YungHistoria

What does it mean to be a historian? And what does it mean to be a y(o)ung historian in the 21st century? You know, like a next gen’ type thing?

I think about this alot. I have to. There needs to be direction in my work, no? A basic idea, a purpose etc. The sheer fascinating with reading about our past isn’t enough.

We’re in the age of information, majority of our collectively gathered history is a click away at any given time. Thus, the historians ”original” purpose, to just simply know history, is somewhat rendered obsolete. The act of documenting history in the now is also somewhat taken care of, we record e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. now, literally everything.

So far though, I’ve managed to conclude that my purpose as a historian still seems to be to know history. But not as a means of a walking timeline, but as a lens or a conduite. Bare with me lol. A conduite meaning, if a 10 year old kid touched me, they’d be zapped and know none of it’s random. They’d know of the people that came before us and just how much they matter. They’d know the events that shaped our reality now and how it’s all linked.

Will I ever achieve it? No, absolutely not. My head’s too small and my time is limited. However, It’s a pretty cool purpose, and I’ll keep busy forever.

I feel like there’s a focus on the now. Our attention span is getting shorter, travel is going faster, time itself feels like it’s moving faster. It’s easy to remain centered and only focus on your immediate surroundings, your immediate reality. I’m not gonna knock anybody who is, it makes sense.

All I hope is that the people whom we’re currently standing on, aren’t lost to history. That when we as individuals look for our identity, we remember that the people who came before us helped shape who we are. There’s no shame in looking to them for guidance and help. Our past, our culture and our elders is an asset.

So when you ask yourself who you are, or why people do what they do, my job as a historian will be to say look to those who came before.

Maybe I’m talking out of my ass but I feel like this makes sense?

Regarding the y(o)ung aspect, I guess I just gotta make sure I package (or convey) our history in a way that shows just how relevant it is for today, for people like me. Aswell as document the perspectives and conclusions that my generation will be adding to the book later on.

Further more, yungHistoria is a hilarious name for a blogpost, and I feel it embodies the concept I’m trying to push here, which is me I guess? Me as a historian? Like – I’m down for both trap music and ancient civilizations. If you tell me there’ll be hiphop, Axumite coins, Ekpe masks AND pizza? I’ll be there in an instant. Faster than Europe ruined the economy of an entire continent type fast. Feel me?

After My First Week As A History Major

So, after my first week at Uni, I wanted to share some thoughts and briefly reflect on it.

Most of the opinions I currently hold regarding the field of history or what it means to be a historian are fundamentally thoughts Ive had for some time, even if theyve been shaped and elaborated on through debates, active research and growth. I say this to highlight the backstory of my conclusions, which is this:

1) – I. LOVE. history. I could read and debate this stuff for hours, I’m so excited about this. I’ve been spending hours reading these first few weeks, and now all I wish for christmas is a faster and more effective way to retain information, thanks. (Relevant Avatar sidenote: For those who don’t know me my third favorite character after Aang and Toph was Wan Shi Tong, he’s goals)

2) – The achievements of black and brown people, as well as the African continent as a whole has been systematically written out, down-played and placed on the sidelines within this field.

(Many of you probably already knew this, as did I, but I get unmistakenly reminded whenever I’m in any designated setting than my own)

What to take from this statement you ask?

– If you’re of the opinion that ”black historians” are ”radical loonies” or that the concept of a ”black” historian is odd to you then you might want to go over it again. Some of them are of course, same goes for traditional western and eastern historians who’ve made up all sorts of things in an attempt to benefit from history (for example see the Piltdown Man). In any field there’s bound to be liars and loonies but I’m here to say that it’s been concluded as a fact – if you havent accepted it yet – that history has been consciously written to exclude/downplay the achievements of the people of the African continent (and their decendants).

Ironically, historians have been telling us this for quite some time in their famous ”History is (usually) written by the winners” – quote.

Most people don’t care about this that much, like really truly care. Which is okay I guess its not like history carries any form of political leverage or power. It’s not like a group of people were literally granted a country due to history. How do I know? Name one early complex society in the African continent that’s south of the Sahara, ill wait. Nothing? Okay. That’s fine. Don’t blame yourself. We like to put the blame on us and ofc part of the responsiblity is ours, but you mean to tell me that we have an entire continent, the very continent we as a species walked out of, yet majority of our historical excavations have been done everywhere else but there? Which is usually, in combination with the lack of documentation, the primary reason given for the lack of information available as well as provided.

I love history. So much. I can’t get enough of it, it’s like being told stories as a kid yet most of it’s (supposedly) true, which makes it even cooler. I geek out completely and been reading history mags (who’s target audience is clearly middle-aged white men,) since I was like 11 yrs old. Odly enough, the closest I got to seeing anyone remotely resembling myself in these mags were in stories of the Incas, Mayans, and Egyptians. (Us westeners sure love Egyptians, sometimes it gets weird).

Nonetheless, back to the topic at hand, It just doesnt make sense, rationally, logically, it doesnt add up. How, did our species walk out of that continent, (which we all more or less collectively agree on) and then proceed to collect information about everywhere but there? It must’ve been a conscious effort to place the focus somewhere else. Was it only a a matter of conscious disregard, maybe some plain disinterest due proximity? Probably a bit of both.

I opened up the discussion with a classmate, who seconded my thoughts and added that this has become more relevant of a question along with the recent concept and study of neo-colonialism/de-colonization. Which is true. Meaning that the idea itself already exists with the next generation of historians, I whole heartedly hope that we won’t collectivly fumble it and continue to echo the same withered textbooks people been reading.

So what’s the purpose of this post? And what’s the conclusion?

– That black historians were born out of a dire need. That the collective historical worldview is lacking and full of holes and that the historical field itself is very much alive (ill continue to say this dont @ me lol). It’s very alive and decisions are being made everyday about what gets put in the books and what doesn’t. Proximity matters – the way I look directly affected how I approach this field from jump.

I’m here and look the way I do because of history that goes further back than slavery and I want it to be included, I want to see myself in the books I read, beyond Egypt. We’re supposed to cover the African continent later on in the course, I read the introduction in which they already excused the lack of knowledge there was due to various circumstances. We’ll see how it goes, maybe i’ll have to double down on this. But for now, I’ll sit right here and continue to update my blog as I learn the (very incomplete) history of the world. I’ll keep asking why it doesn’t add up, whilst (fingers crossed) receving the tools to add some missing pieces one day.






Give it back (part 3)

Alright, so we’re back at it again with the last part under this title. This time we’re talking about supremacy! Specifically white supremacy and the role it played in the history of archaeology. (Aka the role it plays in today’s debate about shadily obtained artifacts.)

First you may wonder why specifically white supremacy? Why not just supremacy alone as a concept?

Well that’s an easy one. Supremacy alone is just a term used to describe predominance, sovereignty or hegemony. It’s literally the state/condition of being superior to all others in authority, power or status. White supremacy however, is the racist belief that white people are superior to other people and therefore should be the ones in power. This birthed a system and a political ideology that perpetuates an institutional domination by white people in every field from politics to culture and history.

From the Cape to Cairo, Udo J. Keppler, 1902

So let’s zoom-in a bit,

White supremacy was absolutely booming from the 1800s to the mid 1900s. Like a real hit. We had scientific racism, race-studies, colonization, apartheid, Jim Crow Laws, the Atlantic slave trade, like there was a lot. Zoom in a little more and we hit a man named Rudyard Kipling, the biggest poet of his time who in 1899 dropped the notorious poem ”The White Man’s Burden”. For anyone that might’ve read some of my earlier posts this isn’t news to you. This poem covers part of the very essence of the ideology that is white supremacy. A desire (and excuse) to take land, raid tombs, forcefully impose Christianity and seize power. To quote an excerpt:

Take up the White Man’s burden—

    Send forth the best ye breed—

Go bind your sons to exile

    To serve your captives’ need;

To wait in heavy harness

    On fluttered folk and wild—

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

    Half devil and half child

The White Mans Burden – Rudyard Kipling

I’ve linked it above if you’re interested in reading the whole thing, but yeah, there you have it all. The guilt, the part where they’ll receive hate from the people they’re oppressing but must stand tall, the supposed god-sanctioned raids, the ”saving” and the enslaving too.

So how does it relate to the blatant stealing of artifacts you ask?

Here’s three major ways. We’ll start from the top. First of all, colonization provides access, you go and come as you please, you’re the one in charge, you’ve claimed the land, and it’s impossible to steal from yourself so your conscience is clean. Secondly, there’s accountability, fast forward to now, your countrymen literally wrote THE law in the past, and laid the foundation then for the jurisdictional system of today so there’s nothing officially holding you accountable from that time. Thirdly, we cover the saviourism, if you validate keeping an object regardless of history, by expressing concern, claiming you’re more suitable to care for it, who’s going to argue? No one. Especially not, since you ensured it. Colonization enriched your country and crippled others, securing your country’s financial position for generations to come. Besides it’s your burden, your duty, to take it upon yourself as better equipped, to assist in this noble cause of preservation. See It’s a deadlock. A wheel that spins itself.

So what can we conclude from this?

When posed with the argument ”we’re more suited for the job so it’s our duty to help”, highlight that sending money to fund a country to accommodate an artifact also qualifies as help, and that the desire to ”step in” and ”grab hold” smells of (white) supremacy. Another option could be to assign ownership of the artifacts to the country of origin, and set up a ”loan situation” with the current country of residence, until appropriate action towards an ideal housing environment is taken. This way the country of origin can financially and ethically benefit from their own history. The countries that requested independence should be treated as equals regardless of where they’re at in their development and stepping on them isn’t the best way to further the field of history nor cultural preservation.

This part culminates the ”Give it back” piece, and so I’ll be back with something new (and old) next week.

Give it back (part 2)

Alright so let’s pick up where we left off – How the illegitimate claim of ancient artifacts acquired during the colonial-era relate to power play and supremacy. Last time we ended on the note thatWalking into somebody’s home and taking something that belongs to them is stealing, regardless of whether you were invited in or fought your way through. It doesn’t become any more yours simply because time keeps passing”. So what can prompt somebody to do this? Well let’s get into it; In this part we’ll focus on power play.

Artifacts are enriched by being viewed in their place of origin, not only does it hold a unique connection to the area where it was produced but for somebody to come view it as a visitor, the historical context would become that much clearer due to the relationship it shares with it’s surroundings. I believe that link should be honored and respected.

If the argument against this is a desire to exhibit it where as many people as possible would get a chance to visit, I’d rather we value the historical context. People are going to have to travel to see it regardless, and exposing artifacts to high numbers of tourists posses a risk and tends to damage them. As seen with the tombs of the Valley of Kings, or this coffin in a museum in England, and these are examples of things that remain in their country of origin, yet the amount of visitors haven’t gone down.

But hey, let’s get into the term itself and let’s start with the illegitimate claim (stealing) and the power play part. So what is a power play?

”A power play is an attempt to gain an advantage by showing that you are more powerful than another person or organization, for example in a business relationship or negotiation.”

http://www.collinsdictionary.com

Take the Pantheon Marbles (aka Elgin Marbles after the man who stole them) for example:

Pantheon Marbles (Temple of Pantheon, Athens) in the British Museum, London

This collection of sculptures were shipped stolen in rounds from their home in Athens to Britain between 1801-1812, under the supervision of a Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin. Bruce claimed he received an ”a ok” from the Ottoman Empire who were ruling Greece at the time. Once in Britain he was met with both support and criticism but ended up being exonerated, thus he preceded to sell the marbles to the government, who then handed them over to the museum, in which they remain today.

After gaining its independence in 1832, the Greek state began a series of projects in order to restore monuments and retrieve looted art. Expressing disapproval of Elgin’s actions as well as requesting the collection be returned. However…. they still haven’t been.

Here’s where the powerplay comes in, let’s back up a few month, it’s now February 2020 and a draft of an EU document surfaces. Here the Union suggest attaching a demand for the UK to return Pantheon sculptures to Greece to its negotiations concerning post-Brexit trade deals. To quote:

”The parties should, consistently with Union rules, address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.”

The times of London

Regardless of how happy I’d be for this to possibly be a legit demand which could result in their return, this also serves as a juicy example of the issue at hand. Here several nations have agreed and acknowledged that Britain possesses illegally obtained artifacts which should be returned to their country of origin, yet the EU is trying to strike a deal, because legally there’s not much else they can do. These artifacts that are just supposed to be there to encourage learning and embody history (reference to my previous post) suddenly become a bargaining chips of power. So now we have both partys acknowledging the artifacts as something of great value due to their actions (Britain’s almost 200 year long refusal to return it and the EU’s Brexit demands to give it back).

The conclusion we can draw from this is that anyone that wishes to reduce this discussion to a matter of childish wonder, supposed ideal circumstances and impartial care, needs to step out the sandbox and look at it for what it is – a powerplay.

There’s real monetary value in culture, there’s influential value in owning objects of historical significance, and the people who discredit modern art, or wishes to lower modern day cultural funding, are the same people ready to fight when you speak ill of their mother ‘cause then it hits home. Some of us might’ve missed this or semi-forgotten it along the way but ultimately It’s about heritage. There is (and I cannot stress this enough) real power in knowing where you come from and owning items connecting generations back and the world leaders in my example literally just showed it to you.

If you’re more curious about powerplay amongst nations/groups of people, or wish to dig deeper in the use of this type of tactics, I recommend looking into Contemporary war/warfare or Dehumanization. However, if you’d rather it handed to you in a neat Marakulus wrapping, I’ll most likely write a piece on it in the future.

Seeing how long this got…. we’ll save supremacy for the next part lol.

Catch ya then!





Interesting links and articles:

Greece demands Elgin marbles for EU trade deal

Brexit: EU to ask UK to return Elgin marbles to Greece in trade talks

Give it back (part 1)

So.. let’s talk about artifacts.. and museums, and how archaeology during the colonial period (and various decades after that) kinda resembles… stealing.

Colonial-rule ”officially” ended for most countries during the second half of the 1900s, however, some opinions beg to differ and pose the question of whether colonialism has ended at all. In this post I’ll be discussing museums and artifacts, and the potential role they play in neo-colonialism.

So, I linked the term neo-colonialism above if you’re curious to find out more about it, but to sum it up briefly, it’s basically old school colonialism’s offspring. All those countries thrown into debt due to being left to their own demise as their colonial rulers reluctantly were letting go, were very often posed with an offer. Something like a – You’ll be independent but remain a commonwealth (wack, diminishing, acknowledging the monarch of your previous colonial ruler), or you’ll be independent but indebted to me because you need me to capitalize off of your main export, or here’s a gigantic loan to cover your massive expenses and potholes since we just threw you out the nest into the vampire that is the western economy.

The South African Cullinan Diamond, part of Queen Elizabeth’s crown jewels

Something we seldom talk about though, is how most museums today possess artifacts obtained through now illegal measures. They were excavated/stolen during the golden age of colonialism, and even though most countries officially have been declared free, their stolen artifacts remain in the possession of their previous colonial rulers. Not only are these artifacts valuable and increase the overall wealth of said country, but they also pull tourists which contributes to yearly BNP. Thus these countries continue to make money off of colonialism in this way to this very day.

Politicians know this, world leaders, professors and experts know this. That’s why some of these previous colonies have requested their artifacts be returned. Only to be be met with crickets and no’s.

I read an article just today quoting a sociologist named Tiffany Jenkins, arguing that the artifacts should stay where they are because determining the exact origin of some pieces will be difficult, as well as the inability to return things that were made in kingdoms and empires long since fallen, for example where would an Assyrian pot or a Nubian statue belong, when these places no longer exist? Jenkins also argued that the original purpose and ownership of artifacts are sometimes unknown, and that objects are made everyday only to end up in somebody elses hands. That pot or tablet allows us to learn the history of their maker and people, they don’t need to be returned to their place of origin for them to do so.

 The decision about where to place ancient artifacts should not be reduced to chasing impossible historical authenticity, contrition for the past, or ethnicity, but where is best for the object.

Tiffany Jenkins, Sociologist
Head of Amarna (Egypt) Princess, Altes Museum Berlin

Here’s where I’m about to go 180, firstly because that very same argument, to highlight ”it doesn’t need to be returned to it’s place of origin” also means, that you might as well return it, since It’s place of residency doesn’t affect its ability to be gazed upon (aka fulfilling it’s purpose). Secondly, because the value of housing these objects can not be overlooked from an economical standpoint in a capitalist-driven society. If it was only about the experience, museums could make it by with pristine forgeries for people to gaze upon, this would probably be better since it’d mean that more countries could offer the same exhibits, reaching a larger audience of learners. Leaving the original artifact to be stored under ideal circumstances, conserving it for as long as possible.

Sadly it’s not just about the experience, that’s why countries refuse to acknowledge requests of retribution. Because it’s also power and wealth, the cultural value and impact is high. People love to act like we’re past powerplay and that the age of supremacy is behind us, but it isn’t.

The very last claim that Jenkins makes states that we should be considering the best place to keep said object. Some countries would claim that they’re better equipped to house such valuable delicates. I agree. Thus, I suggest we (any and all countries housing colonial loot) collectively fund the establishing of proper protection and maintenance of the object as they’re returned home. One of many long sought after steps towards actual retribution.

Walking into somebody’s home and taking something that belongs to them is stealing, regardless of whether you were invited in or fought your way through. It doesn’t become any more yours simply because time keeps passing. The same way you proudly present your countries riches, stand ready to redeem their mistakes.

This theme will continue in part two where we’ll get further into the powerplay/supremacy/ownership aspect of this issue, ‘til then,

stay hydrated and wash your hands<3






Interesting articles on the subject:

British Museum ”has head in sand” over return of artifacts

European museums may ”loan” stolen artifacts back to countries in Africa

Do historical objects belong in their country of origin?

The battle to get Europe to return thousands of Africa’s stolen artifacts is getting complicated