Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Blog Post 2: in-class Eurocentrism

The first week of my winter quarter have gone by uneventfully as planned so far. I thoroughly enjoy three out of my four professors and the one that I do not like explicitly declared that his course would be "straightforward and comprehensive." (code talk for easy A)  The courses I am taking are Global Studies 100A (i.e. "History of globalization"), History 134C ("History of Modern European Economy"), History 125C (History of Germany in the 20th century) and History 121E (History of Europe, 1914-45). As you can easily discern from the latter three course titles, I am a History major with a concentration on Modern Europe: it may come across as a surprise then that two of the three history courses count as foundational units toward my second major of Global Studies. The History 121E professor troublesomely reminded me that "Europe is responsible, for better or for worse, for most of the attributes of the modern age." Additional reminders of the paramount importance of 20th-century Europe's economic history on the "world" vis-à-vis the dictates of its imperial powers (and influence on the west), only further hammered home in another "Global Studies course" (History 134C) the ultimate metonym embodied in a peninsula that could fit into Canada.
And yet, isn’t history more about examination and introspection as opposed to mere description? The arc of European dominance, I have been told before-runs from ancient Greek democracy to “Medieval” law codes and “Renaissance”- only to see a culmination in the twentieth century’s suicide of the Westphalian nation-state system and the spread of world communism and fascism. However, prior to the 19th-century imperialism, the vast majority of the world’s landmass (and a good deal of its people) remained outside of the “western” tradition (which within Europe, was largely confined to elites) and though the next century saw European ideas, institutions, and political implanted on all corners of the globe, these structures (with the exception of the “settler colonies” in Southern Africa and Australaisa) largely failed to diffuse beyond a select grouping of local elites. Today, following Afro-Asian decolonialization and the recognition of (non-western) minority rights in the West (particularly the US), the political and economic dominance of America (as opposed to Eurpe) have resulted“imperialism” of commodities such as rock music that is as much representative of the hybrid  “African-american” folk culture as of anything explicitly "western," while the rise of "Confucian" China enables a further threat to the early 20th-century "Judeo-Christian," "West European" hegemony. But then again, I am getting ahead of myself. When we step back to view the full course time, Europe’s (or the “West’s”) “modern” dominance of global affairs occupies but the last hour of the day. At the time of China’s Tang dynasty (not the first nor the most recent of that civilization’s “Golden ages”) and the Ummayad Caliphate, half of Europe was a tribal backwater still caught up in the Bronze Age. The Greco-Roman was more world “Mediterranean” than “European” geographically and one could easily argue in fact (as Martin Bernal does in Black Athena) that it emerged from the latching on of Near Eastern and Egyptian civilization to the extremety of Europe. When European kingdoms first established foreign colonies-during the so-called “Age of Exploration”-, the Chinese Ming dynasty, the Ottoman Turks, and the Indian Mughals managed vast, efficiently centralized empires. The very “Greco-Roman civilization” that proved pivotal to fueling Europe’s rational scientific and intellectual tradition during the Renaissance was largely filtered back in from the “Arab” commentators such as Averroes (see )-who reconciled Aristotle's rationalism with monotheistic religious belief- and Avicenna ( -who espoused Platonic "logic" and Galen's and Hippocrates' idea on Human anatomy. Additionally, one cannot forget that such fundamental mechanisms of modern “civilization” as firearms and paper came from “Eastern” China.
All of this does not deny the fact that it was Europe (firstly, Britain) that first underwent the decisive processes “industrialization” and “liberalization” that would define the condition of modernity (thereby enabling Europe to politically subjugate less-advanced parts of the globe). But prior to that most recent historical millisecond, the "traditions"of intellectual rationalism, economic entrepreneurship, and political constitutionalism developed in Europe in tandem with through Europe's interaction with other Eurasian cultures'. By framing Europe's regional history, even in the colonial era, as a "global" one, one implicitly reduces civilizations that (both before and after) have not only rivaled the "West" but helped shape it as colorless cogs in the mechanism. An alternative to such pedagogy can be exemplified by another course I am taking this quarter, Global Studies 100A: concentrating on a single, fixed period in time (1400-1800), the main text (Charles H. Parker's Global Interactions in the Early Modern Age) portrays the era of  centralized monarchies that promoted trade and territorial expansion across the “whole” of Eurasia  (including entities as far-removed as Bourbon France, Ottoman Turkey, Mughal India, and Qing China) as a coherent period of “early modernity."  Though still limited in scope to those societies arguably advanced enough to be deemed “complex” civilizations, Parker's analysis (regarding a time, when as previously mentioned, Europe was a growing fish in a crowded pond) focuses on comparative developments and "points of contact" to "pursue a more balanced global approach." (Parker 9-10) I only wish that the Global Studies program could build on Parker's humanism, excluding from the  "Global Foundations" requirement, courses like History 121E that are so blatantly regional  ( though, then again, that would make the department's literally “ahistorical”).


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