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Illuminating the Past: Contemporary Perspectives

In this video, Dr Alex Mackenzie and Dr Glenn Godenho discuss how more modern events might help us to understand the past.
I’m here with my colleague, Dr Alex Mackenzie from the Department of Politics here at the University of Liverpool. And in this section each week, we’re going to be having a look at modern, contemporary events, at least events from modern history, to see how what we know of them might illuminate what was happening 3,000 years ago. So in this session, for example, the main event this week was the expulsion of the Hyksos, briefly a foreign cohort from the Palestine region enter Egypt, over a period of time, and eventually establish a power base in the northeast delta of Egypt.
If the sources are to be believed, this leads to a political fragmentation of the country, with the new population ruling the north from their delta capital, Avaris. The issue is compounded for the Egyptians by the threat of the powerful Nubian population to the south of Egypt as well. They’re encroaching into the country. Eventually, however, the Egyptians expel the foreigner rules from the north of the country, secure their southern borders, and reunify the state. A series of follow-up campaigns further into ancient Syria and Palestine ensures that Egypt not only protect their borders but significantly expand their influence into the Near East. So the story really is about internal fracture, I suppose, and pressure causing problems within states.
Is there anything, Alex, that you see there that might be vaguely comparable to help give these ancient episodes some shape? Well, I think a very controversial example is to do with Israel and the creation of the state of Israel. And, of course, how this area primarily was of course owned by the Ottoman Empire prior to the end of the First World War, when the British captured Jerusalem. And then you have the Balfour Declaration and, of course, increasing levels of immigration of Jews into the area around Palestine, Israel.
As a result, of course, you after this period of time and then you get to the end of the Second World War when there’s a significant amount of sympathy for the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany and in Europe in general, you get very high levels of movement, of immigration, from Europe towards Israel. And this starts to cause tension with the existing Palestinian population, and, of course, with the other states surrounding at the time. Brilliant. I mean, we don’t have that level of detail from this episode in ancient Egypt, but it’s interesting to show from a more modern perspective the types of things that were possibly happening underneath the evidence that we do have down to that level.
It’s interesting to find precedents for this type of phenomena. Let’s be honest, there are lots of differences. But at the core, we have the idea of a failed or failing state fractured by the presence of groups, each who see themselves as the legitimate rulers, leading to some kind of action. We aren’t suggesting for one moment that modern examples are exactly the same, but we do want to encourage you to explore broadly, to try to understand what may have been happenning in the Near East over 3,000 years ago, based on how humans still behave now. So looking at modern examples and theories can really help to aid discussion.

Now that we understand the basic history and its key characters, I want us to think about how to understand the events.

The nature of the survival of evidence over three and a half thousand years is patchy at best, and while we can string together a basic outline of our events, perhaps we could look elsewhere to add credence to our interpretations.

Given that human beings have been around for the best part of 200,000 years, 3 or 4 thousand years is just a drop in the ocean. I wonder if we can therefore draw inspiration from more contemporary events to add weight to our interpretations?

Here is where I need your help.

In the video, I’ll sum up the story so far. Then, Dr Alex Mackenzie from our Politics Department give you an idea of the type of event that might be comparable in some way. This is all designed to spark discussion, so what do you think? Can you think of any comparable examples that might help us to understand the ancient events? I look forward to discussing possibilities with you in the next step…

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Superpowers of the Ancient World: the Near East

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