Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Keeping History in Context: Look at the Past as a Different and Separate World

In a digression amidst a long but worthy piece on "World History," "Another Damned Medievalist" writes
My historical playground is one that assumes that our ancestors lived in a very different world. My colleagues and I study our subjects pretty much in- and of themselves, for what they were and in the context of their times. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, we are generally able to be objective and yet find great relevance, not by comparing events like VietNam and Iraq, which is frankly very superficial on most points and masks many important details, but by trying to look at a different big picture, e.g., the history of a country and people who once were world leaders in thought and art and how their position in the larger world changed over time. And of course, understanding Iraq's history would still do little to explain 9/11, because the people who flew the planes into the WTC weren't Iraqis. You see, we're trained to look at lots of details that make it much harder to tie events like those of September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq together into any big picture. That same attention to the small questions makes us much more aware of the myriad of events that might help to explain the long-term cultural interaction between Islam (in many forms and in many regional and historical varieties) and 'The West.' And, of course, to ask if that is the central question, or whether it's just the American version of Western culture that's the problem.
It is a point well-taken.

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