The French historian Fernand Braudel once wrote
that the longer he lived abroad, the more he was able to understand what it
meant to be French.
world historians exploring fields outside our immediate expertise, we should
experience the same sense of self-discovery. Instead of defining who a
professional historian is and dismiss the ways in which other societies make
sense of the past, we should recognize that our creation of history depends
upon a past that has emphasized official documents kept in state archives. Instead of defining what primary
sources are legitimate for historians, we should recognize that myth is indeed
more important than "hard" evidence for some societies. Let me give an example
of how our way of doing history has shaped the history of others. A few years
ago, most Western scholars claimed that history started with the development of
writing. Based on this premise, Cherokee people began to have a history only in
1825, the year that Sequoyah developed the syllabary. But who would support
this statement today?
step into other civilizations, we need to bear in mind how our concept of space
and time shapes our narratives. A friend and Latin American scholar once
argued that the concept of Inca "Empire" is a logical fallacy because the Inca
did not have an empire the way the Romans did! And yet we use and teach the
term to our students, hardly aware that we are "imperializing" somebody else's
history for our own uses. How about the very concept of linear time that
shapes the way we do history in the West? Is that the only "professional" way
to conceive history, or should we acknowledge different views of time? Who
decided that anachrony (a common way of conceiving time in African History) is
a less legitimate way of doing history?
Despite all of this, I still find World History a very promising and vibrant
field. The very fact that World History allows for people from different fields
of expertise to meet and share perspectives is per se a device to better understand who we are first, and then
allow for other identities to emerge and have their voices heard.
Lucia Antonelli Carter is an
Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at Mars Hill College.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.