DATE: 9:55:00 AM
Divisions of History
I guess a positive side-product of studying history, or rather a fascinating sort of history, is finding out about the history of ideas. Many of our everyday norms are actually quite amusing and are based on ideas of very ancient people. Indeed it is a great question to as why there are 12 months in a year? Why 24 hours in a day? Who created the seven day week? Who came up with the idea of chronology?
Obviously, "History" and "Time" are very much dependent on each other. History is the story of the passage of time and how that time was spent. However, dividing that history into time periods is not as natural. We are quite used to dividing everything in history into three periods: "ancient/old", "middle", and "modern/new". We have ancient history, medieval history, modern history, as we have Old English, Middle English, and Modern English. These divisions are quite convenient, and at the same time can be misleading. By nature, they dictate a breaking point. People expect to find a point when the world stopped being "ancient" and became "middle", or when "old english" became "middle english". The problem is, it really never happened like that. What is known as the ancient world did not all of a sudden stop and change directions! Old English gradualy developed into the Middle and the "modern" English of Shakespear; no one stopped one day and said:"Alright, I think I am going to stop speaking this language of Beowulf and start speaking like Chaucer!"
However, this very convenient division of time has been prominent in most Western historiography and has been used to denote different periods of European history. It has been partly successful, since the division was originally based on reality of European history with sometimes quite visible fault-lines like the Fall of Rome or the Reformation. By extension, the same division has been applied to non-Western histories. Iranian history, for example, is divided to ancient or pre-Islamic, Middle or post-Islamic, and Modern History from the late 18th century, the Qajars and beyond. The division does not stick by any means though! Iran has a history of at least 2000 years before Islam. The breaks did not happen as divided by these time periods; the big break was not the Islamic invasion, but the rise of the Sasanian military machine 300 years before. The alien nature of this historical division is evident when one looks at the histories written by historians of the old times like Bal'ami or Ibn Khaldun. They did not think of history in these divisions, and I think they would have found the idea quite amusing and probably useless.
I think our first attempt to untangle the web of misunderstanding between "The West" and "The Middle East" (Us and Them), should be an attempt to break free of this superficial historical division.