Sunday April 14, 2024

Europe vs the people without history

By Mubarak Ali
October 15, 2018

European society emerged from the darkness of the Middle Ages and transformed on a fresh basis after the Renaissance and the Reformation, which revitalised it with new concepts.

These movements also led to the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, which inspired European powers to expand their civilisational influence by conquering and occupying Asian and African countries. The basic objective for consolidating imperial power was to strengthen the authority of European countries to either distort the history of the colonised people or rewrite their history from their own point of view, creating the superiority of imperial culture and demeaning the traditions and values of the vanquished nations.

In the lectures he delivered in the 1820s, Hegel announced that only European history had the vision and energy to understand God’s designs and accomplish them successfully. According to Hegel, the rest of the world would either become part of the European historical process or remain ‘history-less’, playing no role in shaping world history.

However, Hegel’s prediction proved to be wrong because the emerging forces brought to light the narratives of marginalised elements who weren’t given any place in history.

Through archaeology, the remains of ancient and forgotten civilisations – such as the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indus Valley, Chinese, Indian, Greek and Roman civilisations – were excavated.

These remains and artefacts dazzled the world as they reflected a highly sophisticated approach to architecture, painting, sculpture and town planning. When ancient scripts were deciphered, they opened portals to new insights about the religious ideas, social structure and political system of these ancient civilisations. These excavations enriched world history and inspired modern nations.

Another important phenomenon that changed the concept of culture and civilisation was the development of anthropology. In search of new cultures, traditions, values, and ways of life, a large number of anthropologists visited those parts of the world that were inhabited by tribes and aboriginal people.

Equipped with new technology and knowledge, they travelled to forests in South America and made contact with tribes that were living in isolation. Many anthropologists also interacted with the tribes who lived in the Caribbean islands and the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

They also went on to study Australian aborigines and the people who inhabited small islands in South East Asia.

The discoveries made by these anthropologists were quite remarkable. Their studies revealed the diversity in the culture, customs, traditions and habits of people who were living and enjoying a peaceful life within their own environments. These studies also indicated how inventive people were.

Anthropological discoveries brought to the fore values and norms that were unfamiliar to old civilisations. As a result, history no longer remained confined to the European model. It broadened its scope to accommodate marginalised people and made them into history-makers. They were no longer passive elements, and played an active and vibrant role in shaping their own destiny.

The colonised nations reacted to the efforts of imperial powers to write their history and ignore their past achievements. The spirit of nationalism, which was created as a result of foreign domination, compelled them to trace the roots of their own history and construct it through nationalistic inspirations.

Since history is the basis of national identity, historians of colonised nations revived the glory of the past to build confidence in their fight for independence. Old manuscripts were collected, classical literature was published and indigenous history was taught in educational institutions.

History has become a passion for nations, tribes, and ethnic and religious groups, who search for their historical origins in order to face modern challenges. The history of marginalised groups is not only written by professional historians, but also by those who belonged to these groups.

With time, history-writing has become increasingly popular, and is challenging Europe’s domination of historiography and its arrogance about past knowledge.

The history of black people in the US has become a separate field and black historians have emphasised their contribution to America’s economic and cultural development. As slaves, they worked in southern plantations where they endured pain and suffering even though they made these plantations economically prosperous.

The most important aspect of black history is that black people didn’t remain passive. They struggled for their rights and achieved them at the cost of immense sacrifices. Through music, they expressed their inner dilemmas and, consequently, made a remarkable contribution to American music.

Similarly, the Dalits weren’t accepted within the domain of Hindu civilisation as they belonged to the lowest caste in Indian society. For centuries, they have endured a humiliating past.

Keeping in view their marginalised status in society, Dalits intellectuals and politicians inspired the community to struggle for their human rights and flout all those traditions and customs that oppressed them and crushed their ambitions to achieve human dignity.

As a result, the growing awareness among Dalits about their rights is changing India’s political complexion. There is now some hope that they might overthrow India’s centuries-old caste system. Those who were believed to be ‘history-less’ are now playing an active role in shaping their own history.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.