A new look at history

Academic-turned-author Peter Frankopan challenges the Eurocentric version of history in his new book

Updated - February 04, 2016 04:45 pm IST

Published - February 04, 2016 04:41 pm IST - Bengaluru

Decoding the silk roads Peter Frankopan Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

Decoding the silk roads Peter Frankopan Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

“History is an important tool. It not only shows mankind at its best, with the multitude of contributions in the fields of art, culture, science, it showcases the worst of human nature as well, the genocides, the wars, the unspeakable horrors that people are capable of perpetuating on other people, says academic Peter Frankopan, whose latest book Silk Roads- A new History Of The World makes an attempt to break away from the Eurocentric version of history and study the trading routes spanning from the Persian gulf to China, a region that dominated world affairs for a large part of human history. Talking on the sidelines at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Peter says, “I feel that we are becoming more insular and tend to look at only our own countries and its neighbours. Most of the history we learnt in Europe is very Eurocentric and did not focus much on Iran, India or China, areas which saw a lot of exchange of ideas. It is only after a course in Russian and reading more about the history of the Arabian Peninsula, did I realize that the spread of ideas and technology is not a new concept. I used to have a huge world map at home as a child and used to wonder why we never learnt more about the world beyond our immediate neighbourhood in Europe.”

Peter says, “My book deals mainly with the manner in which ideas spread, the manner in which they were transmitted and the impact they had on human society. The route of the ancient silk roads saw new religions being born, spanned the greatest empires the world has ever seen and saw assimilation of culture and ideas. The desire to learn and discover new ideas is something that unites our species. Globalisation happened centuries ago when caravans made their way from China to the Arabian Peninsula. Air travel and technology has helped reduce the time taken to transmit those ideas.”

He adds, “I do not think that air travel isolates people. On the contrary, I feel that air travel has been a game changer. It has made many more areas more accessible from any place on Earth, in a matter of a few hours. It is no longer a luxury and has ensured that the world continues to become smaller and it has accelerated the spread of knowledge and information.”

Talking about the role of Asia in contemporary history, Peter says, “China, India and Iran have many challenges to meet and what they grow into is part of the narrative of history. At this juncture, Europe appears to have become stagnant and is disengaging with the world. It can learn lessons about the manner in which free spread of men and ideas transformed societies in Asia.”

His book also touches on the origins of Islam and Peter says, “The oldest books on Islam talk of it as a faith of great tolerance, patrons of art and music and high culture, a perception very different from what fundamentalists reading these texts have made it out to be. Constant dialogue and getting more people aware of the actual teachings will help in changing this perception.” Democracy, Peter contends is the best system, since it allows voices of minorities to be heard as well. “We must take care to ensure that history is not used for political gains.”

The author was at the Jaipur Literature Festival on the invitation of Teamwork Arts

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