Little wonder we stumble in life.

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World History and its Narrative Discourse

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.

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Feat of Facebook

She stared at her phone screen, and it glowed against her eyes as she took in her image on her facebook site. People were always telling her she needed to be more active on it, that they wanted to see her more, but everytime she went on, she felt this sinking feeling.

She was an embarrassment. Every time she saw her picture, everytime she posted something or commented on something, she felt it. She should just shut down the whole site and run away from this whole internet interaction. At least when she was around people, she didn’t feel so self-conscious. She was thinking about the other person, not herself. But these days, whenever she was around people, they were always on the phones. It pissed her off.

But more than that, it made her afraid. Afraid, because if she was forced to come back here again and again, forced through these jarring interactions, she would expose herself too much, show people her real self, and they… they would tear her apart for it. People were about as gossipy and ruthless as she was ashamed for her differences and the body that hides them. Because that’s what she saw, looking at her photo. A face, a body that represents a whole. A smile so still it appears fake, the body too exposed by the clothes wrapped around it. Legs filled with sexual presence, arms filled with vulnerability, face belying too much sorrow. Everything too exposed, as she stretched on the grass, reading.

The book revealed too much, too, for those who knew. And there was those who knew, had to be. Catcher In The Rye, the book about Holden Caulfield, the character everyone she knew hated, who she alone loved because she felt like she knew him, was walking around in his life, in his skin. She could tell no one else this, but here was the evidence. She tapped edit, then choose facebook photo. She had to show a different self, she couldn’t be that girl, who looked their nose down on everyone and hated them; she knew it was all in her head. At least, she needed to show them a different her.

She scrolled through her pictures, saw pictures of her with friends, family… lots of scenery; she liked to keep the focus off herself… places she’d been, things she’d done… “I don’t know…” she sighed. She picked one close by, that was good enough. She stood by the side of the frame, crowded by a restaurant her family had taken her too. It was an unintentional shot by her brother, just as she was turned towards him. He had uploaded it with relish, telling her, too, that she didn’t have enough photos up on facebook. But part of her remained certain he did it just to embarrass her. Little brothers are so cruel sometimes.

She knew there was nothing particularly wrong in this picture, but her hair was too messy, her eyes too bright, and she tapped back. Find another photo… she thought, and kept scrolling.

Out of desperation, she almost chose a plate of food, if only to obscure her face, but she knew how that would look to the outside world; it would look like she was hiding. And from a world that demanded her presence, she knew that wouldn’t do, so she continued down.

Finally she found it, a group shot from school where she was reasonably hidden in a sea of faces. They had all taken a picture in front of the library during free period, and she pictured right from the centre, surrounded by her group. She chose it, cropped it, and stared in satisfaction as her eyes flitted from Alex to Sara to Jessica, and all around at the friends surrounding her, avoiding her own face completely.

She exited the app. There, she thought. Maybe that oughta hold them a little while. It wasn’t a post, but she really had nothing to say, so she’d just have to think about it a while longer.

Partly inspired by this.