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.