I was watching an episode of Andrew Marr's "History of the World", episode title Age of Plunder earlier on BBC 1 and I was once again hit by what was unsaid rather than was said.
History is something that is constantly being erased, sometimes in destructive ways and other times to make way for the future. I am not talking about the destruction of Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia through redevelopment, or in Somalia or even in Timbuktu (where the conquest of the city also known as the place of 300 saints was immediately followed by the conquerors going at its historical buildings with pickaxe and shovel while the locals could only look on earlier this year), but something much more subtle.
The episode started by talking about the accidental discovery of Ameria by Christopher Columbus and then went on from there showing a voyage of plunder that resulted in capitalism. It was a worldwide tale that covered Europe, North Asia, East Asia, Japan, the Americas, Asia minor.
Pretty comprehensive you would say.
Except that if you plot all the locations on a map, you would think that the world has a hole in it.
This isn't the only history program with the hole and it seems to be so total that you dont even question it.
The whole in the world seems to be slightly east of europe, south of Russia and china, east of the far east and north of southern Africa.
That is quite a large hole.
But it is not totally hidden, as sometimes important things have happened there that have had consequences to the "real" world.
An example is something that happened 70 years ago and is currently being celebrated: while Hitler was trying to capture Britain, churchill was busy sending troops not to Britain but away from it and into this hole.
If you follow the history books, Hitler tried to capture britain in 1939, failed and then in 1942 the allies invaded Europe. The more "neutral" books will also mention the russians and their huge sacrifice (afterall they did all the fighting...), but other than that, nothing seems to have happened between the battle of Britain and D Day other than planning plotting scheming and drinking copious amounts of tea.
Then there is World War 1 - a global war again, where the battles were mostly in western europe and on the borders between Russia and germany. (Or were they?)
Since there is little coverage of this hole in the world, most people will simply not be aware of it and the only way to learn more is to go out there and actively search for it.
When you start to eat away at the clean lines, things start to get messy.
For instance, lets start at 1492.
Christopher Columbus was an Italian that sailed under the Spanish flag in ships full of spaniards (presumably with spanish sounding names) that bravely sailed west and found the new world.
Now lets add a bit of context. 1492 was the year when the reconquest of spain by Christians was completed. Uh oh, things are getting messy. The Spanish in the cosmopolitan period of the time would not have been as western european as currently envisaged - while the rulers were trying to erase spanish history, which they would through many acts including the spanish inquisition, that wasnt the case yet.
There is a whole world that is being hidden from plain view here. (I shall ignore the theory that the arabs had been trading with the americans long before, and columbus simply retreaded their routes which could have come into spanish hands through reconquest....)
Jumping to WW2, when Hitler was trying to invade Britain, what Churchill considered of such vital importance that he would send the heavy weaponry there instead of britain was the arab world, North Africa and the Suez Canal. 3 years were spent fighting there (and are admittedly being covered in a BBC 4 documentary titled Hitlers soft underbelly), to control that region and its supplies. The successful defence of Egypt, where the tide turned at "El Alamein" led eventually the fall of the nazi regime.
Going back a little to World War 1, a large and important part of it was the attempt to get a supply line to russia through through the ottoman empire, and the battles that suffered the largest casualties. The Gallipoli campaign - where the armies of the world gathered to fight the Ottomans, probably the only real "world battle" in the whole war occurred almost a century ago and something that needs to be read up on. Even here, the defeat of the Ottomans at Gaza (through chemical warfar, though you will only read up on chemical warfare being in western europe, by Germany against the allies), and where the world war came to an end within a month of the capture of Basra and Mosul. Here once again, when western Europe was in peril, the British were busy shipping their troops to fight in modern day Iraq and not the western front in europe...
There is so much history that affects us today that is simply ignored and not known about - and the ignorance is so complete that we are mostly not even aware that it is missing.
Putting all the above aside, I was surprised to note that potatoes were from the "new world". What did the Irish eat before the voyages to the americas?