Thursday, October 28

The history of the world is also our history

The introduction of the new course History of the XV worlde century to the present day in the humanities program of CEGEPs aroused mixed reactions. A bunch of irreducible teachers, attached to the course History of Western Civilization, made his opposition heard, relayed in the public space by columnists and political figures. It is on the latter that I intend to dwell in order to review their arguments and respond to some of the fears expressed with regard to the new course in world history.

One of the concerns put forward by opponents of the new course is that of the erasure of Western history in the training of students. the West so important has its imprint in world affairs since the XVe century. In addition, the fact of relating the history of the West to that of other civilizations makes it possible to overcome the epistemological impasse to which its study in isolation leads. Indeed, how to bring out the singularity of the civilization of the West if we do not compare its historical course with that of other societies of the earth?

In fact, it is questionable whether the desire to give precedence to the West in examining the past is not a way of trying to stave off its gradual eclipse as a central actor in international relations. But is it doing students a service to nostalgia for past greatness and to lull them into the illusion that the study of the West’s past remains the key to understanding the current historical course of the world?

One of the elements of justification which accompanies this plea in favor of Western history is that it is about our “history”. Western history is rich and fascinating, and it deserves to be studied. But is it the role of specific training in the humanities program to strengthen the feeling of belonging to the West? The proposal is all the more astonishing as this supposedly ours story deploys a narrative framework centered primarily on Europe. However, I do not know of any other place in the world where the history of another continent is presented as its own history. In addition, one can wonder about the place reserved for people from diverse backgrounds in the great story of this “Western us”. For my part, I would be embarrassed to try to convince a student of Haitian or indigenous origin to identify with the Westerners of the past who enslaved their ancestors.

The corollary of the affirmation of our belonging to Western history is that the history of the world would be foreign to us and would turn us away from ourselves. The proposal leaves doubtful. First, because it obscures the prescriptions defined in the ministerial specifications, which force professors to tackle, among the content dealt with, “questions or examples linked to Quebec realities”. But also because this integrated, interconnected, interdependent world is not foreign to us. It is our world, and even more that of the young generations of Quebecers.

Moreover, it is a mistake to regard the history of the world as incompatible with national or Western history. Quebec has been a stakeholder in all the large-scale phenomena that have had a planetary resonance since the 15th century.e century: colonialism, industrialization, the great international armed conflicts, European and American imperialism, decolonization and the fight for the emancipation of peoples or women, the cold war, air pollution, globalization, etc. Other topics of interest that may be the subject of multisite examination as part of the world history course – the migration of populations, the circulation of biological organisms and viruses, trade in goods, production of energy resources – lend themselves particularly well to historical examination in the Quebec context.

We can certainly be satisfied with the historical narrative of the Western camera. And pretend to believe in a Western history which, being sufficient in itself, would be enough to explain the past of humanity in its entirety. Or, we can accept to face the reality of the current world, where an apparently distant phenomenon is making its effects felt in our most immediate living environments. The proposal put forward with the new world history course is not of an ideological nature: it simply takes note of the nature of the transformations underway on the planet scale, proposes to study their genesis and alternate, through the use of scales of analysis, global and local perspectives. Anchoring Quebec and Western history in a global perspective does not mean giving up oneself. It is accepting the fact that “our” history now goes beyond the narrower frameworks in which we had previously confined it. Cégépiens and Québé are ripe for such a deconfinement of their history.

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