Friday, September 11, 2009

History: "Inevitably Distorted by the Historian"

Many times, in fact nearly all times as students, we are taught that history is definite. It happened. It is as simple as that. We have grown into such a culture, though I am not aware if it is on a global scale or a much more isolated one, where we are simply taught to accept what is told us about history. Do not repeat it, do not dispute it. It happened. But what Abu-Lughood begins to teach us in Before European Hegemony is actually quite the opposite. Within the introductory section of his writing, Abu-Lughood disputes the accuracy of simply recorded history. Particularly stating that history is all relevent to what you set the start date at. She states "...beginning with a different outcome at a different moment in itme will lead to a different account of sequence and a different set of items to be explained." (pg 13, Before European Hegemony). It is something to consider, then, that much of what were told happened did, in fact, occur. But the sequence of events that lead up to said happenstance could vary entirely based on which account it is told from.

Abu-Lughod exemplifies this the best; the hegemony of Europe often shrouded (or still shrouds) the retarted state that most of Europe was in during the Pax Mongolica Era. From our current perception of present-day Europe, how could it have been possible that Europe was a peripheral in this system? I find it incredibly interesting that our perception is capable of turning our vision of history opaque. Nonetheless, Europe did exist as a peripheral and to the rest of the burgeoning world, Europe was first but a pesky blister that waged war upon one of its subsystems in the Holy Land. Only eventually was it looked upon as a new market, and even then its dependency on this world system, to grow its economy, was prevelent.

This, I find, to be the most interesting bit of the reading. In our daze of "Western greatness", we fail to recognize how globalization was (and still is) a conduit to supposed Western superiority. Without the already existent center and world system of Pax Mongolica, the European economy (particularly in the Northwest) might not have had ample opportunity to revitalize and grow. Without this particular boost of modernization (that is to say the rebirth of culture, knowledge, trade, and all other such things), Northwestern Europe may have actually remained in The Dark Ages. The outcome of that particular scenario is, most obviously, too difficult to predict; but an ever-important fact remains. History is seen only through perspective.

I think this is a beyond important fact to know and accept. As our world becomes continually globalized, different cultures will continue to meet and interact on all different levels (trade, religion, cultural ideals, norms, etc.). If we do not remember that history changes based on the lens it is seen through, how could we ever expect to fully integrate ourselves into a truly global community? While, clearly, this is a Utopia that is more than likely unachievable: people, societies, religions, cultures, and all such things (from here on out, referred to as "assemblies") will continually strive for uniformity. Perhaps, the answer to our differences on all such levels is not war, or even negotiation; but, instead, a sound comprehension of the lens that each assembly.

1 comment:

  1. Nick, I really like your points here. It really makes me think of the idea expressed by Howard Zinn in his book, A People’s History of the United States (I can't get it to underline, sorry). That it is simply impossible to record history or report the news in a completely objective fashion, as the amount of information that exists is so great that it cannot all be included, and deciding what is included or not is by definition subjective. Your textbook could cover the Battle of Gettysburg in a completely fair, even sense, but leave out another battle entirely. The news can cover the story on Pakistan fairly (not frequent in fact, though) but ignore the news from the DRC or Gabon. Right there we see the subtle bias creeping in. All information we receive is invariably shown through the eyes of the presenter.