Fabrizio del Wrongo has an hilarious post on “What I Learned About World History” after listening to Peter N. Stearns, one of the leading current world historians, give a Great Course for The Teaching Company.
Here are some extracts:
- 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?)
- 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.)
- Three religions can be identified as “world religions” — Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. However, only one — Islam – is worth devoting a whole lecture to.
- 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.)
- African polygamy was caused by slavery.
- 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.
- Coding babies by color (blue for boys, pink for girls) is likely a patriarchal reaction against feminism.
Read the whole thing at Uncouth Reflections.