How will history change your future?
History isn’t dead. It’s living, present-day events that just happened to occur at a different time. Studying ancient civilizations is one of the most fascinating insights into our own times, because at one point these were current events, with the same human motivations behind them. Ancient history is almost like a roll call of the seven deadly sins: greed, lust, gluttony, sloth, avarice, envy and wrath. These tendencies are, for better or worse (mostly worse), hard-wired into the human brain and are just as prevalent today as ever.
Technology might be marching forward, but its power to change human existence stretches back to prehistoric times. Fire, writing, the wheel, iron and bronze changed society as much following their discoveries as the internet and artificial intelligence are doing today. A paleolithic futurist might have dreamed of a time when animals could be bred in captivity just as we imagine a future in which we become cyborgs and transcend death.
Soon we, too, will be history. Can we transcend our base nature to leave behind something better, or are we incapable of doing so due to our minds’ limitations? With an understanding of who the ancients were and why they did what they did, we can piece together a narrative that helps us understand who we are and why we do the things we do – and maybe avoid some past mistakes. We can look at present-day leaders and liken them to past figures, which gives us rich insights into their motives and the probable outcomes of their actions.
Nothing forces us to think about our own legacy than studying ancient history. We can observe civilizations in the distant past, compare them to our own, and learn what is really important and what isn’t. Fashion, for example, is something that changes but arguably doesn’t affect the core of who we are. Ethics and politics are more significant because they have the power to affect how large numbers of people think, in any age. Religion is a constant but needs to be held in check to protect us from its more extreme versions.
But apart from those lofty themes, it’s also simply fun to study ancient history. It fills in many gaps in our understanding of ourselves: why do we speak the language that we do? Where do numbers come from? What is the timeline of inventions that we now take for granted – plumbing, writing, mathematics, fireworks? Often time spent examining the past is more like play than study.
Senior Humanities lecturer Dr Maxine Moore is a great case in point. Her lecture series The Ancient World, now available online, showcases her infectious enthusiasm for ancient civilizations. She walks learners through a parade of empires ranging from late Stone Age to the Byzantine Era, with a wealth of detail that makes it feel like visiting a safari park of the past – everything is brought to life through colorful anecdotes and penetrating insight. This course, just released by courseindex.com, is arguably the most enjoyable romp through ancient history available today. Don’t miss it.
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