Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
As I mentioned way back here, I’ve been avoiding television and radio in an effort to wean myself from idiocy. As part of that effort, I’ve been partaking of some of the Great Courses offered by The Teaching Company. I think the Great Courses series is terrific, by the way — if you have any sort of commute, I recommend spending that car time listening to the stuff put out by The Teaching Company. You’ll learn something, and with their material loaded up on your iPod, you stand a very good chance of never having to listen to the vacuous opinions of Sean Hannity.
Recently, I took a chance on the course entitled “A Brief History of the World,” lectured by Professor Peter N. Stearns. I went into it thinking it would be a very broad overview of world historical events and trends, and I guess it qualifies as that — at least to an extent. Still, I was surprised by the tone and emphasis. I guess I’d never realized that World History had emerged in recent years as a unique discipline, and though I figured PC, globalism, and multiculturalism had crept into history teaching, I hadn’t realized they’d become so . . . institutionalized.
According to Wikipedia:
World History looks for common patterns that emerge across all cultures. World historians use a thematic approach, with two major focal points: integration (how processes of world history have drawn people of the world together) and difference (how patterns of world history reveal the diversity of the human experience).
So, World History is explicitly about multiculturalism and diversity. Great. Fascinating. Super. In fact, I don’t think it’s unfair to describe World History as sociology viewed across a world historical timeline. I don’t know about you, but while I’ve often enjoyed history — the study of what happened, who was involved in it, which army was the most powerful, and so forth — sociology often bores me. Not because I’m disinterested in how ancient peoples might have lived, mind you. It’s more because it tends to be taught by people who have an ideological axe to grind.
Anyway, most of what I know about history I learned from Mel Brooks’ “History of the World: Part I,” so take what I say with a grain of salt. Professor Stearns surely knows way more than I ever will. Beyond that, he’s a good speaker, and he keeps the course moving at a decent clip. Still, I can’t recommend this course. The topic is handled so broadly that all but the totally ignorant will feel like they’re going over well-established ground, and the PC-ishness of the content is just about maddening. (Though Professor Stearns takes pains to frame World History as being something other than an anti-Western program, it’s damn hard to take him at face value.) I see the reviews of the course aren’t all that great. So I guess I’m not alone in my opinion.
As I listened to the course, I scribbled down some of the odder things I heard. Odd to my ears, at any rate. I thought it’d be amusing to share them here. Perhaps they’re all completely valid, provable, etc. Perhaps they’re all established historical facts at this point, and I’m just an ignoramus. I apologize up front if, through inaccurate recall or imprecise note-taking, I’ve mischaracterized any of Professor Stearns’ views. But though I’ve framed several of these points in snarky terms, I don’t believe they misrepresent the content of the course.
Hey, if you’re looking for some awesome history courses put out by the Teaching Company, I can heartily recommend Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s course on the Vikings, as well as his course on ancient Asia Minor. Here’s Paleo Retiree’s review of the latter course over at 2 Blowhards.
So, without further ado. . . Things I’ve Learned from World History:
- If you’re giving a course on World History, it’s important to spend two full lectures telling the listener about the discipline of World History — its adherents, its theories, and its history. This is all just for background and has nothing to do with convincing the listener that World History is a) not stupid, and b) not just a lame attempt to lower his appreciation of Western Civilization.
- Women probably invented farming because, being the primary gatherers, they were more likely to drop seeds and notice them sprouting. (Isn’t this a bit like saying that women likely invented the vacuum cleaner because they were more likely to do house work?)
- Female gatherers were responsible for bringing home more calories than male hunters.
- Men took part in hunting in large part because they liked to boast about it. Eating meat — it’s about the boastin’, not the roastin’.
- Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Islamic traveler, is worth devoting a full 20 minutes to. But no time for Alexander the Great, Plato, Augustus, Napoleon, Bismark, Luther, or Hitler. (To be fair, there aren’t many individuals named in the course. One of the aims of World History seems to be to de-emphasize the individual. Ibn Battuta, however — that guy is fucking important.)
- You may think Battuta was somewhat similar to Marco Polo. Well, you’d be wrong, because Polo was probably lying about his travels. We know this because his writings don’t mention the Chinese practice of foot binding.
- Three religions can be identified as “world religions” — Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. However, only one — Islam – is worth devoting a whole lecture to.
- Islam was a tolerant-ish faith not very concerned with conversion.
- Confucianism (Han) and Hinduism (Gupta) were very important to their respective empires, but the social and religious foundations of the Roman Empire weren’t all that notable or interesting. Sorry, Jupiter, Homer, Plato, Hellenism, etc. But those Romans — they did build some nice aqueducts.
- Slavery. Phew, that shit was bad. However, a lot of the slavery throughout history was really pretty all right, or at least served a purpose. African slavery was the only totally bad slavery.
- Islam is pro-woman because it’s against infanticide.
- The Greeks and the Romans shouldn’t be seen as having fostered Western Civ. because they also contributed to Eastern and African traditions. (Isn’t this a bit like saying that Babe Ruth shouldn’t be considered part of the Yankee tradition because he also played a few years for the Red Sox?)
- In fact, Western Civ. isn’t really a definable thing.
- The West got strong largely by stealing ideas from other cultures. Like the printing press.
- You know, Gandhi was sort of right — the West has no civilization.
- Christianity gave Westerners the idea that they were above nature. This is why Westerners have such an urge to dominate others.
- The Mongols were a very tolerant people who engaged in conquest mostly because it fostered contact between cultures. (Apparently, China’s building a wall to keep them out was just an advanced form of Chinese bigotry.)
- When the Mongols did cruel things, it was usually because their armies were small, and cruelty was the only tactic available to them.
- Genghis Khan was a sort of proto-feminist because his wife is known to have advised him.
- Islamic and Mongol conquest = multiculturalism. Western conquest = colonialism.
- Black Death (spread to the West from China) was kinda okay for Europe because it inspired innovation. However, disease spread to the New World from Western Europe — this inspired no innovation to speak of.
- Subsaharan Africa circa 1200 – 1300 was about as advanced as Europe around the same time.
- Contact with the Mongols is what made Europe so advanced, because it forced Europeans to open up to other cultures. At which point the Europeans could steal stuff.
- Africa ended up lagging behind the rest of the world in large part because they were never conquered by the Mongols. Thus they never benefited from the Mongols’ generous program of multiculturalism.
- Isolated cultures — those in Africa, those in the pre-Columbian Americas — hardly qualify as historical, because there’s no cultural cross-pollination. History, you see, is multiculturalism. (This isn’t expressed directly, but it’s the general idea.)
- The West’s development of guns and cannon was almost wholly the result of “dumb luck.” The West stole gun powder from China, then just happened to stumble upon the techniques of metal casting through its experience making church bells.
- African polygamy was caused by slavery.
- Western society is more disdainful of poor people than other societies.
- When China outpaces the West: “We all need to realize how backward Western Europe was at this time.” When the West movies ahead of the East: “It’s a mistake to view China as being backward.”
- To the extent that America is “exceptional,” it’s due to its dependence on religion, guns, and violence.
- During the 20th century, America had no more upward mobility than Europe. (Given all those dirt-poor immigrants pouring into America at that time, it’s hard to take this seriously. Did they not come here seeking upward mobility? I guess it depends on how the statistic is figured.)
- The only U.S. president worth mentioning is Jimmy Carter, and then only because he was concerned about civil rights in Latin America.
- In reaction to feminism, male violence against women, including rape, has probably increased enormously over historical norms.
- Coding babies by color (blue for boys, pink for girls) is likely a patriarchal reaction against feminism.