|Posted on February 17, 2015 at 2:45 PM|
Anyone who has studied History at school - which I suspect is everyone - will be familiar with the Norman Conquest, Tudor monarchs and the Second World War. Indeed, I would bargain that nearly every school child in England could, at the very least, recognise the eminent names of ‘William the Conqueror’, ‘Henry VIII’ and ‘Winston Churchill’. Yet, how many among us have even heard of Mansa Musa, the Emperor of Mali? Who could explain the historical significance of the Rashidun Caliphs? Or the 1911 Revolution in China? And therein lies the problem. The majority of the history curriculum is confined to the European continent, and many will go through Secondary and Further Education having never studied anything in a historical context broader than the extent of the English language. A Eurocentric view of History will lead us to believe that the world revolves around us - and this will only be to our detriment.
I understand that learning about events such as the Norman Conquest are useful in developing a national consciousness, but such periods of history have arguably little applicable value to pertinent events today. How can we expect ourselves as a nation to draw informed conclusions from the ongoing events in the Middle East if we know nothing of the History of Islam? What value do terms such as ‘globalisation’ have if we are ignorant to any cultures alien to what we perceive as ‘Western’? These are not rhetorical questions; it is high-time we addressed these issues by expanding the syllabus instead of, quite frankly, wasting time writing cliché diary entries of a child growing up in the Blitz.
The purpose of History lessons should be to facilitate a deeper understanding of our own time by placing the modern world in historical context. To only learn about the History of the ‘West’ inflates our own sense of status and belittles the formative role which other cultures have played in world affairs. It can also lead to the formation of quite damaging assumptions. For example, it is often thought that Africa has always been a backward, uncivilised, malaria and famine ridden desert. In actuality, for centuries prior to colonial exploits, West Africa was dominated by fabulously wealthy empires, such as the aforementioned Empire of Mali, which were centres of culture and learning in their time. From around 1000 AD to 1500 AD, the East African coast was peppered with modern city states which were connected to the Middle East, India, China and Southeast Asia by sea trade routes which foreshadowed the globalised world we know today. The volume of traffic in the Indian Ocean was vast and trade routes were characterised by varying degrees of free trade, free movement and interchange of technology. Students of A2 Economics will recognise these as the characteristics of modern globalisation. At the moment, we only learn about African history, if at all, in the context of the transatlantic slave trade. Our misunderstanding of the past can lead to misconceptions of the present, and unless our misconceptions are corrected we will not be able to respond responsibly to events which occur in those same regions today.
We are used to thinking that our story is that of the Western, Christian peoples, when in actual fact our story is that of humans on the planet. I am not suggesting that we should not learn any British or European history. Quite the contrary; my argument is that the History we learn should have applicable value to the modern day. Just as the History of Islam will allow us to better comprehend the recent crises involving the Islamic State, our own History will allow us to appreciate the issues we currently face here in Britain. At the present moment, the History curriculum is disproportionately weighted towards the Western world at the expense of other periods which are just as important. Unless this balance is redressed we will delude ourselves with dangerous misapprehensions about the world we live in. This will have dire consequences both for us and the rest of the world.
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