Last week I realized I hadn’t talked about my classes this semester at all—so, I talked about one. But I’m taking three. The other two are World History: Asia and World History: India, both with Greg. And, honestly, I wish I wasn’t taking both at once.
When I was a kid, and then in high school, history was mostly presented as a single, long story. The story began in Sumeria or Egypt with the beginning of civilization, moved to Greece, from there to Rome, and from there to northern and Western Europe, and finally to North America. I’m serious, I took several World History classes, starting in elementary school (that was just called History Class, but we did a World History unit), and every single one of them began the story in what is now Iraq.
Did any of them address anything that happened in Iraq over the more recent 2500 years? Of course not. Sumeria invented cuneiform writing and agriculture and then went on hiatus until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the early 1990’s.
That’s not how Greg tells the story.
When Greg teaches history, the locus of the story doesn’t move. Instead, each area has its own story, from which civilizations come and go, and which is the center of the world from its own, valid perspective.
So, Indian history is all about India, from the earliest records of the Indus Valley civilization down to the present day. Asian history is mostly China and Mongolia, two great cultures twining around each other, the one predominately agricultural and settled, the other predominately pastoral and nomadic. I mean, that's what the class covers. Asia is a big continent and obviously there are more than two countries in it.
Of course, neither class can do more than touch on the stories and cultures of either place, but it’s more than most of us knew about these places before. And Greg’s primary mission, I think, is to show us what the world looks like with a different center. I mean, all my life “Mongolia” has been a synonym for “strange and far away,” but there are millions of people for whom it is simply “here.”
But I’m taking these two classes at once, so on any given day I have to think, where is the center of the world today? Am I thinking about India, or am I thinking about Asia?
Especially in my first year, but often since then, I’ve found my classes reinforcing each other, commenting on each other, even when the masters in question seldom communicated, as with Charlie and Kit. This is the first time the opposite has happened, where two classes have conflicted. And they are both taught be the same man!
I was thinking about this—what’s it like for Greg? I mean, he’s teaching the two classes, does he ever get confused? Especially since he’s also still teaching all these workshops on Islamic history, and last week there was his talk on the American Revolution and next month there’ll be Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Day. How does he maintain his focus on so many different centers?
When I first got here, there was a lot of talk about ways in. Athletics could be a way in, art could be a way in, spellwork could be a way in….Well, maybe history can be a way in. And maybe the gap that you actually go through to get in lies between Asia and India.