Recklessly Abroad: Perceptions of History

For those of you who do not know, I, Nick of the Reckless Historians, am currently studying in England for this fall semester.  I am greatly interested in European history, especially that of the World Wars (never would have guessed from my first series, eh?).  Going to Europe has been a dream of mine since I was sixteen, so it was finally made a reality.

As the first entry to this series, I thought it best to informally relay some of my discoveries to our loyal readers concerning how people from different areas (especially different countries) perceive the past.

I must say, some of my little discoveries were mildly surprising.  To get to know the British students living near my room, I started asking them questions, primarily focused on what they thought of the United States and such.  Facetiously, I remind them “just who won the war.”  To my astonishment, some Britons actually celebrate America’s Independence, having hamburgers and other American fare on the Fourth of July.  “Good Riddance Day,” maybe?  I kid, I kid!

My next observation was a tad more academic, stemming from seminar discussions in my history classes.  For the first time ever, I found myself unable to use the royal “we” in historical discussion.  When discussion Georgian Britain, my fellow students could use “we” in reference to their collective history.  It was a strange feeling, an epiphany that I did not completely share their historical heritage of which they were quite proud.

I must have sat at that table dumbstruck for about a minute, realizing that for the first time, I was the odd-man-out in a historical discussion.  In all honesty, it was a shock that could potentially remove the “United States” from the center of my historical thinking.

For over a decade, my schooling has taught me that American History was the only one to be taught.  Everything that happened before, be it Columbus or the Greeks, were there to bring about the United States.  It was as though the United States had been created and exists as the result of thousands of years of human thought and struggle.  Realization my ethnocentrism was and is a bit of a shock.

Even now, I frame my new knowledge with American events:

Emancipation of the Serfs?  That occurred around the start of the Civil War…

I doubt I could have realized this without having these discussions with my fellow history students “across the pond.”  Having your own faults pointed out is not by any means a “good” feeling.  Not at all.  The good will come when we can honestly portray history without any intentional bias, like a true historian.



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