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Why study European history in a global context?

Professor Roger Markwick explains the relevance of studying European history from a global perspective in today's world.
I’m Roger Markwick and I’m conjoint professor of Modern European History at the University of Newcastle. In recent years I’ve had the pleasure of teaching HIST1001 -
Europe and the World. As a historian, I can honestly say I’m inherently, passionate about the past. And on that basis not only about the past but about the relationship between the past and the present. And I found that students who undertake this particular course are similarly curious and often as not, passionate too about not only understanding the past but its relationship with the present. History I believe is much more than simply dates and events. But when we think of history often as not we think about European history. We think about kings and queens and cathedrals such as Notre dame that was burnt down. Or of wars, most
notoriously of Hitler and the Holocaust. But it is history, I would suggest and especially, the history of Europe, is rather more complex than this. Especially when viewed from Australia. After all Australia is really an outpost of Europe in the southern hemisphere. It was originally part of the British Empire. An Anglo Celtic convict settlement established, essentially at the expense of the indigenous people. And that kind of relationship, of settlement, of invasion, if I can put it that way, at the expense of indigenous people often as not, that’s a story that we encounter in this course.
History is really I believe, the study of causes, of connections and I think most importantly - the categories in which we think about the past. We used terms and concepts such as the west versus the east, or civilization versus barbarism. And when we do so, especially when we think about civilization, we tend almost unconsciously to think of Europe.
But Europe did not develop simply in isolation. It did not become the wealthy industrial continent that it has become today in the 21st century in isolation from the rest of the world. It’s a story that really begins at least at the very least, more than 500 years ago at least it’s modern history, when Christopher Columbus set out from Portugal to the Americas. He was going in the wrong, wrong direction. But those voyages opened the way to 500 years, more than 500 years of European globalization. It’s a story that I have to say is not necessarily a pretty story. Because the story of European empires and their expansion and conquest of the non European world is not necessarily a pretty story.
By which I mean, the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of Latin America. The enslaving of the peoples of Africa and their forced transportation across the Atlantic to work, in
south and northern America. Of revolutions in America and France. Of wars against China, the infamous opium wars in the 19th century. And of genocides and mass starvation in the 19th and 20th century in Africa and Armenia. And in India, the Raj, the British Raj, the jewel in the British imperial crown. Empire then, is a story of conquest and of cultural domination and of the taking of wealth. But it’s also about exchange, the exchange of languages, of food, of ideas. In the 21st century when we look around, often as not we see mainly turmoil terror massive disparities of wealth. And we see for example, the upheaval and turbulence in the Middle East in particular, as a constant in our modern history.
That constant in fact, like those phenomena that I’ve just mentioned are really legacies of that relationship between Europe and the world. And I said, it was not always a pretty story, but it also has a positive element to it too. For example the concepts of democracy and human rights. Concepts that are universally prized in the 21st century, these too are a product, of those five hundred years of Europe’s relationship with the rest of the world.
Historians as I said at the outset. Are often as not driven by a passionate curiosity about the world. And I’d urge you as historians in the making, as students of HIST1001, to seize the opportunity to look at this history through new eyes. And on that basis, I would hope that HIST1001, will not only better equip you to pursue whatever vocation you seek to pursue after your university studies. But also enable you to become a much better informed global citizen in the 21st century.

Professor Roger Markwick at the University of Newcastle shares his thoughts on why studying European history is important, particularly today.

Why are you studying in this course?

Please introduce yourself in the discussions below, highlighting why you’re electing to study European history. Or, to put it another way, what is it about Europe’s past that makes studying it important and/or relevant?
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European Empires: An Introduction, 1400–1522

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