I am pleased to announce the publication of a small paperback for the teaching about slavery outside the Atlantic world.(Hackett, 2016 ISBN 9781624664748) The book consists of a general introduction, four case studies with primary documents and illustrations and conclusions. It is intended for undergrads and advanced high school students.
Why History Matters
As far back as we can see in human existence people have been telling stories about the past. How else can we interpret Neolithic cave paintings? Drawings of the hunt recorded the number of animals and the number of hunters. Looking at the drawing later - even generations later – could trigger stories of that day’s triumphs and heroes. Who knows, perhaps there were “keepers of the stories”, the first historians.
History matters primarily because it is one of the bedrock, irreducible ways of understanding the world. There are comprehensible causes to things that happen and people – through diligent study and attention – can connect causes and effects. History is not uncovering documents, amassing or memorizing facts. It is the struggle to ask a question that matters of material from the past.
And what makes a question about the past matter?
First, such a question can make us both humble and hopeful. For example, if the question is “How long do empires generally last?’ And the answer is “Two to three generations”. We might, from this pattern, be more humble about wanting to form an empire. And we might be hopeful because many groups somehow survive imperial adventures.
Second, the right question makes us aware of our responsibilities to the future. Just as choices made in the past affect us now, choices we make now will impact generations to come.
Third, a good question makes us aware of the commonality of human experience, as well as differences between ourselves and groups from the past. At best, seeing others struggle with problems, whether they succeeded or failed, promotes empathy and understanding.
Finally, there is the sheer delight of discovering and sharing a pattern to some set of events that seemed unorganized and meaningless.
All of us are historians.We all tell stories of the past. The struggle and the joy is the search for questions that matter.
Dr. Stewart Gordon
Stewart Gordon is a Senior Research Scholar at the South Asia Center of the University of Michigan. That said, he is anything but a stuffy academic. He has rambled by bus across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. He has struggled up Inca paths in Peru and boated up the Mekong and the Mississippi. Gordon has photographed antiquities in Cambodia and Paleolithic cave paintings in India and has served as a consultant for the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Walt Disney Company and the American Queen steamboat. He writes regularly for Aramco World magazine. Gordon has received many awards including Woodrow Wilson and Fulbright fellowships and an Earhart Foundation writing grant. His last book, “When Asia was the World”, became a bestseller and has been translated into seven languages. The National Endowment for the Humanities placed the book in more than 1000 libraries across the United States. Gordon is also a professional restorer of fine antique furniture and has owned shops in Ann Arbor, Los Angeles and London. He currently lives in Ann Arbor and has recently built a full-sized, fully equipped horse drawn gypsy wagon (vardo), You can follow Gordon’s talks, workshops, new publications and photos of his travels at stewartgordonhistorian.com
Dr. Gordon's Vita
Photos: (Left to Right) @ the Taj Mahal, Jaipur Fort, India, Machu Pichu, Hai Phong Bay, Vietnam.