals.

      269–232 b.c.e. The height of the Maurya Empire, under Ashoka the Great (304–232). Ashoka embraces Buddhism and vegetarianism, and establishes monuments commemorating events in the life of the Buddha, while working to spread the religion throughout Asia. Like Constantine with Christianity, he is instrumental in ensuring the geographical breadth and temporal longevity of the religion's influence.

      185 b.c.e. The Maurya Empire falls with the assassination of the emperor Brhadrata by the commander-in-chief of his armies, Pusyamitra Sunga, who ascends the throne as monarch of the Sunga Empire. Buddhism declines in the Sunga era, but it is a matter of some dispute whether Pusyamitra persecuted Buddhists or if the popularity of the religion simply fell off due to other factors.

      180 b.c.e. Greek influence in the northwestern subcontinent comes to its height when the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius conquers the region, which is known to history as the Indo-Greek Kingdom.

      1st century c.e. The Kushan Empire is formed in the region of Bactria, encompassing northern parts of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, and southern parts of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Founded by a nomadic people from the steppes of northwest China, the Kushan Empire left little written history but had significant contact with Rome, China, and the Sassanid Empire of Persia, and was considered a major cultural center before falling to the Gupta Empire.

      1 c.e. Roman trade with India begins, following Rome's conquest of Egypt, India's largest western trading partner. During the 1st century, trade with Rome is so profitable–-about 10 ships per month travel the maritime route–-that the amount of gold coins flowing from Rome to India, where they are recycled to make Indian coins, leads to concerns in Rome about a gold shortage. Trade soon expands to southeast Asia, much of which is increasingly influenced by Indian culture.

      10. The Indo-Greek Kingdom comes to an end as the region is invaded by Indo-Scythians.

      320. The Gupta Empire, which unifies the Indian subcontinent for over 200 years, is founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta. This period is often considered the Golden Age of India for the intellectual and artistic creativity that flourished. Scholars during this time are credited with the first use of the “0” in mathematics, as well as other accomplishments. Both Hinduism and Buddhism are prized and widely practiced.

      712. Most of the Indus region in what is now Pakistan is conquered by Muhammad bin Qasim, a general of the Muslim Umayyad caliphate. Muslim communities are already flourishing in southern India where Arab traders have long had family and cultural ties.

      747. The earliest historical record from the lands of Bhutan is of Buddhist Padma Sambhava passing through the area. Early Bhutanese history is largely mysterious because of a lack of archaeological data and the destruction of numerous written records in a 19th century fire. But around this time, Buddhism was extremely important to the region, which consisted of multiple fiefdoms that alternated between periods of peace and war.

      751. The Battle of the Talas River occurs between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang dynasty, each with armies in the tens of thousands, each seeking control of the Syrdarya River. The Tang dynasty is defeated, but the effect on both sides is the same: to stop expansion into the other's territory. The encounter also transmits Chinese paper-making technology to the Arab world, and thence to the West. The site of the battle is on the modern-day border of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and was even more significant to central Asian history than to that of either party in the battle, since it determined that it would be Islamic culture, not Chinese, that dominated the region.

      1190–1206. Genghis Khan unites the nomads of northeast Asia and becomes the founder of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in history.

      1228. The Ahom (or Assam) Kingdom establishes its power over the Brahmaputra valley in northeast India, founded by a Tai prince. The kingdom expands so rapidly that the Ahom ethnic group that constituted its original population swiftly becomes a minority.

      1279. Under Kublai Khan, the first of the foreign Chinese dynasties under Mongol control, takes over the country as the Yuan dynasty. Chinese technologies, such as gunpowder, begin moving to the West over the Silk Route. During this time, the bubonic plague also begins in China and uses the trade routes to spread to Europe.

      1370. Timur, known in the West as Tamerlane, founds the Timurid Empire in central Asia, seeking to restore the golden age of the Mongol Empire.

      1400. By this point, Hindu influences have become powerful in the Ahom kingdom.

      1498. Vasco da Gama, sailing for Portugal, reaches India. Proving that the sea route to the east was practical, da Gama paves the way for other Europeans who begin to penetrate east Asia seeking the fortunes that could be made from a successful voyage.

      1499. Guru Nanak Dev Ji founds Sikhism, a monotheistic religion devoted to salvation through personal meditation.

      1510. Portugal defeats the rulers of Goa in southwest India and establishes a permanent settlement there. Goa becomes both the capital of Portugal's Indian territories, and the area with the heaviest Portuguese settlement. Goan cuisine to this day is strongly influenced by Portuguese cooking and the ingredients introduced by Portuguese trade routes.

      1526. Babur, descendant of both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, establishes the Mughal Empire, which encompasses Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent, and retains control of the region for the remainder of the century before going into a slow decline. The Mughal Empire is instrumental in popularizing aspects of Persian, Mongol, and Arab culture in India. During most of the Mughal period, Hindu culture is tolerated and remains predominant. The Ahom Kingdom in the northeast is one of the few regions to consistently resist Mughal expansion.

      1600. The Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies–-better known as the East India Company–-is founded in England as a joint-stock company conducting trade with India. Trade goods include textiles, tea, and opium, and over time the company amasses a great deal of power. Other countries found their own East India Companies with similar monopolies on Indian trade.

      ca. 1600. The Guru Granth Sahib is first compiled, consisting of religious writings by Sikh gurus.

      1602. The Dutch East India Company is founded.

      1606. Hargobind becomes the sixth Guru of Sikhism. He is known for carrying two swords, one to symbolize his spiritual authority, the other his worldly authority. Under Hargobind, the Sikhs develop an army to defend themselves.

      1616. The Danish East India Company is founded.

      1628. The Portuguese East India Company is founded.

      1630. The Bhutanese fiefdoms are unified for the first time, by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan lama fleeing religious persecution.

      1651. Bhutan degenerates into civil war after the death of its founder.

      1664. The French East India Company is founded.

      1674. The Maratha Empire unifies southwest India. During this time, Europeans become increasingly important players in the subcontinent's political system, and after the British East India company defeats its French counterpart during the Carnatic Wars (1746–63), Britain slowly encroaches on Maratha territory. It lasts until 1820, when the British defeat it and annex its territories.

      1707. The Sikh Confederacy is formed, consisting of 12 sovereign states of Sikhs bound together by their common purpose and for defense against the Mughal Empire and Hindu forces.

      1731. The Swedish East India Company is founded.

      1739. The Battle of Karnal results in a decisive Persian victory against Mughal forces in Haryana, India. So much plunder is seized in India that Persians are excused from paying taxes for three years.

      1747. The Durrani Empire is established, encompassing present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Punjab region, as well as northeastern Iran.

      1757. After the Battle of Plassey, in which Bengal surrenders to the military forces of the British East India Company, company rule in India (also known as “Company Raj”) begins. The East India Company rules until 1857.

      1769. The lands of Nepal are unified for the first time, under King Prithvi Narayan Shah.

      1769–1806. During a prolonged rebellion by the Morans, the Ahom kingdom is beset by widespread popular discontent, and loses part of the northeastern region, which becomes the semi-independent state of Bengmara.

      1799. As the Mughal Empire declines, the Sikh Confederacy is unified under Maharaja Ranjit Singh to form the Sikh Empire.

      1813–1907. The period of the Great Game occurs, in which the British and Russians vie for control of central Asia. The conflict is remembered for the importance of espionage, rather than raw military might.

      1817–1826. Burmese invaders repeatedly take control of the Ahom Kingdom.

      1826. The Ahom kingdom passes into British hands, having been weakened by Burmese attacks.

      1826. The Barakzai dynasty succeeds the Durrani Empire in Afghanistan.

      1849. After Ranjit Singh's death 10 years earlier, the Sikh Empire had fallen into disarray, and is now conquered by the British in the Anglo–Sikh Wars. The empire's territory is redivided into the British province of Punjab and several small states.

      1857. The Indian Rebellion threatens British rule. The rebellion begins with rumors that the British rifle cartridges used by their native troops, many of whom are Hindus or Muslims, are sealed either with beef tallow, forbidden under Hinduism, or pork fat, forbidden under Islam. This rumor provides the spark that ignites the underlying resentments of the native troops serving under the British flag. Both the Indians in the initial uprising and the British Army in its suppression commit atrocities, and by 1859, the rebellion ends. One result of the rebellion is that the East India Company is disbanded and India is placed under direct control of the British Crown.

      1907. Ugyen Wangchuck is chosen as the hereditary king of Bhutan.

      1918–1991. Following the formation of the Soviet Union in Russia, much of central Asia comes under Soviet control and is reorganized as the Kazakh, Kirghiz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republics.

      1924. Mongolia, which managed to avoid Soviet control, becomes a communist people's republic.

      1931. Alama Ara, the first Indian sound film, launches the industry that will become known as Bollywood.

      1942. Mohandas K. Gandhi begins his campaign of nonviolent protest to remove the British. Trained as a lawyer in Britain, Gandhi becomes a leader of the Indian National Congress and helps direct the campaign to remove British control of the subcontinent. Initially protesting British policies such as the salt tax, Gandhi moves from those efforts to advocate civil disobedience to end British rule completely.

      1947. The British Empire cedes control of India, and partitions the subcontinent into the modern nations of India and Pakistan.

      1947. Portugal initially refuses to give up its Indian territories, consisting primarily of Goa and a number of small enclaves.

      1948. Gandhi is assassinated by a Hindu nationalist to stop Gandhi's efforts to reconcile Hindus and Muslims.

      1961. The Indian Army invades Goa, Daman, and Diu, Portuguese-held territories, after more than a decade of unsuccessful attempts to expel the Portuguese from India. The Portuguese army in the region is ill-equipped and badly outnumbered, and the Portuguese–Indian War lasts only two days, with less than 100 casualties. The war ends nearly five centuries of Portuguese control of the region.

      1970. Operation Flood is enacted by the government of India, creating a nationwide milk grid in order to develop dairy resources and ensure a healthy supply of milk for all–-one of the steps in ending famine, as well as improving the rural economy.

      1970s. India's population surpasses the 500 million mark.

      1970s. The Green Revolution in India, begun with the introduction of high-yield crops in 1965, significantly improves agricultural production, allowing the country to be self-sufficient despite skyrocketing population levels. For the first time, famine is no longer inevitabile in the subcontinent.

      1971. The Bangladesh Liberation War between West Pakistan and East Pakistan and India ends in the secession of East Pakistan to become the independent state of Bangladesh.

      1971. Following a pre-emptive attack on India by Pakistan after India's support of Bengali rebels, the Indo–Pakistani War is fought for two weeks in December, ending with the Pakistani surrender. Casualties exceed 10,000.

      1973. A bloodless coup establishes the short-lived Republic of Afghanistan, led by progressive reformer Mohammed Daoud Khan, who seeks to modernize the country.

      1974. India becomes a nuclear power.

      1975–1977. For 21 months, a state of emergency is declared by Indian President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, granting special powers to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Civil liberties and elections are temporarily suspended following a period of political unrest that began with the accusation that Indira Gandhi's political party had won the 1971 elections through electoral fraud. Sikhs strongly oppose the state of emergency, and a disproportionate amount of them are arrested without trial during the emergency period.

      1977. New elections in India officially end the state of emergency. Indira Gandhi is voted out of office and arrested, leading to a long-running trial that turns the tide of public opinion back in her favor.

      1978. President Khan and his entire family are assassinated in Afghanistan during a military coup that establishes the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The new government promotes state atheism and adopts laws criminalizing many Muslim traditions, though in the 1980s, when the government is in need of popular support, it allows mosques to reopen.

      1979. Soviet forces invade Afghanistan to prop up a client regime. The Soviets remain until 1989. The Afghan mujahedeen, covertly aided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, mount an effective guerilla campaign against the Soviets, causing mounting casualties and the eventual withdrawal of Russian troops.

      1980. Indira Gandhi is voted back into office as prime minister of India.

      1980s–1990s. In order to preserve its Tibetan Buddhist culture, Bhutan expels nearly 20 percent of its population, mainly Hindus, many of whom are forced into refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

      1983–2009. A prolonged civil war is fought in Sri Lanka by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which is soon condemned by many nations as a terrorist group, though the prevailing government in Sri Lanka has itself been guilty of human rights abuses. Several ceasefires are negotiated, only for hostilities to be renewed. The war ends with the Sri Lankan government reestablishing control of the island.

      1984. Indira Gandhi is assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards as vengeance for Operation Blue Star, an attack by the Indian military on a Sikh temple several months earlier (resulting in numerous innocent deaths). The assassination leads to anti-Sikh riots lasting four days, with a death toll estimated to be at least 10,000.

      1990–1996. Post-cold-war Mongolia transitions to a new government, instituting multiparty elections in 1990, although the Communist Party retains significant power and popularity.

      1991. Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother Indira as prime minister of India, is assassinated two years after leaving office, in retaliation for India's intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war.

      1991. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan all gain independence, though former Communist Party officials still hold most of the power.

      1992. After the socialist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan collapses, it is briely renamed the Islamic State of Afghanistan.

      1992. Upon gaining independence, Tajikistan degenerates almost immediately into civil war among Muslim factions; large numbers of Russians and Jews flee during the chaos.

      1996. The Taliban seizes power in Afghanistan, renaming the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, though the Afghan Northern Alliance established in the northern reaches of the country remains the legitimate representative of the country in the United Nations until 2001.

      1996. The Nepalese Civil War begins when the Communist Party of Nepal agitates to replace the parliamentary monarchy with a communist democratic republic.

      1998. Pakistan becomes a nuclear power.

      2001. American and coalition forces, along with the Northern Alliance, invade Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

      2001. Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, the 29-year-old crown prince of Nepal, reportedly angry over his mother's unwillingness to let him marry the woman he had chosen as his bride, goes on a shooting spree after a drinking binge. His parents, the king and queen, as well as his siblings and five other family members, are all killed before Dipendra turns his weapon on himself. He dies three days later, having been proclaimed king while comatose; the crown passes to his uncle.

      2006. A Comprehensive Peace Accord is signed to end the Nepalese Civil War. The government agrees to strip the king of his political power and nationalize his property.

      2006. A new Nepalese constitution is adopted, putting more power in Parliament's hands.

      2010. The Commonwealth Games are held in Delhi, India. Critics point out the billions of dollars spent on the sports event despite the state of the country's poor, and there are several instances of child labor law violations associated with the event.

      2010. Protests against government corruption and the high cost of living in Kyrgyzstan escalate into riots that recur for months.

      2011. Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, is found and executed in Pakistan by American special forces.

      Russ Crawford Ohio Northern University
    • Glossary

      Al Jazeera: A satellite television network owned and operated by the state of Qatar. Launched in 1996 as an Arabic-language news channel, Al Jazeera's initial fame came from its 2001 coverage of the war in Afghanistan, when it was the only network broadcasting live from its local offices. More recently its fame and significance have increased with the launch of Al Jazeera English in 2006. Although carried in only a few small North American markets, the English-language channel is available for free online (http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now) and videos of important stories are uploaded to YouTube. Al Jazeera has become known for having the most comprehensive coverage of the Arab Spring. Despite perennial allegations of Al Jazeera's anti-American bias, in 2011 Secretary of State Hilary Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the network provides better coverage than the American media.

      Al Qaeda: A Sunni Islamist terrorist network founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s. Motivated by the desire to rid the Muslim world of Western influences, Al Qaeda has been responsible for numerous high-profile terrorist attacks, including the 1998 bombing of American embassies and the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

      Allah: The word Allah is used by many Arabic speakers to denote the name of God. Its usage can be traced back to early Semitic languages. The term is best known in the West as a reference to God among Muslims. The Koran states that belief that Allah as the sole God, and unreserved surrender to Allah are central to Islam.

      Ancient Near East: The ancient and antique civilizations of the region more or less corresponding to the modern Middle East: Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Levant, Anatolia (present-day Turkey), and the lands of ancient Iran (Elam, Media, Parthia, and Persia). The ancient Near East is the birthplace of many of the hallmarks of civilization.

      Arab Spring: A wave of revolutions, protests, and social change in the Arab world from the end of 2010 through 2011. Common features of the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring have included the prominent use of social media (Twitter having played a critical role in Iran's 2009 Green Revolution), marches and rallies, and work stoppages; in most countries the demonstrations have been countered with Internet censorship, violent reprisals, and counterdemonstrations supporting current regimes. The full scope of the Arab Spring is as yet unknown; as of early 2011, two full-fledged revolutions have succeeded, a civil war was underway in Libya, and several other countries have adopted significant changes to their governments. More change can be expected. No single incident inspired these protests, nor are they the work of a sole disenfranchised class or group. Rather, decades of dissatisfaction with dictatorship came to a head, particularly as the worldwide depression worsened economic conditions and the middle class became impatient with widespread censorship and economic mismanagement. The Green Revolution of Iran in 2009 and the self-immolation of Tunisian vendor Mohammed Bouazizi in 2010 were the major events to inspire the Spring; notably, more acts of self-immolation followed in multiple countries.

      Bible: A collection of sacred books and scriptures of Christianity and Judaism written over thousands of years. There is no agreed single version of the Bible, and the contents vary between denominations. The Christian Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament, which is the older part of Hebrew and Jewish scriptures, and the New Testament, containing Christian writings. The earliest known copies are written in Greek and Hebrew. The Bible has been translated into many languages, and is the best-selling book in history.

      Crusades: A series of military campaigns undertaken by Europeans, instigated by popes who granted plenary indulgences to the Crusaders, with the goal of establishing and maintaining Christian control of Palestine, especially Jerusalem. Crusaders were primarily Catholic, and their opponents primarily Muslim. Some campaigns were waged against Christian heretics, Mongols, and pagan groups. Orthodox Christians were the opponent of some campaigns, while an ally against Muslims in others. The modern involvement of the West in the Middle East—in particular, its alliances with Israel and its appearance of imperialism—is sometimes metaphorically described as a Crusade or as driven by a Crusader mentality.

      Dhabihah: The ritual slaughter of animals to be eaten, prescribed by Islamic law. The goal of dhabihah is to reduce animal suffering and to ensure a swift death; it consists of a deep incision across the neck, severing the carotid arteries and jugular veins without severing the spinal cord. Though faster methods of slaughter are arguably made possible by current technology, the method of dhabihah has become as important to Muslim traditionalists as its intent.

      Dhimmi: Non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state. Originally, Sharia law extended the special status of dhimmi to Jews, Christians, and Sabians (a people not yet identified by historians), Islam's cousins in the Abrahamic tradition. Other religions were eventually added, and dhimmi now encompasses all non-Muslims. In many Muslim countries, dhimmi may have fewer rights than Muslims, but they are also excluded from certain requirements and restrictions.

      Fertile Crescent: The Fertile Crescent refers to Mesopotamia and the Levant, which are comparatively fertile lands compared to their surroundings. The term emphasizes the agricultural advantage of the region, which was significant to the development of its early civilizations; it was here that the wheel, the plow, and year-round intensive agriculture were first introduced. The Fertile Crescent is also called the cradle of civilization because of those innovations as well as the first evidence of writing and the significance of the region's ancient civilizations.

      Fundamentalism: Adherence to the early teachings and practices of a religion that are believed to be in their authentic, unchanged form. Fundamentalism is typically a reaction against modern social life and Western culture. Although the term was coined to describe the Protestant community in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its usage has broadened to other religions and political phenomena, such as Hindu fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, and so forth. The word is now widely used and takes many forms, sometimes controversially.

      Hadith: The acts and sayings attributed to Muhammad in Islam. Collections of hadith were assembled in the 8th and 9th centuries by Muslim scholars and are used as references in order to guide the application of Islamic law and the interpretation of the Koran. The body of hadith is slightly different between the Shia and Sunni denominations.

      Hajj: The piligrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia), which according to the fifth pillar of Islam must be carried out at least once by every Muslim able to do so. The hajj takes place during the last month of the Islamic calendar and symbolizes the pilgrim's submission to Allah. Numerous practices and rituals have developed around the hajj, including a ritual counterclockwise walk around the Kaaba, a drink from the Zam Zam Well, the throwing of stones to symbolize the stoning of the Devil, an animal sacrifice, and the shaving of the pilgrims' heads. Special clothing must be worn on the hajj.

      Hebrews, Israelites, Israelis, and Jews: Jewishness is both an ethnic and a religious identity, and various terms have been used to refer to the Jewish people at different points in history. The modern word Jew is derived from Judaean, “one from the land of Judaea,” referring to the lands of the kingdom of Judah, one of the two kingdoms of the United Monarchy. Jew was the most common word for a Jewish person after they were dispersed from their homeland. Hebrews refers to those who speak Hebrew, a Semitic language. The Israelites were Hebrew-speakers who conquered the land of Canaan to create the nation of Israel. In the modern world, Israeli refers specifically to citizens of the post–World War II state of Israel.

      Hezbollah: A Lebanese Shia Muslim group, founded in the 1980s in response to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israeli forces. Hezbollah was founded with the aim of expelling Israel from Lebanon and eradicating Israel as a political entity. Originally a small militia, it is now a political party—retaining its militant wing—which operates a television and radio station and depends on Arab governments and drug smuggling for its funding. In 2011, two of Lebanon's 30 cabinet members were Hezbollah members, and 12 of its 128 members of Parliament.

      Hieroglyphics: The ancient Egyptian writing system used hieroglyphics, which included three kinds of glyphs (characters): logographs, which represent whole words or morphemes (meaning-conveying word parts, such as “un-” or “-ing” in English); phonetic glyphs representing sounds; and determinatives, used to make meaning more clear. Hieroglyphs may have been influenced by early Sumerian script, though the similarities are slim. As literacy became more widespread, simpler scripts were developed for less formal uses.

      Islam: A major religion with nearly a billion people worldwide, particularly in parts of Asia (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan), the Middle East, and north Africa. It has become more popular in the West in recent years. Adherents of Islam are known as Muslims. They respect Islamic scripture called the Koran; sharia (religious law), which covers almost every aspect of life and society; and religious concepts and practices such as the Five Pillars of Islam, including ritual prayer, fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims believe in submission to Allah (God) and in Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. The major branches of Islam are Shia and Sunni.

      Islamism: The view that Islam is both a religious system and a political ideology. Islamism may be adopted by Islamic fundamentalists but is not synonymous with fundamentalism, nor are all Islamists conservatives. Some are moderates willing to work within democratic systems to bring about a state closer to their vision. Radical Islamists reject democratic institutions as Western influences that need to be expelled from the Muslim world and call for violent politico-religious jihad. Common to many Islamist groups is the insistence that theirs is not an unusual form of Islam but rather the natural and obvious interpretation of Islam and that it is other views which are aberrant. The opposite of Islamism is quietist Islam, which avoids involvement in political matters out of skepticism that an Islamic government can be founded and run by fallible humans.

      Jesus: The holy man in whose name the religion of Christianity was founded in the generations after his death. Nearly all historians, regardless of religious sentiment, agree that Jesus was a real person living in Roman Palestine, that he was a religious teacher of Jewish upbringing whose teachings often took the form of parables and koan-like sayings, and that he died by crucifixion on the orders of local Roman authorities. His performance of miracles and his supernatural nature as the son of God, are matters of religious faith to many Christians. Historians sometimes distinguish between the Jesus of history, who can be studied like any other person, and the Christ of faith, with the understanding that claims about the former need not be seen as challenges against the latter. Jesus's birth year is the basis for the Julian calendar (and its predecessor the Gregorian), given as 1 A.D. (Anno Domini, the year of Our Lord); historians use C.E. (Common Era) instead of A.D., and B.C.E. instead of B.C. (Before Christ). The evidence for Jesus's actual birth year, in any case, is conflicting, pointing to a range of dates from 4 B.C.E. to 4 C.E.

      Jihad: The term jihad has taken on various meanings throughout history. It refers usually to a religious duty on adult Muslims—imposed through the Koran and Islamic law—to defend Islam against oppression and non-believers. Jihad has been defined as both a personal struggle to maintain faith and live a moral life as well as a physical effort to attain Islam's universality. It is sometimes interpreted with a militant connotation, such as by waging a holy war against unbelievers. From the 20th century onward, jihad has been used controversially, such by fundamentalist Islamic groups to justify and style their movements and in some Western views to portray Muslims as aggressive and extreme. A person who engages in jihad is called a mujahid (mujahideen).

      John the Baptist: Like Jesus, John the Baptist was an itinerant holy man in the Jewish community in Roman Palestine, one historians agree was a real historical figure who took on later religious significance. While Jesus's ministry took him to many urban centers, John stationed himself in the wilderness at the Jordan River and made the faithful and the curious come to him. He conducted baptisms in the Jordan, which were ritual cleansings that were probably intended as a challenge to the authority of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. His prominence in the Gospels is probably due to two related factors: first, that John was an important-enough religious figure and his movement sufficiently compatible with early Christianity that it was important to emphasize Jesus's relationship with him; second, that after John's death, a significant number of his followers became followers of Jesus or of Jesus's disciples, and they themselves emphasized John's relationship with Jesus in order to keep his memory alive. In Mandaenism, his importance is more central: that Mesopotamian faith, the earliest reference to which is in the 8th century, reveres John as the Messiah himself.

      Kaaba: The most sacred place in Islam, the Kaaba is a cube-shaped building in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Kaaba is the site of the Black Stone: fragments of stone that had apparently been broken once and are now held together by a silver frame. The Black Stone is a pre-Islamic idol, and the Kaaba had been a site of pilgrimage in Mecca's pagan past. The Koran, however, holds that the Kaaba was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael, and that they placed the stone there after receiving it from angels.

      Kharijites: An Islamic movement originating in the late 7th century, consisting of Muslims who rejected the authority of Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib. The split between the Shia and the Sunni, in contrast, revolved around successors before and after Ali. Kharijites, while initially accepting Ali's authority, later rejected it. Further, they argued that any Muslim could lead the community—that succession did not need to be determined by descent from Muhammad nor other means—and that Muslims always had the right to revolt against their rulers if their rulers abandoned the proper interpretation of Islam. The first Kharijites were some of Ali's own troops, who believed that conflicts could be resolved correctly only through battle (putting their fates in Allah's hands), not through negotiations, and thus abandoned Ali for agreeing to arbitration instead of war. Kharijite groups tended to develop extreme beliefs. One common theme among Kharijite groups is the idea that an act of sin is coequal with a statement of disbelief.

      Koran: The Koran (or Qur'an) is the religious text of Islam and source of Islamic beliefs and knowledge. It is believed by Muslims to direct humankind, including economic, political, and social rules as well as the ethics and morals for the Muslim community. Muslims believe that the Koran represents the word of God (Allah), as dictated by the angel Gabriel (Jibril) to his messenger the Prophet Muhammad. It is believed that Muhammad's revelations began on the Night of Power—commemorated by Muslims during the month of Ramadan—over two decades until his death (c. 610–632). The Koran is written in classical Arabic, and consists of 114 chapters (suras) of varying length classed as either Meccan (received while Muhammad was in Mecca) or Medinan (received after Muhammad moved to Medina).

      The Levant: The coastal lands of the far eastern Mediterranean, which in the modern day include Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as the northeastern part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the coast of Turkey.

      Mamluk: Throughout the Muslim world from the 9th to 19th centuries, Mamluks were a warrior class of slave soldiers. They amassed considerable political power in much of the Muslim world, and for over three centuries the Mamluk sultanate governed over Egypt and Syria, successfully fending off both the European Crusaders and the Mongols.

      Mecca: Mecca (Makkah) is a city in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia with a population of more than 1.7 million. It is considered by Muslims to be the center of Islam and the holiest city, as it was the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad in 570. Muslims face the city during daily prayer. It has the largest mosque in the world. Mecca is visited annually by millions of Muslims undertaking the hajj pilgrimage.

      Mesopotamia: The area surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the ancient world: present-day Iraq, southwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey, and northeastern Syria. Mesopotamia was the site of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires—along with Egypt and Alexander the Great's empire, the greatest empires of the Middle East.

      Middle East: The Middle East is an extensive area in western Asia and north Africa, situated in the eastern Mediterranean. Although opinions vary on its exact definition, the term often refers to countries with a predominantly Muslim population, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It was the location of the earliest civilizations and empires—such as ancient Egypt—and the origin of major religions. Cultural unity across the region includes adherence to Islam, speaking Arabic, and similarities in architecture, arts, cuisine, etc. It is also culturally diverse, with numerous ethnic groups, religions, languages, and so forth. Many countries in the Middle East have crude oil reserves, and therefore economic importance, although there is variation in wealth between and within countries. The Middle East was previously termed Near East, in comparison to the Far East.

      Monotheism: Monotheism is the belief that there is only one god and is a notable characteristic of the major Middle Eastern religions—not only Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but Mandaenism, Samaritanism, Zoroastrianism, Druzism, and Baha'i. Monotheism was novel—some argue revolutionary—when the Jewish people introduced it in the ancient world, so novel that neighboring cultures often mistook it for monolatrism, the worship of a single god while acknowledging the existence of other gods. Monolatrism was fairly common in the ancient Near East; a family, individual, or city-state might revere one god specifically while accepting the existence of others and the validity of faiths devoted to those others. The Jewish faith itself developed out of an earlier monolatrism; the Jewish God was one of multiple gods worshiped in Canaan before the religious reforms out of which Judaism developed. The Tanakh still contains evidence of the rivalry between the worshippers of the Jewish God and the followers of Baal. It is the religious exceptionalism that makes monotheism unique. That said, monotheism does not necessarily deny the existence of other supernatural entities—all the faiths mentioned have at one point proclaimed the existence of demons and angels. But these beings are explained as being, for various reasons, not simply inferior to the one true God but sufficiently inferior that they cannot be considered simply lesser gods.

      Muslim World: Muslim world (Umma) is a concept in Islam referring to the worldwide community of Muslims, about one-fifth of the world's population (1.2 to 1.6 billion people). It is also sometimes used to denote countries and regions with a predominantly Muslim population. The Muslim world is united by religion and a shared sense of belonging, across diverse cultural and geographical settings.

      Palestine: The region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, which has been inhabited by various states and provinces throughout history, including Israel. In particular, Palestine in this sense is used to refer to that region during the lengthy period when it was not under Jewish control.

      Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO): The Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964 as a political organization to represent the Palestinian people who had been displaced when the modern nation of Israel was created. From 1969 to 2004, the PLO's Executive Committee was chaired by Yasser Arafat. Since 1974, the PLO has been given an observer seat in the United Nations General Assembly and is recognized as the legitimate representative in international affairs for the Palestinian people. However, the PLO's military activities originally overshadowed its political activities, and due to its campaign of terrorism against Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, the United States and Israel refused to recognize its legitimacy and considered it a terrorist organization, until the 1990s. Today, the PLO advocates a dual-state solution, with both Palestine and Israel being allowed to coexist.

      Ramadan: The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, lasting 29 or 30 days. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the fast, the practice of which is called Sawm, one abstains from consuming any substance (food or beverage, including water) and sexual activity. While breaking Islamic laws is by definition always to be avoided, the month of Ramadan is considered a holy month and most try harder than usual to observe all Islamic laws. In particular, such minor infractions as arguing, using unpleasant or offensive language, and having lustful thoughts are avoided as much as possible. Of course, eating and drinking cannot be completely avoided; they are permitted in the morning, but must end before the predawn call to prayer. During the day it is permitted to take water into the mouth without swallowing it in order to prevent parching.

      Sahabah: The companions, disciples, friends, and family of Muhammad. The question of how to approach the words and deeds of the Sahabah—what weight to give them in matters of theology and jurisprudence—is one that divides Shia and Sunni Islam. Because the Shia reject the first three caliphs who succeeded Muhammad, they further believe that the majority of the Sahabah became apostates—turning away from true Islam—after Muhammad's death, and therefore reject much of the hadith material that was related by Muhammad's friends and companions rather than his family. The Sunni use a different body of hadith, accepting more of the testimony of the Sahabah and categorizing the Sahabah in a ranking system according to their closeness to Muhammad.

      Salah: One of the Five Pillars of Islam, Salah is a ritual prayer performed at five specific times during the day. Salah is performed while facing Mecca and in a state of ritual cleanliness: both the environment and the prayer should be clean, and ritually cleansed with water or sand.

      Sea Peoples: Foreign sea-faring raiders who troubled Egypt in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. There are numerous theories about their origins, with posited possibilities including the Canaanite Philistine culture, Italian peoples such as those who settled Sardinia, and the Trojans. There is little persuasive evidence one way or the other, but the belief persists that in light of their attested military might, they must be a culture familiar to historians under another name. Some historians think the Sea Peoples may also have contributed to the collapse of the Hittite and Mitanni civilizations in the Bronze Age Collapse around the 12th century B.C.E.

      Shahada: The most important of the Five Pillars of Islam, Shahada is the declaration the Islamic faith. Converting to Islam requires only one earnest public recitation of the Shahada. For the Sunni denomination, the Shahada is “There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his prophet.” The Shia denomination adds “Ali-un-Wali-ul-lah,” meaning “And Ali is his Wali,” or “Ali is God's appointed authority,” referring to the son-in-law of Muhammad.

      Sharia: Sharia is the sacred law of Islam. It is believed by Muslims to be the result of divine revelation in the Koran. Sharia covers many topics and prescribes religious duties and penalties for lawbreaking. There are different interpretations and applications of sharia across countries, schools of Islam, and among fundamentalists, traditionalists, and reformists.

      Shia: The second-largest branch of Islam, constituting about 10 percent of the Muslim world. Shiites are the majority in Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain, and a plurality in Yemen and Lebanon. Unlike the Sunni, the Shia believe that Muhammad's family and descendants are specially blessed and have spiritual authority over the Muslim community. They reject the first three caliphs included in the Sunni's “Rightly Guided Caliphs,” and acknowledge the legitimacy only of the fourth, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad's son-in-law and cousin. The largest branch of Shia Islam—about 85 percent of Shiites—is the Twelvers, who believe that there have been 12 divinely ordained leaders of the Muslim world since Muhammad.

      Sunna: The words, actions, and practices of Muhammad (as well as the first twelve Imams, in the Shia tradition), and records thereof which serve to make it easier to attempt to live in imitation of him.

      Sunni: The largest branch of Islam, often viewed as the orthodox branch. Sunni derives from Sunna, and refers to those who believe they live as Muhammad did, though this would as accurately describe the Shia. The Sunni denomination holds that Muhammad never appointed a specific successor, but that the first four caliphs to follow him were valid—“the Rightly Guided Caliphs.” Shia Islam rejects three of the four. Schools of thought within Sunni Islam are called Madhhab, of which there are currently four primary schools: the Hanafi, the Shafi'i, the Maliki, and the Hanbali. Most Sunnis do not explicitly identify with a particular school of thought.

      Tahwid: The foundation of Islam, Tahwid is the doctrine of the oneness of God, which holds that Allah is one (wahid), in contrast to Christian trinitarianism, and unique (ahad), in contrast to the pre-Islamic polytheism of Arabia. The only unpardonable sin, according to the Koran, is to attribute divinity to anything but Allah. Islam's uncompromising monotheism and its use of much of the material from the Bible led many Christian authorities to treat early Islam not as a rival faith but rather as a heretical version of Christianity.

      Tanakh: The Tanakh is the scholarly term for the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. The term comes from the initials of the text's three sections: the Torah, the Nevi'im, and the Ketuvim. The Torah is also known to Christians as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Nevi'im, “Prophets,” collects the narrative books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings (the Biblical story of Israel from the death of Moses to the fall of Jerusalem) and the prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. Ketuvim, “Writings,” collects literary works like Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, poetic works like Psalms, Proberbs, and Job, and historical works like Daniel and Chronicles.

      United Monarchy: The United Monarchy is the scholarly and historical term for the united Kingdom of Israel—including both Israel and Judah under the same monarch—detailed in the Bible and lasting approximately one century, under kings Saul, David, and Solomon. After this point, Judah and Israel persisted as separate states except in periods when they were both ruled by the same foreign power. The story of the United Monarchy has great religious significance in Judaism, presenting a sort of golden age that can be returned to through proper worship of the Lord. Actual historical evidence for a United Monarchy is scant, however. While Israel and Judah were both part of the ancient land of Canaan, there is little outside of the Biblical story to suggest that they were ever thereafter a unified state.

      Wahhabism: A religious movement within Islam, originating with the Saudi Arabian theologian Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, which advocates a pure Islam free of modern influences. Wahhabism is associated with Islamic groups that claim the wars of the 20th century are the result of democracy, for instance, and with the rejection of modern doctrines of religious tolerance. Not only Western influences are rejected, however; in Wahhabi theology, only the Koran and the hadith are authoritative religious texts, and others may be viewed with suspicion.

      Zakat: One of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is the practice of giving alms to charity—specifically, a fixed portion of one's earnings or assets, traditionally to charities that help the poor, sick, or hungry. In some Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the state collects the zakat as a tax. In most of the Muslim world, the practice of zakat is voluntary, and few people pay the full recommended amount.

      Zionism: A Jewish political movement that originated with the goal of establishing a sovereign Jewish state. Since the realization of that goal, Zionism developed into a form of Jewish nationalism. Upon emigration to Israel, many Zionists abandoned the names of their birth in favor of Hebrew names, and spoke only Hebrew, rather than the language of the country of their birth. The World Zionist Organization has persisted since the establishment of Israel and now acts as an advocacy organization to encourage Jews to relocate to Israel and to fight antisemitism in the world. The lack of a clear common goal as in the pre-Israel days, though, has resulted in numerous subdivisions of Zionism with different priorities. Religious Zionism has also become an important influence in Israel, whereas Zionism was originally founded by secular Jews.

      African medicine: An indigenous medical system in Africa. A central feature is herbal remedies involving a large variety of plant species. Traditional medical practitioners also prescribe treatments such as bathing, dietary recommendations, massage, and spirit intervention (e.g., ancestral worship, divination, incantations, spells). Traditional medicine is still practiced today; it is important in healthcare systems in some African countries as modern medical facilities are inaccessible and expensive to many people.

      African Union: Previously known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the African Union was created in 2002 to represent African states in matters such as development, human rights, opposition to colonialism, security, etc. The African Union consists of administrative and political bodies, with headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Its supreme governing body is the Assembly of the African Union, comprising heads of state and governments of member states, supported by a Pan-African Parliament and financial infrastructure such as the African Central Bank. However, the African Union has been criticized for limited intervention in crises affecting Africa.

      Afrikaner: A southern Africa ethnic group descended from Dutch, French, and German settlers. Afrikaners speak Afrikaans, descended from a Dutch dialect. The origins of the Afrikaners date to the late 17th century, when French Huguenots and German settlers began to arrive in the Dutch colonies in Africa. The term itself comes from the 18th-century identification of many white southern Africans as Africans—Afrikanders—rather than identifying with their European ethnic roots or the European power administering their colony. South Africans of British descent have a different cultural background and lack the unique linguistic feature, and are not considered Afrikaners.

      AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome): AIDS is the advanced stage of an immune system disease caused by HIV infection. It occurs when a compromised immune system can no longer prevent certain infections and illnesses. AIDS is characterized by one or more specific cancers or infections, and a very low blood count of CD4+ T cells, the main type of cell in the immune system attacked by HIV. There is no known cure or vaccine for AIDS. Although medication can slow disease progression, it is not available in some countries due to expense and limited resources.

      Allah: The word Allah is used by many Arabic speakers to denote the name of God. Its usage can be traced back to early Semitic languages. The term is best known in the West as a reference to God among Muslims. The Koran states that belief in Allah as the sole god, and unreserved surrender to Allah, are central to Islam.

      Apartheid: Racial discrimination in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, enacted by the Nationalist Government. Race groups were legally segregated—according to area of residence, education, land ownership, politics, social intercourse, etc—which was invariably favorable to the white minority but detrimental to other races. Increasing domestic and international opposition led to the gradual dismantling of apartheid from 1990 to 1993; it was replaced in 1994 by a multi-racial democracy and an election won by the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela. Apartheid dominated South African society during most of the 20th century.

      Arab Spring: A wave of revolutions, protests, and social change in the Arab world from the end of 2010 through 2011. Common features of the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring have included the prominent use of social media (Twitter having played a critical role in Iran's 2009 Green Revolution), marches and rallies, and work stoppages; in most countries, the demonstrations have been countered with Internet censorship, violent reprisals, and counter-demonstrations supporting current regimes. The full scope of the Arab Spring is as yet unknown; as of 2011, two full-fledged revolutions have succeeded, a civil war is under way in Libya, and several other countries have adopted significant changes to their governments. More change can be expected. No single incident inspired these protests, nor are they the work of a sole disenfranchised class or group. Rather, decades of dissatisfaction with dictatorship came to a head, particularly as the worldwide depression worsened economic conditions and the middle class became impatient with widespread censorship and economic mismanagement. The Green Revolution of Iran in 2009 and the self-immolation of Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010 were the major events to inspire the Spring; notably, more acts of self-immolation followed in multiple countries.

      Bantu: A sub-branch of the Niger-Congo languages of Africa, and by extension the peoples who speak those languages, who likely originated in west Africa around Nigeria and Cameroon. The Bantu expansion or migration was responsible for populating much of sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for the prevalence of the Bantu languages. That expansion took place over about 1,500 years, as Bantu populations moved across the continent in waves, moving east into east Africa and south along both the coast and inland routes.

      Black (South Africa): During apartheid, South Africa classified the population into four race groups: black, white, asian, and colored. Each non-white group was subject to legal limitations, and blacks and Asians were the most limited. Because it was advantageous for Blacks to try to pass as mixed-race, officials came up with various homegrown tests in order to classify people. Examinations of physical characteristics were the most popular, and an official who could not decide after a visual inspection if a subject was black or colored would use the “pencil test”—inserting a pencil into the subject's hair to see if the hair was kinky enough for the pencil to stick.

      Boer: Afrikaans-speakers from the Cape frontier (Boer is Dutch for “farmer”). Some consider them a subtype of Afrikaner, others consider the distinction between the two to be important. Since the 20th century, the Boers have largely been culturally assimilated into Afrikaner culture; in the 19th century they were culturally distinct, and fought several wars against the British, who were attempting (and eventually succeeded) to expand their territory.

      Colonialism: Colonialism was a period of European settlement and sovereignty in other countries and territories from the late 15th to 20th centuries. Although colonial practices varied widely, they involved exploitation of local resources and changed the colony's economic, political, and social systems. The colonial system was gradually dismantled in latter 20th century following international pressure and nationalist movements in colonies.

      Colored: An ethnic designation in southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) dating from the pre-apartheid era. Colored people are mixed race but possess sufficient ancestry from Europe that they are not consider Black under race laws. Because “neither black nor white” is such an inclusive definition, and because race laws both before and during apartheid limited the interactions of separate race groups, the colored people today have what geneticists have suggested could be the highest levels of mixed ancestry in the world, including sub-Saharan African, European, and Indonesian ancestry. During apartheid, coloreds were not as limited as blacks, and did not have to carry identity documents with them at all times. They were subject to forced relocation, and were given a poorer education than whites.

      Coup d'état: A coup d'état—commonly known as a coup—is the sudden and illegal removal of a government by the threat or use of force, usually by a small but critical group such as the military. During the 20th century, military coups were more frequent in developing states—particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America—in governments with limited legitimacy and procedures for succession.

      Diaspora: A population with a shared identity that is separated from its ancestral homeland or national territory. The term is often applied to emigrants and their descendents, long-term expatriates, and overseas communities. A diaspora continues the cultural distinctions of its homeland—such as language, religious practices, and traditional lifestyles—and also assimilates traditions in the place of residence. The largest diasporas in modern times are the African diaspora, Asian diaspora, Chinese diaspora, and Indian diaspora, each representing a diverse and widespread community. Diaspora studies—the study of migrant communities and their cultural and social complexity—is an established subdiscipline in sociology.

      Genocide: The intentional destruction of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. Genocide takes place by actions such as birth control, killings, physical or mental harm, or transferring children from the group. Following the genocide of Jews and ethnic groups by the Nazis during World War II, the United Nations in 1948 adopted The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which is now accepted by more than 100 nations. Genocide is recognized as a severe crime under international law, punished by the International Criminal Court. Recent examples of genocide include the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda, and attacks on black Africans by Arab militias in Darfur.

      Great Lakes: The African Great Lakes are a series of lakes formed by the East African Rift, and include the second-deepest and second-largest lake in volume (Tanganyika) and the second-largest in area (Victoria), as well as Malawi, Turkana, Albert, Kivu, and Edward. Tanganyika and Kivu drain into the Congo River system; Malawi into the Zambezi by way of the Shire River; Victoria, Albert, and Edward into the White Nile. Kyoga is part of the same lake system, but is generally not considered a Great Lake because of its size; Rukwa and Mweru, on the other hand, though nearby and larger than the smallest Great Lakes, are generally not considered Great Lakes because they do not connect to the same system. The Great Lakes region in the present day includes Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Though the area has abundant natural resources, it has been unable to capitalize on them in the years since decolonization because of internal conflict and wars.

      Hajj; The pilgrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia), which according to the fifth pillar of Islam must be carried out at least once by every Muslim able to do so. The hajj takes place during the last month of the Islamic calendar, and symbolizes the pilgrim's submission to Allah. Numerous practices and rituals have developed around the hajj, including a ritual counterclockwise walk around the Kaaba, a drink from the Zamzam Well, the throwing of stones to symbolize the stoning of the devil, an animal sacrifice, and the shaving of the pilgrims' heads. Special clothing must be worn on the hajj.

      Henotheism: In contrast with monotheism, henotheism—a term coined by modern scholars—is the worship of a single god while acknowledging the existence of other gods. Originally, the term was coined to refer to the first stage of monotheism, as the Jewish God worshipped monotheistically began as one god among many in the Canaanite pantheon. But the practice has existed without being a transition to monotheism. In Egypt, the state religion went through several henotheistic phases as the worship of a particular god—Amun, Amun-Ra, and Aten are the major examples—eclipsed the worship of other deities, without dismissing the worthiness of those other deities.

      Hieroglyphics: The ancient Egyptian writing system used hieroglyphics, which included three kinds of glyphs (characters): logographs, which represent whole words or morphemes (meaning conveying word parts, such as “un-” or “-ing” in English); phonetic glyphs representing sounds; and determinatives, used to make meaning more clear. Hieroglyphs may have been influenced by early Sumerian script, though the similarities are slim. As literacy became more widespread, simpler scripts were developed for less formal uses.

      Horn of Africa: An east African peninsula that extends into the Arabian Sea, south of the Gulf of Aden. The easternmost portion of Africa, today including the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Also called the Somali Peninsula, northeast Africa (in contrast with north Africa), and in historical sources, the land of the Berbers.

      Human Trafficking: The illegal trade in people, particularly women and children, for purposes such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, slavery, and servitude. It usually involves abduction, coercion, or deception. The United Nations established guidelines to define and tackle human trafficking (United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons).

      Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa: Central African ethnic groups, the three main ethnic groups of Burundi and Rwanda. All three share the same language and culture, but the Twa are a pygmy group and are genetically distinct from the other two. The Twa are believed to be indigenous to the region, or at least were present when the Hutu—now the largest ethnic group—arrived in the 11th century. The Tutsi arrived sometime later and presented a serious challenge to the Hutu kingdoms. The difference between the groups was emphasized and codified by their treatment at the hands of colonial powers, when the Tutsi minority was given disproportionate power, laying the groundwork for today's ongoing disputes between the Tutsis and Hutus.

      Hyksos: A Semitic people who conquered Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. Little is known about the Hyksos to correlate them with other known cultures, and there has been much speculation and curiosity about their origins and later history. The conventional history has followed the early account of Manetho, which described an invasion of Hyksos that easily overpowered native forces—leading historians to speculate about composite or recurve bows, chariots, and mail shirts as possible innovations the Hyksos could have brought. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, some historians have forwarded the theory that the invasion story could be a misunderstanding; that the Hyksos could simply have migrated to the delta, fleeing domestic famine or plague in their homeland, and were able to come to power because of Egypt's internal struggles.

      Islam: A major religion with nearly 1 billion people worldwide, particularly in parts of Asia (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan), the Middle East, and north Africa. It has become more popular in the West in recent years. Adherents of Islam are known as Muslims. They respect Islamic scripture called the Koran (or Koran); Sharia (religious law), which covers almost every aspect of life and society; and religious concepts and practices such as the Five Pillars of Islam, including ritual prayer, fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims believe in submission to Allah (God), and in Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. The major branches are Shia and Sunni.

      Kharijites: An Islamic movement originating in the late 7th century, consisting of Muslims who rejected the authority of Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib. The split between the Shia and the Sunni, in contrast, revolved around successors before and after Ali. Kharijites, while initially accepting Ali's authority, later rejected it. Further, they argued that any Muslim could lead the community—that succession did not need to be determined by descent from Muhammad, nor by other means—and that Muslims always had the right to revolt against their rulers if their rulers abandoned the proper interpretation of Islam. The first Kharijites were some of Ali's own troops, who believed that conflicts could be resolved correctly only through battle (putting their fates in Allah's hands), not through negotiations, and thus abandoned Ali for agreeing to arbitration instead of war. Kharijite groups tended to develop extreme beliefs. One common theme among Kharijite groups is the idea that an act of sin is coequal with a statement of disbelief, which means that a sinner is by definition a Kafir (an unbeliever).

      Maghreb: The western region of north Africa, today including Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania. The term derives from the Arabic for “Arab west,” and refers to the westernmost Islamic conquests.

      Mamluk: Throughout the Muslim world from the 9th to 19th century, Mamluks were a warrior class of slave soldiers. They amassed considerable political power in much of the Muslim world, and for more than three centuries the Mamluk sultanate governed over Egypt and Syria, successfully fending off both the European Crusaders and the Mongols.

      Négritude: A cultural, ideological, and literary movement in Paris in the 1930s among African students and writers from former French colonies. Two important figures were Léopold Sédar Senghor—a poet and future Senegalese president—and Aimé Césaire. Négritude was characterized by affirmation of black identity, through acceptance and pride of being black; celebration of African heritage; opposition to French assimilation, colonialism, and racism; and reverence of Marxist ideas. A realistic literary style was formed as part of the movement.

      Nollywood: A term coined for the Nigerian low-budget film industry, in emulation of India's Bollywood, and thus a contraction of “Nigerian Hollywood.” Arising in the 1990s as digital recording and editing technologies became affordable, Nollywood is Africa's largest movie industry whether measured by output or revenue. Unlike Hollywood, Nollywood produces its movies—about 200 a month, from various studios—with the home video market foremost in mind, though some movies do receive theatrical releases. Home video is more popular in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, not only because it is more affordable but because of the number of communities located impractically far from the nearest movie theater. Nollywood movies are shot on location, either in rented locations like hotels and office space, or on the street as crews move quickly. They're distributed throughout Africa, and outsell Hollywood movies in Nigeria and other countries. Thematic material naturally varies, but many of the best-known Nollywood movies deal with problems of modern Africa and the conflicts that arise between different religious and ethnic groups.

      Nomad: A group of people with no permanent settlement that roam from place to place. There are two types of nomad: hunter-gathers, also known as foragers, who move around in search of food; and nomadic pastoralists, based on seasonal herding of livestock, sometimes with semi-fixed residences. Prehistoric human societies were nomadic, until transitioning to agriculture and more extensive permanent settlements. Today, nomads exist in remote parts of Africa and Asia.

      Phoenicia: An ancient civilization on the coast of the Fertile Crescent in the Near East. Phoenicia was a significant influence on ancient Greece, and vice versa. The Phoenician alphabet is the basis for all major modern alphabets, and Phoenicians were leaders in shipbuilding technology, which led to their maritime trading empire and their expansion of power into North Africa.

      Pygmy: A term for any ethnic group with a markedly shorter than average height. The word is often frowned upon today, containing negative overtones because of the ways it was used in the past, but no accurate term in English has arisen to replace it. The best known pygmy groups are those in Africa: the Aka, Efe, and Mbuti pygmies of central Africa and the Twa of the Great Lakes.

      Sacral kingdom: A monarchy in which kingship is conceived of as having a sacral dimension. This is not synonymous with a theocracy, as the king's temporal authority need not be derived from a position as religious leader. In theocracies, the church itself also has elevated political power, which is not necessarily the case in sacral kingdoms. Instead, the position of king is itself imbued with religious significance and the power to mediate between the people and the supernatural. Throughout the prehistoric world, sacral kingdoms or chiefdoms existed, and the pharaohs of Egypt and imperial cults of Rome are sophisticated renderings of this meme. In Africa, early shaman-kings were responsible for fertility and good fortune, but could also be offered up as a sacrifice to appease angry divinities.

      Sahara: The world's second-largest desert; only Antarctica is larger. Delimited by the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Sahel region in the south, it is nearly as large as the United States, with sand dunes exceeding 500 feet in height. Many of the civilizations that surrounded the Sahara in ancient Africa descended from civilizations that originated in the Sahara itself—during the wet climatic period at the end of the last glacial period, the Sahara was arable land, but the gradual climatic drying led to desertification, perhaps slightly accelerated by grazing and farming. Ruins remaining in the now-uninhabitable parts of the desert may have contributed to myths of lost civilizations and world-ending cataclysms. The ecological future of the Sahara—which in the past 30 years had seen increased greening—is critical to the agricultural and ecological health of much of Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa refers to the countries south of the Sahara, in contrast with north Africa, which is culturally distinct as part of the Arab world with a long history with the Near East and the Mediterranean. However, the term is useful only for the sake of that contrast; the peoples and countries of sub-Saharan Africa do not have nearly as much in common, in any sphere, as those of north Africa.

      Sahel: A climatic and geographic zone of Africa, bisecting the country from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west at the transition between the Sahara in the north and the wooded savanna of Sudan in the south. Derived from the Arabic word for “coast,” the Sahel resembles a coastline of grass and vegetation at the edge of the Sahara. The region includes savanna, steppes, shrublands, and semiarid grasslands. It is mostly flat at a low altitude. Traditionally, pastoral nomadism prevailed in the Sahel, but in the Middle Ages a number of Sahelian kingdoms arose before the region came under the control of Egypt in the east and European colonial powers in the west. Periodic droughts in the Sahel are a considerable problem since the proximity of the Sahara makes the Sahel's agricultural output that much more critical. At the same time, reliance on that output has led to overfarming and overgrazing, which combined with naturally occurring but serious soil erosion has led to what may be unstoppable desertification, and regular dust storms.

      Scramble for Africa: The heightened interest in colonizing and conquering African territory from the last quarter of the 19th century until the start of World War I. The Industrial Revolution had changed the nature of imperialism and colonialism since the Age of Discovery when the Americas were colonized, but the scramble for Africa was fed by the same anxiety as in that age: the fear of each imperial power that if they did not acquire any given territory, another imperial power would do so, and in so doing would present a threat to them. It was taken as a given that the territory would not remain in native control. During this period, the advances of the Industrial Revolution colored the character of imperial efforts: Europeans traveled faster than before, their resource needs were different (making mines and textiles valuable), and advanced weapons like machine guns were an even greater advantage than muskets had been in the Americas.

      Sea Peoples: Foreign seafaring raiders who troubled Egypt in the second millennium B.C.E. There are numerous theories about their origins, with posited possibilities including the Canaanite Philistine culture, Italian peoples such as those who settled Sardinia, and the Trojans. There is little persuasive evidence one way or the other, but the belief persists that in light of their attested military might, they must be a culture familiar to historians under another name. Some historians think the Sea Peoples may also have contributed to the collapse of the Hittite and Mitanni civilizations in the Bronze Age Collapse around the 12th century B.C.E.

      Swahili: A Bantu language used as the lingua franca in east Africa, and the national language of Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Swahili has incorporated loan words from half a dozen non-African languages over centuries of contact with other language groups, but the most prominent influence is Arabic. However, Swahili uses the Latin alphabet because of the legacy of European colonial powers.

      Tribal Society: A close-knit indigenous social group that is descended from a common ancestor, and organized largely on the basis of family ties (kinship). Small tribal societies consist of simple and egalitarian social structures, with few social distinctions between individuals; whereas larger societies are more stratified, governed by a chief and ruling council of representatives. The study of tribes was central to the emergence of anthropology in the early 19th to mid-20th century, as colonialism brought Europeans into contact with native peoples in colonies.

      Zulu: An ethnic group of southern Africa, speakers of the Bantu language Zulu. The largest ethnic group in South Africa, Zulus are also found in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Zambia. The Zulus formed a powerful state in the 19th century under King Shaka, but were absorbed into the British colonies by the end of the century. Under apartheid, more than two-thirds of the Zulus in the country of South Africa were forcibly relocated to KwaZulu, their legally designated homeland.

      Ancestor worship: Ancestor worship is veneration of the dead, such as deceased family members, to maintain filial duty and to ask for favors and assistance. It is practiced in a wide range of cultures, societies, and religions. Ancestor worship is based on beliefs in an afterlife and that spirits of the deceased influence the fate of their living descendants.

      Asia: Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located in the eastern hemisphere. Although Asia and Europe share a single continent called Eurasia, both regions are regarded as historically and geographically distinct. However, the definition and dividing line of Asia is often not clear, as some interpretations exclude specific regions and countries. Asia is characterized by its vast size and diversity—for example, cultures, environments, geography, peoples, and wealth. Its largest economies are in China, India, Japan, and South Korea; the largest cities are Mumbai, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

      Axial Age: The period from 800 to 200 b.c.e., during which revolutions in human thought transpired throughout much of the ancient world—Platonism developed in the West, Jainism and Buddhism developed in India, and Confucianism and Taoism developed in China.

      Bon: The indigenous spiritual practice of Tibet, Bon originated as a religious tradition centered around a divine king. Early records of the religion have for the most part not survived, because the Buddhists who later came to the region suppressed the faith and destroyed documents. Bon today refers to a religion almost surely heavily influenced by Buddhism, but which at the same time has also become syncretized with Tibetan folk religion and magical practices that were once separate from Bon but were suppressed at the same time. Modern Bon is practiced both in Tibet and in Tibetan communities in China and south Asia.

      Buddhism: A religion and philosophy which originated in ancient India around the 5th century. It spread throughout Asia during the early centuries. It is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha). In the 20th century, Buddhism saw significant revival, including in Europe and the United States. There are different forms and schools of Buddhism, which vary in their philosophical outlook and respective practices. The two major branches are Theravada, which is practiced in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand; and Mahayana, popular in China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet, and Vietnam.

      Bushido: Warrior-way, the code of conduct governing behavior for samurai, which developed primarily in the 10th and 11th centuries. In the 17th century, parts of bushido were incorporated into Japanese law. Loyalty, courage, respect, honesty, honor over self-preservation, and frugality were all prized by bushido.

      Chinatown: A Chinatown is a section of a neighborhood outside China—ranging from single or multiple intersecting streets to larger areas of several kilometers—occupied predominantly by Chinese businesses and residents. It is the center of social and economic activity for the local Chinese community, characterized by Chinese festivities, markets, shops, restaurants, welfare associations, wholesale companies, etc. Chinatowns are present throughout the world, and some have a long history, whereas many in Europe and North America were founded recently with the rise of emigration from China to other parts of the world. Alternate names for Chinatown include the Chinese District, Chinese Neighborhood, and Chinese Quarter.

      Chinese Communist Party: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It was founded in 1921, and gained power in China in 1949 following a guerrilla war against the Japanese and a civil war with the Nationalist Party. The party's highest and supreme legislative body is the National People's Congress, and the highest ranking official is the General Secretary of the Central Committee.

      Civilization: The word civilization describes human cultures and societies, usually complex and urbanized societies with advanced economies, governance, legal systems, politics, social hierarchies, and technology. It has sometimes been used controversially, such as to compare superiority and progress in social development, or to contrast civil people in modern contexts to traditional people with primitive ways of life.

      Colonialism: Colonialism was a period of European settlement and sovereignty in other countries and ter ritories from the late 15th to 20th centuries. Although colonial practices varied widely, they involved exploitation of local resources and changed the colony's economic, political, and social systems. The colonial system was gradually dismantled in latter 20th century following international pressure and nationalist movements in colonies.

      Communism: A social and political ideology that promotes society without social class divisions. Communism is based on equality and common ownership of wealth and power, distinct from capitalism, which Communists regard as exploitation of the working class. Although a variety of different forms of Communism have existed throughout history, it was first developed into a comprehensive ideology by Karl Marx (1818–83) and Friedrich Engels (1820–95). In modern usage, Communism refers to Communist states such as China, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam, as well as individual labor movement trade unions, although some have little to do with Communism. Communist states declined in number following the collapse of the Soviet Union, replaced by democratic systems and market economies.

      Confucianism: Confucianism is the oldest and most influential of the Chinese philosophical systems, espoused by the teachings of Confucius (551–479 b.c.e.) and his key disciples. The representative works of Confucius are the Analects, compiled by his disciples and students. Confucianism was adopted in China in the Han dynasty (206 b.c.e.-220 c.e.) as a political and legal system, and then prevailed as a state philosophy for two millennia until its prominence waned in the Tang dynasty. Many aspects of Asian and Chinese societies continue to resemble traditional Confucian features.

      Daimyo: Powerful feudal families in Japan from the 10th to 19th centuries. The daimyo were the families from which shoguns were chosen.

      Digital Divide: Digital Divide refers to disparities in access to information technology according to country of residence, gender, income, or race. Within a country, the educated, upper-income, and urban residents tend to have better access to technology. There are also differences between countries and world regions, largely as a result of limited resources in developing countries, known as the global digital divide. Barriers to the use of technology can also be cultural and linguistic: for example, English is the prevalent language on the Internet, although technologies can now handle other widely used languages.

      Ethnography: Ethnography refers to both a research strategy for gathering data on human societies, and to the final product—such as a book or monograph—of a research project. It involves a detailed and long-term observation of a particular community, such as by living in a community, learning and conversing in the local language, and participating in social and cultural events. Data collection methods include participant observation (observation of daily behavior), genealogy, interviewing, and questionnaires. Early ethnographies were grounded in the study of small-scale, traditional societies, but from the late 20th century onward, there has been an increasing interest in high civilizations and on contemporary issues such as globalization, human rights, poverty, and virtual communities.

      Falun Gong: Falun Gong (Falun Dafa) is a Chinese spiritual movement based on ancient beliefs and practices of Buddhism and Taoism, particularly teachings of moral values and qigong. It was founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992, and has millions of adherents in China and overseas. Following public protests in 1999 by Falun Gong practitioners, the Chinese government condemned it as political dissent. Consequently, there has been a nationwide crackdown and propaganda campaign in China against the movement, including reports of human rights abuses of practitioners. In response, the Falun Gong has emerged as a prominent critic of the Chinese government. It has founded international media organizations such as the Epoch Times, New Tang Dynasty Television, and Sound of Hope.

      Great Leap Forward: An unsuccessful economic and social campaign in China (1958–60) initiated by Mao Zedong. Its aim was to increase agricultural yields through the reorganization of farms into large-scale rural communes, and to increase industrial steel production by construction of primitive furnaces (backyard furnaces) in the countryside. The campaign had negative consequences—such as poor harvests and low-quality steel—and ended in catastrophe with a famine that caused tens of millions of deaths.

      Guanxi: A cultural tradition in Chinese societies based on reciprocal obligation. Individuals assist others in their personal networks on the assumption that they will be repaid in the future. Resources, information, and influence are shared among those connected as guanxi, but flow weakly to others: these relations are based on criteria such as ethnicity, kinship, native place, and shared experiences. Although guanxi can be traced back to ancient times, it is important in modern China where personal networks can help to complete tasks. However, guanxi has been criticized for unfairness, corruption, and hindrance of a civil society.

      Human trafficking: The illegal trade in people, particularly women and children, for purposes such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, slavery, and servitude. It usually involves abduction, coercion, or deception. The United Nations established guidelines to define and tackle human trafficking (United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons).

      Hunter-gatherers: Hunter-gatherers are nomadic groups of people that hunt wild animals and gather plants for subsistence. The groups are small and consist usually of family members, with relatively egalitarian social structures except for division of labor such as men taking responsibility for hunting. Subsistence by hunting and gathering was widespread in prehistoric times, and dominated most of human history until the Neolithic Age with transition to agriculture and more extensive, permanent human settlements.

      Islam: A major religion with nearly a billion people worldwide, particularly in parts of Asia (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan), the Middle East, and North Africa. It has become more popular in the West in recent years. Adherents of Islam are known as Muslims. They respect Islamic scripture called the Koran; Sharia (religious law), which covers almost every aspect of life and society; and religious concepts and practices such as the Five Pillars of Islam, including ritual prayer, fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims believe in submission to Allah (God), and in Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. The major branches of Islam are Shia and Sunni.

      Kana: Syllabic Japanese scripts derived from Chinese characters. While kanji is written in ideograms that represent words, kana scripts represent syllables and indicate pronunciation.

      Kanji: Logographic Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system. While phonographic characters indicate speech sounds—as in the Latin alphabet, where A, B, and C represent specific sounds—logographic characters or ideograms represent words or morphemes.

      Kinship: Kinship refers to relations between individuals by descent or marriage. It defines social relationships and behavior such as marriage preferences, relations between generations, social roles and obligations, and inheritance. Kinship systems are central to the organization of traditional societies, but are less important in modern societies.

      Koran: The Koran (Qur'an or Coran) is the religious text of Islam and the source of Islamic beliefs and knowledge. It is believed by Muslims to direct humankind, including economic, political, and social rules as well as the ethics and morals for the Muslim community. Muslims believe that the Koran represents the word of God (Allah), as dictated by the angel Gabriel (Jibril) to his messenger the Prophet Muhammad. It is believed that Muhammad's revelations began on the Night of Power—commemorated by Muslims during the month of Ramadan—over two decades until his death (ca. 610–632). The Koran is written in classical Arabic, and consists of 114 chapters (sras) of varying length classed as either Meccan (received while Muhammad was in Mecca) or Medinan (received after Muhammad moved to Medina).

      Lama: A Tibetan term for honored teachers. Today associated especially with Tibetan Buddhism, it is also used in Bon. Lama is an honorific, such as for heads of monasteries or especially revered teachers; Westerners once applied it in error to all Tibetan monks, and the term Lamaism survives in older English-language documents for this reason, referring to Tibetan Buddhism (and sometimes Bon).

      Macau: One of two Special Administrative Regions of China, the other being Hong Kong. The first European colony founded in China, when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, it was also the last to be returned to Chinese control in 1999. The agreement with the Portuguese requires that Macau be given a considerable level of autonomy, requiring its status as a Special Administrative Region until 2049. The territory has its own legal system, police force, monetary system, and customs and immigration policies, while China is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. The culture of Macau is unique; it has parlayed that uniqueness, along with legalized gambling, into a vibrant tourism economy.

      Mandate of Heaven: The will of heaven, or tian: an ancient Chinese religious concept referring to a supernatural force that is superior to all other gods. Heaven worship was the predominant religion in ancient China before Taoism and Confucianism. The Mandate of Heaven is the blessing of tian upon the authority of a just ruler; when a ruler becomes unjust, he or his dynasty loses the Mandate of Heaven, and the people overthrow him.

      Maoism: Maoism (also known as Mao Zedong Thought) was an ideology and social revolution in China during the 1950s and 1960s. It was orchestrated by Mao Zedong, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Although based on Communism and Marxism, Maoism was tailored to the Chinese peasantry and their revolutionary potential, and emphasized agricultural collectivization and small-scale industry. Following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the influence of Maoism has lessened. Maoism has influenced other movements throughout the world, most notably in India, Nepal, and Peru.

      Mosquito-borne disease: Mosquitoes are small blood-sucking insects that can transmit parasites and viruses to humans through their bites, causing disease. Mosquito-borne diseases are most prevalent in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, causing millions of deaths each year. Examples of mosquito-borne diseases include elephantiasis, dengue fever, malaria, and yellow fever. Mosquito-borne diseases have hindered economic development in some countries. Treatment, prevention and control measures include insect repellents, insecticides, medication, mosquito nets, and draining standing water.

      Nomads: A group of people with no permanent settlement who roam from place to place. There are two types of nomads: hunter-gathers, also known as foragers, who move around in search of food; and nomadic pastoralists, who follow seasonal herding of livestock, sometimes with semi-fixed residences. Prehistoric societies were nomadic, until transitioning to agriculture and more permanent settlements. Today, nomads exist in remote parts of Africa and Asia.

      Overseas Chinese: Overseas Chinese are people of Chinese descent living outside China, including Chinese citizens working or living in other countries, and Chinese ethnicities born outside China. Therefore, the term overseas Chinese refers to ethnic origin and not citizenship or nationality. Most overseas Chinese live in southeast Asia and the Pacific, constituting a majority population in Singapore and significant minorities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand. Since the mid-19th century onward, they have increased in number in Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and Western Europe. Overseas Chinese vary widely in their cultural background, degree of cultural assimilation, and the extent to which they retain Chinese traditions.

      Religion: Beliefs and practices shared among a group about life and death, in reference to sacred texts and spiritual awareness. A religion governs aspects of human behavior via customs, ethics, traditions, and values. Some religions are on an international scale such as world religions that extend through many countries and cultures, or a smaller scale such as indigenous religions or new religious movements. Various classification systems are used to characterize religions and other spiritual traditions.

      Romaji: The Romanization of Japanese, using the Latin alphabet to write Japanese words. Japanese is normally written in kanji (logographic characters) and kana (syllabic scripts indicating pronunciation) derived from Chinese, but romaji allows the text to be read by anyone familiar with the Latin alphabet. Since World War II, Japanese students have been taught romaji in elementary school.

      Sakura: Cherry blossoms. In Japan, the blossoming of the sakura is a sign of spring, and the blossom's beauty and rapid death has long been a symbol of mortality. Picnicking under sakura trees in bloom is a spring tradition in Japan, and has been since the 8th century. In the modern era, meteorologists track the “sakura front” as the trees begin to bloom, reporting the imminent arrival of cherry blossoms as part of the weather report. Both the fiscal and school year in Japan begin in April, when sakura season starts in most of the country.

      Science: In its broadest sense, science refers to the acquisition of knowledge in terms of systematic theoretical inquiry. Scientists adopt the scientific method, which represents techniques for gathering empirical and measurable evidence via experimentation and hypothesis testing. Although this approach has advantages, the narrow definition used by scientists has prompted numerous critiques among social scientists interested in the ways that science is shaped by the social environment.

      Science, Technology, and Society Studies: Social studies of science and technology began in the 1970s and 1980s when universities across the globe set up interdisciplinary programs to position science and technology as socially embedded enterprises. This trend led gradually to the emergence of an interdisciplinary discipline coined Science, Technology, and Society Studies.

      Shogun: From the 12th to 19th centuries, a shogun was a Japanese military dictator, with a traditionally hereditary title. Appointed by the emperor, the shoguns were the de facto rulers of Japan, with different families ascending and descending in power in different eras.

      Tai: A group of ethnic groups who speak languages in the Tai family, probably originating in Taiwan. The Tai people include many ethnic groups throughout southeast Asia, as well as China and India.

      Tiananmen Square: A large city square in Beijing with cultural and historical significance. It was the site of Chinese political events such as the May Fourth Movement (1919), Mao Zedong's proclamation of the establishment of People's Republic of China (1949), Red Guard movements during the Cultural Revolution, mourning and protests after the death of Zhou Enlai (1976), and the Tiananmen Square Protests (1989), when the army repressed a pro-democracy demonstration and killed several hundred people.

      Tianxia: Chinese for “Under Heaven,” which is to say, the Earth itself, especially the mortal world and political sovereignty. Tianxia is what is granted to a ruler who has the Mandate of Heaven; though obviously as a practical matter, most of the world, and even most of the known world, is not ruled by the ruler of China. In classical Chinese political theory, even rulers outside of China have derived their authority from the Emperor, who has the Mandate of Heaven.

      Traditional Chinese medicine: Traditional medicine and therapy that originated in ancient China, consisting of methods such as acupuncture, dietary recommendations, herbal medicine, massage, moxibustion (therapy using burned mugwort herb), and Qigong. It is thought to correct disharmony in organs and bodily functions. There are various branches of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), such as the prominent Jingfang and Wenbing schools. There are also other traditional medical systems such as Mongolian medicine, Miao medicine, and Tibetan medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine is an integral part of medical care in east Asia, although its efficacy and safety have been questioned by the scientific community in the West.

      Tulku: In Tibetan Buddhism, a tulku is an especially advanced lama who can choose his or her rebirth, typically choosing to be reborn as a human of the same sex. Each tulku has a specific lineage of reincarnation; the Dalai Lama, the most famous, is the reincarnation of all the Dalai Lamas who came before him.

      Yangtze: The Yangtze (Chang Jiang) is the principal river of China, and the longest river in Asia. Rising in highlands in northeast Tibet, it flows 6,300 kilometers through central China to the East China Sea near Shanghai. The river and its main tributaries have been important in the culture, economy, and history of China, as they pass through one-third of the population, provide water for various activities, and divide north and south. However, major flooding has been a serious problem, such as in 1935, 1954, and 1998. The Yangtze River supports a diverse array of ecosystems and wildlife such as the Chinese alligator, Yangtze River dolphin, and Yangtze sturgeon, but some river sections have become very polluted. Recently, the completion of the controversial Three Gorges Dam along the river displaced more than 1 million people and caused environmental destruction.

      Al Qaeda: An Islamist terrorist network throughout the Muslim world, founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s as resistance to invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Al Qaeda has called for a global Jihad against Western governments and representatives, based on ideology that Western interests oppose Islam. A number of terrorist acts in various countries have been linked to Al Qaeda, most notably the September 11 attacks in 2001. There is debate on whether Al Qaeda exists as a defined entity or a small clique of Islamist militants. Although the ideology of Al Qaeda is supported by a minority of extremists, it is rejected by mainstream Muslims.

      Allah: The word Allah is used by many Arabic speakers to denote the name of God. Its usage can be traced back to early Semitic languages. The term is best known in the West as a reference to God among Muslims. The Koran states the belief that Allah is the sole God, and unreserved surrender to Allah, is central to Islam.

      Asia: The world's largest and most populous continent, located in the Eastern Hemisphere. Although Asia and Europe share a single continent called Eurasia, both regions are regarded as historically and geographically distinct. However, the definition and dividing lines of Asia are often not clear, as some interpretations exclude specific regions and countries. Asia is characterized by its vast size and diversity—for example, cultures, environments, geography, peoples, and wealth. Its largest economies are in China, India, Japan, and South Korea; and the largest cities are Mumbai, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

      Avatar: In Hinduism, an avatar is a manifestation or incarnation of a god who has purposefully descended from the heavens and taken human form. Divine in origin, avatars are human in substance: Vishnu descends as an avatar as Rama, in order to exploit a loophole to defeat an evil king who cannot be killed by gods (but can be killed by a human).

      Bangalore: Bangalore (also known as Bengaluru) is the third-largest city in India, and the capital of Karnataka State. It is regarded as the country's innovation and technology hub, nicknamed “The Silicon Valley of India.” Cities such as Bangalore became major centers of economic activity following India's transition to a market-oriented economy. Bangalore is now ethnically diverse, as over two-thirds of the population consist of migrants. The migration of professionals to the city has led to cosmopolitan lifestyles and an emerging middle class.

      Bhagavad Gita: A 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the Mahabharata but frequently treated on its own. It contains the teachings of Krishna as relayed to his brother-in-law Arjuna, one of the heroes of the Mahabharata.

      Bollywood: The term Bollywood is a portmanteau of the words “Bombay” and “Hollywood.” It has gained common usage since the 1970s to denote the Hindi-language cinema and film industry based in Mumbai. Bollywood is the center of film production in India—producing around 200 films yearly—mostly musicals that blend elements of several genres and narrate story through song and dance. As well as attracting audiences throughout India, Bollywood has gained popularity overseas, especially among the Indian diaspora.

      British Indian Empire: The British Indian Empire (also known as the British Raj) was a period of British colonial rule of South Asia (Bangladesh, Burma, India and Pakistan) between 1857 to 1947. It consisted of two major divisions: British India, which represented territories under direct British rule, and several hundred princely states with independent rulers. The British Indian Empire was governed by Queen Victoria as Empress of India, and supported by the viceroy and governor-general of India, secretary of state for India, Indian Civil Service, and the Indian Army. The empire ended in 1947 when it was partitioned into India and Pakistan (the eastern part of Pakistan later became Bangladesh).

      Buddhism: A religion and philosophy that originated in Ancient India around the 5th century. It spread throughout Asia during the early centuries. It is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (known as the Buddha). In the 20th century, Buddhism has seen significant revival, including in Europe and the United States. There are different forms and schools of Buddhism that vary in their philosophical outlook and respective practices. The two major branches are Theravada, which is practiced in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand; and Mahayana, popular in China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet, and Vietnam.

      Caste: Although used to describe social systems in various world regions, the word caste is often associated with Indian society; caste denotes endogamous hereditary groups bound together by Hindu practices. The Indian caste system has five main divisions or varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Sudras, and Untouchables), divided further into subcastes or jatis. Caste is a determinant of social relations, status and restrictions among Indian Hindus. Although the caste system has been criticized for unfairness and inequality, it continues to have a conspicuous hold on Indian society, especially in rural areas and small towns. However, caste divisions are becoming less important in some urban areas in response to modernity and legal forces.

      Civil war: A large-scale conflict within a country between organized groups to obtain political control. Civil war often lasts several years, involves armed forces, and results in a high number of civilian casualties and deaths. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between a civil war and other wars and civil disturbances.

      Civilization: The word civilization describes human cultures and societies, usually complex and urbanized societies with advanced economies, governance, legal systems, politics, social hierarchies, and technology. It has sometimes been used controversially, such as to compare superiority and progress in social development, or to contrast civil people in modern contexts to traditional people with primitive ways of life.

      Colonialism: Colonialism was a period of European settlement and sovereignty in other countries and territories from the late 15th to 20th centuries. Although colonial practices varied widely, they involved exploitation of local resources and changed the colony's economic, political, and social systems. The colonial system was gradually dismantled by the end of the 20th century in various world regions, following international pressure and nationalist movements in the colonies.

      Communism: A social and political ideology that promotes society without social class divisions. Communism is based on equality and common ownership of wealth and power, distinct from capitalism, which communists regard as exploitation of the working class. Although a variety of different forms of communism have existed throughout history, it was first developed into a comprehensive ideology by Karl Marx (1818–83) and Friedrich Engels (1820–95). In modern usage, communism refers to communist states such as China, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam, as well as individual labor movement trade unions, although some have little to do with communism. Communist states declined in number following the collapse of the Soviet Union, replaced by democratic systems and market economies.

      Culture: In everyday usage, culture is used in reference to the arts, music, and literature; or to represent people's beliefs, customs, and traditions that characterize their distinct way of living around the world. Social scientists use the term more broadly to denote aspects of human society that are socially and not biologically conveyed, thereby covering almost every facet of human behavior.

      Dharma: Also spelled Dhamma (a Pali variant), Dharma is a concept in Buddhism and Indian religions referring to the law that governs proper conduct. Jain-dharma, therefore, is the lifestyle prescribed by Jainism; Buddha-dharma is the lifestyle prescribed by the Buddha. The Buddha referred to the lifestyle described by his teachings as dhamma-vinaya, “the law of discipline.”

      Diaspora: Originally used only to refer to the dispersion of the Jewish population after the Babylonian exile, the term diaspora has come to refer to the migration of populations from their original homelands in large numbers, particularly when that migration is in response to a crisis, whether the forced removal of an ethnic group (such as the expulsion of non-Buddhists from Bhutan), the African diaspora resulting from the slave trade, or the New Orleans diaspora as Louisiana residents settled elsewhere after Hurricane Katrina.

      Digital Divide: Digital Divide refers to disparities in access to information technology according to country of residence, gender, income, or race. Within a country, the educated, upper-income, and urban residents tend to have better access to technology. There are also differences between countries and world regions, largely as a result of limited resources in developing countries, known as global digital divide. Barriers to the use of technology can also be cultural and linguistic: for example, English is the prevalent language on the Internet, although technologies can now handle other widely used languages.

      Ethnography: Ethnography refers both to a research strategy for gathering data on human societies, and to the final product—such as a book or monograph—of a research project. It involves a detailed and long-term observation of a particular community, such as by: living in a community, learning and conversing in the local language, and participating in social and cultural events. Data collection methods include participant observation (observation of daily behavior), genealogy, interviewing, and questionnaires. Early ethnographies were grounded in the study of small-scale, traditional societies, but from the late 20th century onward there has been an increasing interest in high civilizations and on contemporary issues such as globalization, human rights, poverty, and virtual communities.

      Genghis Khan: Genghis Khan (1162–1227) was the founder and military leader of the Mongol empire, one of the largest empires in world history, stretching from the Pacific to the Black Sea. He was born in northeast Mongolia as the son of a tribal chieftain, and was originally named Temujin. He was proclaimed Genghis Khan (“Universal Ruler”) in 1206 when he united Mongolia and its tribes under his rule.

      Globalization: Although there are many definitions of globalization, it refers generally to the integration and interconnectedness between cultures, economies, and societies across the globe. Examples include links between national economies, multinational companies, technological innovations such the Internet; and international organizations. Globalization occurs through a combination of economic, technological, and social factors; and has both positive and negative consequences. There is a concern that globalization benefits some countries more than others, and that it erodes traditional cultures.

      Himalayas: A vast mountain range in Asia extending over 1,491 miles (2,400 kilometers), including the world's highest peaks and major river systems. It has profoundly shaped the cultures and societies of south Asia, as many people live in the Himalayan region and areas it influences. The mountain range has separated regions, contributing to diverse customs and languages. The Himalayas are described in classical Indian sources and mythology, and many of its peaks are sacred in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.

      Hinduism: A major cultural, social, and religious tradition practiced primarily in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. It is an umbrella term that denotes diverse traditions and philosophies, with no single sacred doctrine or text. Hinduism is often characterized by worship of one or more of several gods and goddesses (e.g., Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu); sacred literature such as the Vedas Upanishads; traditional beliefs concerning and social structure; karma; reincarnation; and the nature of the universe.

      Hunter-gatherers: Hunter-gatherers are nomadic groups of people that hunt wild animals and gather plants for subsistence. The groups are small and consist usually of family members, with relatively egalitarian social structures, except for division of labor such as men taking responsibility for hunting. Subsistence by hunting and gathering was widespread in prehistoric times, and dominated most of human history until the Neolithic Age with transition to agriculture and more extensive, permanent human settlements.

      Indianized kingdom: From the 5th to 15th centuries, Hinduism and other aspects of Indian culture were introduced to southeast Asia. Indianized kingdoms were those kingdoms that had adopted Indian culture to a significant degree, though not necessarily as a result of conquest.

      Indus Valley civilization: An early community in the Indus Valley of Pakistan and western India that existed for about five centuries (ca. 2500–1500 B.C.E.). Archaeological studies on the Indus Valley began in the 1920s and suggest a highly developed community with centralized administration, city planning, goddess worship, and a form of writing that has not yet been deciphered. Archaeological sites include Harappa, Kalibangan, Lothal, and Mohenjo-Daro.

      Islam: A major religion with nearly a billion people worldwide, particularly in parts of Asia (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan), the Middle East, and North Africa. Its has become more popular in the West in recent years. Adherents of Islam are known as Muslims. They respect Islamic scripture called the Koran; sharia (religious law), which covers almost every aspect of life and society; and religious concepts and practices such as the Five Pillars of Islam, including ritual prayer, fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims believe in submission to Allah (God), and in Muhammad as the prophet of Allah. The major branches of Islam are Shia and Sunni.

      Jainism: An Indian religion, developed in the 1st millennium B.C.E., that emphasizes nonviolence and nonattachment to the material world. Jainism has always encouraged scholarship, and Jain communities throughout history have typically had a higher-than-average level of literacy. Today, Jains are an important religious minority in India, and have spread to other continents.

      Karma: A moral theory and law in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Karma is based on the premise that an individual's actions in life and previous states of existence determine present and future situations, especially happiness and suffering. Thus, morally bad acts will have negative future results, whereas good acts have positive consequences. Karma is also thought to determine the cycle of reincarnation. In particular, Karma plays an important role in Indian culture and view of life.

      Koran: The Koran (Qur'an or Coran) is the religious text of Islam and source of Islamic beliefs and knowledge. It is believed by Muslims to direct humankind, including economic, political, and social rules, as well as the ethics and morals for the Muslim community. Muslims believe that the Koran represents the word of God (Allah), as dictated by the angel Gabriel (Jibril) to his messenger the prophet Muhammad. It is believed that Muhammad's revelations began on the Night of Power—commemorated by Muslims during the month of Ramadan—over two decades until his death (c. 610–632). The Koran is written in classical Arabic, and consists of 114 chapters (sras) of varying length classed as either Meccan (received while Muhammad was in Mecca) or Medinan (received after Muhammad moved to Medina).

      Krishna: One of the major figures of Hinduism. Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu, the Hindu supreme god. Worship of Krishna, called Krishnaism, was a growing religious movement in the Middle Ages in India, and spread to the West in the 20th century in the form of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Gaudiya Vaishnavism devotees are better known in the west as “Hare Krishnas,” because of their devotional chanting of the holy names of Krishna.

      Mahabharata: One of two major Sanskrit epics. The Mahabharata, which is about 1.8 million words long (10 times as long as the Iliad and Odyssey combined), details a dynastic struggle for the throne of the kingdom of Hastinapura, and ends with the death of Krishna. The oldest portions may have been written as early as 400 B.C.E., but it is believed to have been edited into its current form in the Gupta period, around the 4th century C.E.

      Mantra: A sound or group of sounds that are believed to bring about a spiritual transformation when recited. The recitation of mantras began with the Vedic tradition and spread to other religions of India. Most famously, the syllable “aum” (sometimes transliterated in the United States as “om”) represents the whole of creation, and is recited in some religious practices to focus meditation.

      Muslim World: Muslim world (Ummah) is a concept in Islam referring to the worldwide community of Muslims, about one-fifth of the world's population (1.2 to 1.6 billion people). It is also sometimes used to denote countries and regions with a predominantly Muslim population. The Muslim world is united by religion and a shared sense of belonging, across diverse cultural and geographical settings.

      Nomads: A group of people with no permanent settlement that roam from place to place. There are two types of nomad: hunter-gatherers, also known as foragers, which move around in search of food; and those who practice nomadic pastoralism, based on seasonal herding of livestock, sometimes with semifixed residences. Prehistoric human societies were nomadic, until transitioning to agriculture and more extensive, permanent settlements. Today, nomads exist in remote parts of Africa and Asia.

      Nongovernmental organization: A legal, non-profit organization not directly controlled by government. Although many types of organizations are described as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the term usually denotes a social development purpose, such as groups involved in community and social services, environmental protection, and sustainable development. NGOs are structured in a variety of ways, and operate at local, provincial, national, and international levels.

      Ramayana: One of two major Sanskrit epics. Ramayana tells the story of Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, the Hindu supreme god. Like the Mahabharata, the Ramayana conveys Hindu teachings through stories of high adventure, in this case Vishnu's incarnation as Rama in order to defeat Ravana, the evil king who cannot be killed by gods, spirits, or demons.

      Samsara: The cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Indian religions.

      Science, Technology, and Society Studies: Social studies of science and technology began in the 1970s and 1980s, when universities across the globe set up interdisciplinary programs to position science and technology as socially embedded enterprises. This trend led gradually to the emergence of an interdisciplinary discipline called Science, Technology, and Society Studies.

      Secularization: A process whereby religious foundations and practices within a society—such as religious beliefs, authority, and attendance at places of worship—become less influential, replaced by non-religious values. Therefore, secularization separates religion from the cultural, economic, political, and social spheres of society. It is often associated with the rise of modern industrial societies in the 20th century.

      Taliban: An Islamist fundamentalist militia group formed in 1994 by Afghan students and religious leaders. It is led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, and is linked to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Their initial aim was to unify Afghanistan following civil war and the withdrawal of Soviet Union forces in 1989. The Taliban gained control over most of Afghanistan, including the capital of Kabul, and established an Islamic state with a strict interpretation of Islam. After the events of September 11, 2001, the Taliban was forcibly removed from power by the United States and others. It later regrouped in remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan as an insurgency movement.

      Upanishads: Early Hindu philosophical and religious texts, passed down orally. The earliest, from the last few centuries B.C.E., are called the main Upanishads or old Upanishads; the most recent of the rest were composed in the early modern period, though most date to antiquity and the early medieval period. The main Upanishads all function as exegetical works dealing with the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas.

      Urdu: The variety of the Hindi language spoken primarily by south Asian Muslims. Because of the tensions between Muslim and Hindu communities in south Asia, Hindi and Urdu are often asserted to be separate languages (Urdu uses Arabic script and Hindi uses Devanagari). They are, however, for the most part, mutually intelligible dialects of the same language. Their distinct features are the most present in specialized applications like literary or jargon-heavy writing, in which specific vocabularies and grammatical constructions have developed independently.

      Vajrayana Buddhism: A ritual-heavy school of Buddhist thought, often called Tantric Buddhism because of its grounding in the Buddhist Tantras, a set of mystical scriptures. Vajrayana is an esoteric tradition, meaning that many of its teachings are not written down and are only passed from teacher to student; some teachers make much of secret ritual, while others dismiss secrecy as having any importance, and simply prioritize the teacher-student relationship.

      Vedas: Ancient Indian texts, the oldest Hindu scriptures and the oldest Sanskrit literature of any sort. The Vedas, which date from about 1500 to 150 B.C.E., include the Rigveda, containing hymns; the Yajurveda, containing recitations to be performed by a priest known as the adhvaryu; the Samaveda, containing hymns to be chanted by a priest known as the udgatr; and the Atharvaveda, a collection of spells and charms. Hindu tradition holds that the Vedas were divinely revealed. The epic Mahabharata is sometimes called “the fifth Veda,” a reference to its antiquity and importance.

      Yoga: A series of mental and physical disciplines with origins in ancient India. Although practiced along with meditation in Indian religions, yoga's popularity has spread to many other countries and is practiced by many with no religious or spiritual content. The goals of yoga are to improve physical or spiritual health, and yogic practices vary from breath control and ritualistic cleansing to exercise and flexibility training. In the West, it has been adopted both as a form of alternative medicine and as a form of exercise.

      Zoroastrianism: A Persian religion founded by the prophet Zoroaster around the 6th century B.C.E. It spread to central and south Asia in antiquity, first through Persia's cultural influence, and later when many Zoroastrians migrated to western India in the 7th century C.E. Today, most Zoroastrians live in India. In Iran and central Asia, there has been a revival of interest in Zoroastrianism in the modern era, long after the religion was largely displaced by Islam, and in 2003, Tajikistan celebrated the religion's 3,000th anniversary.

      Gareth Davey Hong Kong Shue Yan University

      Resource Guide

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