Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Crash Course history, both World and US. And it seems to me that, although the channel does focus on history outside America, such as on history in the Middle East and Asia, there is still something of an exclusivity involved.
While watching World History, I gave some thought to the fact that they gave Africa only three episodes on World History 1 & 2 (72 episodes overall), one episode on Latin America, and no episodes on Australia or New Zealand, or even Canada. And then they dedicate a history course to America in detail; according to John [Green], not because of Euro-centrism, but because it is a major world power and thus relevant to all. Yet I can’t help but wonder how much of that is really national pride at least partly to the exclusion of outside perspectives. I mean, certainly nothing is written or thought of in a vacuum, and a little passion for your country is of course allowed. But would John have even considered dedicating a course to another country, say China, in more detail? I bet if he was born there, he would; I myself would certainly do a course on Australian history if I were a Crash Course history host. Perhaps there simply isn’t demand, but wouldn’t learning the histories of countries not our own broaden our minds the same way learning languages in school does? So shouldn’t we do that more?
History is great not just for learning the past but also understanding the present, something I didn’t really appreciate until Crash Course history. The historical context of Austen’s novels, for example: the fact that women’s roles were to become wives speaks even to today’s attitudes towards women. At my sister’s wedding, I remember someone off-handedly joking about how all that was left was to “marry off the other one,” not even to mention my new brother-in-law’s conservative views. I think Austen’s novels were perhaps an exploration on under what circumstances she might get married, divorced to her reality, and her female protagonists were also perhaps explorations of her own character as well. But apart from all that, it was often in Crash Course US History that I thought recurring themes still relevant today, particularly on the topics of prejudice and freedom, were quite interesting as well.
When I was in school, I learned Australian history so much, that by high school I was so sick of it that I would’ve been glad for anything else, especially as what I was taught was practically exclusively early colonisation of Australia and about Aboriginees. So when I entered The American International School, I grasped gladly to American history. But these are the only two histories I was taught; yet I was also taught French, Spanish, Japanese and Italian, not to mention briefly Indonesian at some point, throughout school too. I believe learning languages in school is compulsory in order to teach children to be more open minded about other cultures. However, why isn’t history treated the same way? Why is it so largely exclusionary, at least in my experience? We should learn the histories not only of our own countries, but of others as well. And don’t tell me that’s what World History is for; that should really be the starting point to learn more. World History, it seems both in Crash Course and across other courses, is really at the moment more like the General Knowledge of history: a special interest course but ultimately useless. History, however, isn’t useless, and in order to become more rounded individuals, perhaps we need to think more carefully about the stories we tell each other, even the non-fictional ones.
This has led me once again into the fantasy of what education could be. Perhaps you could learn World History (well) in primary school, and then in high get a specific-country elective (ie the country is elective, not the class), for one continent per school year. By the end, then you’d get an overall understanding of world history as background, and specific country histories as an expansion of that. Another step towards the ideal plan.
Another thing about the historical story that we tell is that it always starts with the history of the dominant peoples rather than the original natives. No doubt this is that bias of what is “our” history opposed to their history, “their” meaning the natives. But is it bias that leads us to focus on this, or does the excuse of easy access have some sway here? In my opinion, uneasy access to references from the past of other people isn’t necessarily an excuse not to teach it () know what’d make it more accessible? More initiative to research it), unless there’s so little reference that it would mean that everything is speculation and not fact. I think that this isn’t the truth in many cases, though. If history is what’s written, does that mean what isn’t written can never be known? Archaeology, oral traditions, living descendants, cultural art; even in written historical periods, it is always possible, even likely, to have other resources, even if the way history’s taught now might give us the opposite impression. Maybe I don’t know much at all about what resources are available, but I do know what I want to see, and that is a balance, even an unequal one, between all the peoples involved in a particular story, not just the victors.
I believe in any kind of storytelling, both comedy and tragedy are essential. Comedies uplift our spirit, and tragedies teach us to be more self aware. Both mind and spirit are essentials to becoming more wellrounded human beings, but in particular, tragedies, even ones that only reached individuals and not society as a whole, are perhaps more particular to history. Because, just like tragedies, histories serve to teach us about ourselves and our society. It’s just that we’re fortunate enough for our society not to have led to tragic ends, on the whole. And things are continuing to get better into the modern age, which is where comedy comes in: to give us hope for the future.