History, in depth?
We don't have one tenth of the amount of information
we have about the economy of Britain or France for Iran
June 16, 2005
These past two quarters at the
UCLA, I have been taking a graduate seminar class in the history
of Middle Ages, concentrating on the Carolingian history (that
is the dynasty of Charlemagne).
The second quarter (the one that is currently ending) is dedicated
to writing a research paper on whatever subject we choose, as long
as it is related to the early Middle Ages. Last night, we had to
present our paper topics in the class and discuss the subject matters.
I listened to the 18 papers presented by my peers. All had interesting
subjects and were well researched. However, what really captured
my attention was the subjects themselves. They are extremely specific,
ranging from a closer reading of the Eccelesiastical History of
Bede to looking at the veneration of relics in Medieval Europe.
Others were looking for the uses of fish and fishing in that time,
while another one was comparing the role of religion in the Byzantine
and Carolingian army. All are subjects that are eventually going
to be finding their way to academic journals and contribute to
our understanding of Medieval Europe.
But the last word there is the catch-word: Europe! We know so
much about the Medieval history of Europe. We certainly have a
clear picture of its "bigger picture" and know the big
issues and matters. Subjects such as diplomatic relations between
European dynasties are known and well researched. We are now in
the second gear of studying the European history: closer look at
the long-held beliefs and correcting some wrong statements. We
are now refining our knowledge of the history of Europe and fine-tuning
Then, switch to some other place in the world. Forget about Sub-saharan
Africa and similar cases, where we have almost no information for
hundreds of years. Even in the case of the history of well-established
literate cultures such as India, China, and the Near East, our
research is not anywhere to be compared with the European one.
In my own field of Ancient and Medieval Iranian history, many
big issues and general, "big picture" matters are unknown.
We don't have one tenth of the amount of information we have about
the economy of Britain or France for Iran. Subjects that are now
becoming more and more important in historical research about Europe
are completely unknown in the Iranian case. Subjects such as looking
at edicts and royal charters, as well as using hagiographies for
historical research, are not even considered.
This particularly is true in the research done in Iran and in
Persian. Other than the lack of attention to the field of history
itself, many historians do not even know about the new methodology
and sources for historical research. I find myself running research
about subjects that have been solved for the European case a long
time ago, yet in the Iranian context are neglected matters. This,
other than being important for the professionals, is determinal
in the general lack of attention and knowledge about history among
That is why I find that I am the only first year PhD student
doing research about Medieval history of Near East in my university!
No one else is doing that, while there are over 15 people working
on some aspect of Medieval European history. Our lack of basic
knowldge about the subject is even affecting the number of people
who are not intimidated by the field.
Khodadad Rezakhani is a PhD student in History at UCLA.
Visit his website, Vishistorica.com.