East, West & History


The podcast of this discussion kept sitting there, waiting to be listened to, since last July. Finally I had time to focus on it, and wow. It is worth an hour of your time if you have had the opportunity to live in both East and West and still wonder how to make sense of the experiences; and if you appreciate historical parallels as learning tools:

There’s a new school of history that’s revolutionising the way we look at the past. For centuries, our history has been taught in separate chunks, with the classical, European world divided from China and the East. This traditional, somewhat lazy history of civilisation, zeroing in on the Western Mediterranean, drastically restricts our understanding of the world – and the crucial ideas and problems that have affected human civilisation as a whole; from politics to religion; from war to money. The ‘ancient world’ has been confined in the West to Greece and Rome, when, of course, it encompassed the whole globe. By crashing through these boundaries, of time and geography, we can connect the strands of our human story and develop a more sophisticated sense of why the world looks like it does today – a global history for global times.

This is nothing less than a new historical movement that completely changes the prism through which we see the past and explain the present. And on July 5th Intelligence Squared staged an unprecedented chance to see these new ideas developing over the course of a thrilling evening.

Dr Michael Scott, the BBC’s charismatic young classics presenter, aired his ground-breaking view of interconnected history. His forthcoming book, Ancient Worlds: An Epic History of East and West, reveals how closely the world’s civilisations have engaged with each other, from the ancient era right up until today. Spinning through 1,000 years, and travelling from Spain to China – via the Mediterranean, Africa, western Asia, central Asia and India – Scott dramatically joinedtogether the dots of world history. He was joined in conversation with the distinguished classicist and BBC presenter Bettany Hughes. Hughes has also been leading the field in the new, globalised approach to ancient and modern history. In her 2015 BBC Four series, Genius of the Ancient World, she drew together the worlds of Socrates, Confucius and the Buddha. All three thinkers were active between the sixth and fifth century BC – a brief spell of unparalleled intellectual advance that revolutionised our perception of ourselves, then and now. Hughes is currently working on a major new history of Istanbul, the city which was the bridge between East and West for centuries.

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