Writers of History

Posted here (week 2463).

I’ve been binge-listening to a podcast covering the history of the Netherlands. We’re currently in the 15th century, and I do get bored with some of the which-feudal-lord-married-which-daughter-off-to-whom details. But there are moments when I find myself really rooting for someone like Jacqueline of Bavaria, or anyone pushing back on Charles the Bold (and especially precocious Ghent). It’s much more interesting to me than the imaginary battles of Tolkien that these stories inspired.

The way these pre-modern stories live on is fascinating. We have precious few primary sources for many major events, but there are enough to piece together some intricate tales. It occurs to me that the struggles of African and American powers likely followed very similar arcs, and their stories must be similarly rich. Yet because their communications technology didn’t as often leave behind traces such as letters on paper, many of those details are lost.

So while we can use many the many tools of archeology to reconstruct the global past, it is easy to imagine humanity “rose from” only Europe, China, and their neighborhoods where script was left behind.

Or maybe I’m extrapolating too much from the filtered view of history that reached me as a white American, and what I’m really noticing is only filtering. In any event, I find it unsettling how we consider the “feudal power struggles” of Europe’s past using language that implies they were any different than the “tribal warfare” elsewhere.