What is Asia's place in the world we live in? And, by extension, what should its place be in our history studies?
These are the questions I left you with in my teaser e-mail about the new Asian history curriculum that will be added to HistoryAtOurHouse in 2012-13. Let me now proceed to answer them!
|Western Civilization Comes First|
Before addressing the question of the importance of Asian civilization and explaining its new place in the HistoryAtOurHouse curriculum, let me begin by saying that HistoryAtOurHouse is -- and always will be -- primarily focused on the history of Western civilization.
This means that HistoryAtOurHouse is built on a three-year cycle of Ancient (especially Greek and Roman), European, and American history.
The reasons for this approach are many, but the most fundamental is that the history of Western civilization is objectively the most important story of history. However one may personally evaluate the fact, it is indisputable that Western civilization dominates the globe culturally, politically, economically, and militarily. Every culture in the world is penetrated by and competes with Western news media, music, and movies. Every country in the world has a government built on a Western model. Every nation participates in a global economy originally forged by Western companies and governments. Every state calculates its security in relation to the greatest superpower that has ever existed: the United States of America.
Historical "importance," as I am wont to explain to my students, does not equate with "good" or "evil." When the British East India Company sold opium to the Chinese in the 19th century, for instance, it certainly wasn't acting morally. The acceleration of Western supremacy over China punctuated by the First Opium War (1839-42), however, is of world-historical significance. Arguably, on the whole, the West's influence on the East has been positive, but it is not our moral evaluation of such things that properly drives our study of history, but rather a desire to understand how the world we live in was shaped and is evolving.
|Will the 21st Century Be the Asian Century?|
When Columbus sailed in 1492, it was to reach Asian civilizations described by Marco Polo whose wealth and power were in advance of the West. Over the course of the Age of Discovery and subsequent colonial and imperial periods, an inexorable tide seemed to carry that wealth and power from East to West.
However, if the world's economists and historians are to be believed, that tide is reversing--and just as inevitably as before. Already, we know that China and Japan are the second and third largest economies in the world respectively, with India fast climbing the ranks as well.
In his book The Next Hundred Years, geo-political expert George Friedman of Stratfor predicts that wars in Eurasia will be the dominant feature of the 21st century, with major consequences for the United States. Fareed Zakaria, in his book The Post-American World, also sees an important shift towards Asia taking place. Some experts even believe that China and India will outstrip the United States as the world's largest economies each in turn within the next generation.
I myself hold the view that we are at least evolving towards a "multi-polar" world, where the United States will have less power and influence than it is used to and no shortage of wars to fight as it struggles to maintain its position while Asian powers seek to displace it as the world's predominant power.
The value of studying Asian history at this juncture in history is thus essentially the value of knowing the major building blocks of the evolving world we are, and will be, living in.
To make a useful comparison, imagine the task of defining a history curriculum for Americans living exactly one hundred years ago --in 1912. The challenge at that time would have been to use the power of history to identify the importance of Germany to the coming century and to make use of that power to educate Americans about Germany. One wonders if Americans had better understood Germany at the turn of the last century how differently the last one hundred years would have been! Now, living in 2012, we face the same types of issues concerning Asia's major powers.
|In light of the rising importance of Asia in the world, the HistoryAtOurHouse program for 2012-13 will focus on the history of Asia, in four parts:|
I will elaborate on the theoretical and practical details of the academic year in my next e-mail. Until then, please join me on the
- The Middle East
HistoryAtOurHouse Yahoo! group to share your thoughts and ask questions about how you can participate in HistoryAtOurHouse, MusicAtOurHouse, and ScienceAtOurHouse.
Creator and Teacher, History At Our House
CEO, Powell Education Solutions