Browse Primary Sources
Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.
Print shows several men some are drinking, some serving wine. One plays a stringed instrument.

An Abassid Caliph Drinking Wine, Presented by His Wine Steward

This image shows customs of the Abassid caliphs of Soutwestern Asia which included drinking wine. This would have been a part of their culture when Muslims explored other parts of the Asia and parts of Africa in this period.

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Bronze sculpture of Buddha sitting under a tree

Buddha Sheltered by a Naga

This sculpture is of the serpent king Muchilinda protecting Buddha, popular in the 12th century Khmer Kingdom. Images like this were sponsored by King Jayavarman VII, who was the first Buddhist king after a long line of Hindu rulers.

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Bronze sculpture of Shiva standing with a head dress.

The Half-Male, Half-Female Form of Shiva (Shiva Ardhanarishvara)

This sculpture is of Shiva, originally found in Kerala, southwestern India, shows the importance of religious symbols in Hinduism. Shiva is a major Hindu god who is associated with the opposing ideas of destruction and regeneration.

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Illustration shows an island with a collection of buildings in the center

Kilwa Map Illustration

This illustration is of the trading city state of Kilwa or Kilwa Kiswani on the Swahili Coast (that is modern Tanzania) which flourished between the 12th and 15th century C.E.

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Stellar diagram features a drawing of a ship surrounded by Chinese characters

Diagram of Admiral Zheng He’s Navigational Chart, 15th Century

This chart by an unknown author shows the navigational route that was taken by Admiral Zheng He from Hormuz in southwest Asia to go to Calicut, India that is described by Ma Huan here.

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Excerpt from the Memoirs of Ma Huan

The following excerpt is from the memoir of Ma Huan (1380-1460), a Chinese Muslim voyager and translator, who accompanied Admiral Zheng He on three of his seven voyages. The excerpt focuses on their journey in Calicut (modern day Kozhikode, India) in the 1430s and highlights on aspects of their experiences there.

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Excerpt from Ibn Battuta's Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354

The following excerpt focuses on Ibn Battuta (1304-1369), a Moroccan Berber scholar and explorer, who traveled extensively in Central Asia, China, northern and eastern Africa, as well as the Mediterranean for much of his adult life.

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Copper-alloy cast crucifix, with two kneeling figures resting on bar above hands, with a third projecting below the central figure's feet.

Crucifix (Nkangi Kiditu)

This cross or cosmogram from the 17th century shows the way in which the Kongolese understanding of Christianity incorporated traditional thinking and is in essence both a good example of syncretism and a warning. It shows the four moments of the sun and integrates magical protective properties that are a part of this matrilineal culture.

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Excerpt of letter from Nzinga Mbemba to Portuguese King João III

In 1526, the king of the Kongo, Nzinga Mbemba (who by this time had adopted the Christian name of Afonso I) began writing a series of 24 letters to the Portuguese King Joao III appealing for an end to the slave trade.

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Wooden male figure decorated with pigment, nails, cloth, beads, shells, arrows, leather, nuts, twine

Power Figure: Male (Nkisi)

While this particular piece was created in the 19th century, it represents a traditional depiction of values of the Kongo peoples. The Kongo believe that the great god, Ne Kongo, brought the first sacred medicine (or nkisi) down from heaven in an earthenware vessel and placed it upon three stones or termite mounds.

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