Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dumb 'World' Histories

Reading this post on 'Big History', so-called, by Michael Smith, I'm reminded of all the problems I have with world histories and even regional historical surveys.  Usually, they're lacking in archaeological nous, have little or no accurate prehistoric content (a big problem when discussing the pre-Columbian Americas, Africa, and the Pacific), and repeat common misconceptions found in older material.  There's also a clear bias towards white males of the second millennium CE.  The European peninsula features far too heavily in world histories, as do men (the achievements of women are naturally underplayed), noble and royal life (poor people are just too badly documented, aren't they?), and the last five hundred years (you know how few sources there are on pre-modern history, don't you?).

Open a history of the world at the middle and I'll be surprised if you're not in the seventeenth century at that point (look in a bookshop and try it - bonus points if it's the eighteenth).  More often than not, Europe will be the focus of attention.  There are some exceptions to this, but world histories that treat history as something with truly global roots are few and far between.  That results in a general lack of familiarity with the really interesting things found outside of Europe, before five hundred years ago, or made by women, and that has the effect of making history boring (not to mention all the other things wrong with this approach to human life).

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