What is a Unit of History?

The traditional Eurocentric opinion maintains that some human groups have more history than others. Usually, these ‘haves’ are from the West, while the ‘have-nots’ are identified as located in the non-Western areas. In essence, it is just a variation on the topic of the ‘inherent superiority’ of the West and its ‘white’ (‘Aryan,’ or now ‘Caucasian’) race over the rest of humanity. But what is history from the quantitative perspective? The raw material of history is the past, or more exactly the human past. This kind of past is none other but the social reality produced and maintained by humans and their groups through stories about themselves and on relations among one another. The life span of humans being on average the same, and the level of their interaction with others likewise, each person contributes to and participates in the social reality to more or less the same degree. Ergo, on average, each person produces a similar ‘amount’ of the past. Hence, the overall ‘size’ of history in the case of different human groups directly depends on the number of their members. In the more populous parts of the world there is potentially more history than elsewhere.

Does Africa have history?

However, it is enough to visit a bookshop or a university library in the West to come to a conclusion that per capita it was Europe and its colonial Neo-Europes (Australia and the Americas) that produced most of the world’s history, tens, hundreds and even thousands more than human groups in the non-Western areas. But it is too simplistic a conclusion that fails to take into consideration the global-wide structure of power relations among human groups. The West has dominated the rest of the world for the last two or three centuries. As part and parcel of this domination the West also usurped for itself the right to decide what is and what is not history. In this pattern of reasoning, the history of non-Westerners is either brushed away as ‘ahistorical,’ ‘non-existent’ or ‘insignificant,’ while the pride of place is given to Western history, seen as the ‘true history’ of the world.

 

This rarely realized normative conviction underlies the phenomenon of cultural and economic imperialism that continues to blight the ‘global South’ and to blind the ‘global North.’ The colossal sky-scraper of historical knowledge on the North where a mere one-seventh of the globe’s population live, is of little help to understand the past and problems of the South, where the vast majority of humanity reside. If on the proverbial history bookshelf one finds ten monographs on the past of Britain with the current population of 60 million, the belief in equality of all human history would require at least two hundred more – or 2000 monographs – on the history of India populated by 1.3 billion people.

 

May 2017

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