Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What I Want To Be For Halloween

This is scarier than anything:
If you know that you will have all kinds of time for the next two days, read that article so you might better understand the following post.
Or, just read a snippet, or nothing at all.
We had to read and review the 24 page literary equivalent to a scab and write our response.

The article entitled “Nature and Control of Minoan Foreign Trade,” by Malcolm Weiner, is an attempt to show that the Minoan Palaces, centers of political and economic power in Minoan times, controlled foreign trade on their home island of Crete, instead of the separate settlements on the island having to get by on their own. The Minoans lived on an island with limited resources, and therefore had need of the resources it lacked, and, being an island, it already had at least basic seafaring vessels that could be perfected for long distance trade. The reason the palaces were in charge of long distance trade, instead of private seamen, was probably because “the palaces provided the critical incentive, investment, and infrastructure required.” However, the way Weiner presents his case is not as straightforward as just stated. Both Weiner’s writing style and his reasoning lead to confusion for the reader . Weiner’s structure and presentation of facts, connections between facts, and conclusions are not entirely sound. He does support his conclusion, but with scattered facts that are difficult to point out at first glance. Weiner’s conclusions are stated in a persuasive manner, but might be more so with more convincing evidence, or simply by being more boldly stated. There are many other shortcomings in the article, including, but not limited to, the lack of interconnecting evidence of palaces being in control not only just of foreign trade, but of domestic trade as well. It is an informative article, but definitely not one that is easy to read for these and other reasons.

The methodology of Weiner’s article is not entirely sound. Weiner separates the article into sections according to time period: Pre-, Old, and New Palace Trade. He focuses mainly on the evidence collected in the Old and New Palace time periods. It is also from these time periods that he draws his conclusions. However, a few of his thoughts appear to be somewhat incomplete, scattered, or redundantly stated. For example, Weiner discusses the importance of “ships suitable for long voyage…ships’ crews and provisions, plus shipyards and shipwrights; goods for exchange… establishment of relations with foreign courts and ports; and…a chain of safe harbors” to foreign sea trade. The remainder of the paragraph, however, does not discuss any evidence that the Minoans put these assets into use for foreign trade, but instead talks about pirates and how Minoan foreign trade was probably the reason for piracy arising in that area. Pirates are very interesting, yes, but why begin to build up a foundation for what could be extensive proof that Minoans did most of their long distance trade by sea if you’re later going to abandon that thought and switch over to a discussion of piracy? This list of seafaring assets with its diversion into piracy appears to be nothing more than a sidetrack leading nowhere since he later declares that “long-distance overland trade is likely to have been more extensive than sea trade between Crete and the Near East,” immediately cutting down what he’d set up earlier. He builds up a platform for explaining trade by sea as what the Minoans did and then declares it would be more practical that they traded by land.

Another problem with Weiner’s methodology is that he jumps around in presenting his evidence so that the reader has a very difficult time knowing exactly what is being said, let alone concluded. It is true that the evidence for the things that Weiner is declaring is sometimes merely conjecture owing to lack of concrete evidence of Minoans centuries ago, but if he really wanted to sound believable and convincing to the reader, he would not refute his own conclusions in the same phrase. He refutes his own evidence, for instance, with the statement about the pirates that dealt most specifically with “single private merchantmen carrying goods of high value” when he said just before that long distance overseas trade was provided for by the palaces. The private merchants mentioned that were attacked by pirates have nothing to do with state-procured boats carrying goods to or from foreign lands, and thus the statement on piracy was irrelevant to everything else stated in the paragraph.

The basic idea that Weiner tries to convey is that the Minoans did indeed engage in long-distance or foreign trade and that the palaces were in charge of this action. His evidences support the theory that the Egyptians and other civilizations in the Ancient Near East were perhaps the peoples that the Minoans conducted the most trade with, a conclusion drawn mostly from the fact that Weiner only gives examples from trade with these peoples. He also discusses instances when trade occurred between Anatolian peoples and the Minoans. But Weiner does not always believe his own evidence, or is simply uncomfortable drawing bold conclusions from what he cites. For instance, Wiener discusses the fragment of a statue depicting an Egyptian official named User found at the palace of Knossos. He says that it would be unwise to disregard a broken bit of a statue of foreign material said to be of an Egyptian ambassador, but then says in the same sentence that the “incomplete User statue can hardly be considered persuasive evidence of the presence of an Egyptian ambassador or resident agent at Knossos.” He undermines his own reliability by making statements like this one.

Weiner’s objectives at times are rather unclear, but towards the end of the article—as though he knew he would have to rein in his thoughts in order to end the article with a clear conclusion, and after he has scattered his evidence in statements that vary in their persuasive ability—Weiner wraps up his theories in a way that make them appear fairly well-grounded, understandable, and even convincing. One clearly stated conclusion is also supported by convincing evidence—that “the existence of an interpreter suggests regular contact, trade beyond the scope of sign language or a tourist shopping vocabulary.” Weiner precedes this comment with evidence of a man from Crete living in a Near Eastern city called Ugarit, where he worked as an interpreter and was paid in tin. It is a true statement even today that one would not need a resident interpreter in one’s land if only the occasional speaker of a particular foreign language ever came by.

Weiner could have improved his article if he had discussed the inter-palace and inter-settlement trade on Crete itself in relation to the control the Minoan palaces had over foreign trade, instead of assuming this relationship would be understood by the reader. Also, some statements with potential for interesting discussion get forgotten, as in the instance cited above when Weiner started out naming what would be necessary for long distance sea travel and ended up elaborating on pirates. Another weakness on Weiner’s part is that he distracts the reader from the purpose of the article with excessive amounts of personal acknowledgements placed with frequency throughout the article. These declarations of great gratitude to some colleague or other for their “comments and assistance, given generously notwithstanding our differing views on the quest at issue” stray too far from the normal citation mark. This gratitude is something better stated on one of the five pages of dedications, acknowledgements, and thank-you’s put in again at the end of the article.

Weiner’s conclusion is that palaces were in control of long distance trade, specifically during the Old and New Palace periods. It shouldn’t take sixteen pages (not including the acknowledgements or citations) to say that. The evidence isn’t even that overwhelming. He just keeps making the same statements over and over, occasionally pausing to throw in specific examples.

Anyway, I'm glad I'm not Malcom Weiner so I don't have to deal with the ridicule I'm sure college students are giving him all over the world, and I'm glad I wasn't a Minoan. I'd have to dress like this:
Personally, I don't see the advantages to wearing a cat on your head. And the idea behind the open bodice is that it was hot...well maybe they ought to have shortened their skirts a little, or thinned them out.
But men weren't much better off:
Of course, Minoans let women participate in cool activities like this:

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