I’m afraid you’re stuck with me today ❤ *and to make it worse, I’m taking you in a completely different direction!*
This week I want to discuss (in a nutshell) the importance of studying history in the hopes that I might inspire some of you on your own educational journeys!
Don’t be scared to let me know your thoughts below as we are always delighted to hear from our viewers!
But most importantly, enjoy the post!
THE ROOT: PROLOGUE
I often get strange looks after telling people that I study history.
To many, it seems like a random venture, a $30,000 hobby with little to no hope of a successful career. I mean, honestly… When you think about history, what comes to mind?
Indiana Jones? *Great movie btw, I don’t blame you*
The Great Pyramids of Giza?
Greek statues with chiselled abs?
Well thankfully *for my future bank account* studying history in the 21st Century is far more relevant than you might think.
Why? Well, to put it simply, because our lives are interconnected with those of our ancestors.
Without their strength and endurance throughout history’s many challenges, we wouldn’t be here today. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on the situation, this sentiment also accounts for their decisions and how they continue to influence us in the 21st century.
So… Let’s get on with it, why is it so important to study history in the 21st Century?
AND – What does any of this have to do with the Vikings?
The final battle between the gods of Asgard and the Loki and his offspring during Ragnarok. Image by Johannes Gehrts, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
THE TRUNK: CULTURE AND BELIEF SYSTEMS
Let’s start by considering culture, arguably the most vibrant aspect of life.
Cultural diversity is a vital element of the human experience and is derived from thousands of years of human interaction. According to Insoll, the modern perspective of foreign culture results from the Eurocentric influence over ancient studies; many of the most relevant historical publishing houses are even situated in *you guessed it* Europe!
Historians have an elemental power over how we interpret our cultural past. This power was sadly exploited during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coined by Renfrew and Bahn as a prosperous time for the development of the archaeological discipline. Insoll suggests that studies surrounding World Culture during this period were primarily neglected in favour of Western Archaeology. To put it plainly, according to Blair, the prioritization of a Western narrative has constrained the modern archaeologist’s ability to build an accurate history of human culture. And I agree with him.
Doesn’t sound very inclusive, does it?
Unsurprisingly, cultural polarization didn’t just magically appear during the 20th century; examples of this phenomenon pop up all throughout history! Take Norse mythology; you would have heard of Thor, Loki, and Odin most recently as part of the Marvel Universe, but did you know they are Gods from a clear-cut religion? More specifically Old Norse Religion which only developed into a mythological system during the medieval period.
Recent archaeological research suggests that Thor and Odin were not simply part of local folklore but were actually worshipped by the Norse population as Gods. For example, an abundance of Mjollnir Amulets – more commonly known as Thors Hammer – are frequently found in burial sites across Scandinavia and other Viking settlements. As discussed by Gräslund, several such artefacts were discovered at a cult site in Östergötland suggesting that Thor was the centre of a religious cult and not simply a mythological character.
Raudvere suggests that the change in the Viking belief system was brought on by cultural assimilation as Norse peoples endeavoured to explore continental Europe. Raudvere goes on to say that aspects of the Old Norse religion were recorded by Christians for cultural preservation. Interestingly, many of these sources also utilized elements of Norse Religion to educate Christian followers about poor behaviour.
My point is, can we really trust everything we think we know? Is our accepted version of history truly accurate?
Thor’s hammer in gold and silver from Erikstorp, Ödeshög parish, Ödeshög municipality, Östergötland, Sweden. Image by Olof Sörling, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
In this case and many others, archaeologists and historians have reunited lost cultures with their modern counterparts, but they have also corrected a false narrative. Allowing people to better understand their ancestors, and therefore, their cultural identity.
But how would we know any of this without studying History?
THE CANOPY: POLITICAL IDEOLOGY AND NATIONALISM IN HISTORY
Oh… Did you think I was done? *awkward*
I am sorry to inform you that this doesn’t just stop with Culture and Identity.
History, *or the version of the story we have accepted* is impacting your life in more ways than one.
Recent political turmoil in the USA offered this issue to the world stage on a platter when Viking Iconography was utilized by white supremacists who swarmed the capitol building during the 2021 re-election.
This gross misuse of cultural property can be put down to the fragmented retelling of Viking and Scandinavian history and what it represents. I won’t go into it right now but believe me, they had a structured society with laws and communities. They weren’t just “brawling maniacs”.
Scandinavian imagery is not the sole victim of this phenomenon though.
In her article ‘Hate Groups Love Ancient Greece and Rome: Scholars Are Pushing Back.’ Jen Pinkowski discusses how Ancient Greek social concepts and art are being misused by White Supremacists to justify even more problematic beliefs. Including how the Ancient Greek concept of eugenics now influences white supremacists due to its links with the Nazi ‘Aryan’ ideology.
Who’s going to stop them?! I hear you cry!
Well, the righteous Historians and Archaeologists, of course!
According to Pinkowski, *in yet another valiant example of what I would now like to dub ‘Bigot Busting” * recent research has revealed that Ancient Greek statues were, in fact, painted in an array of vibrant colours and skin tones. That’s it, no, they weren’t JUST white.
This suggests that the Greeks did not actually have a concept of ethnicity comparable to the modern era. Just another example of how powerful studying History can be in the 21st century.
“David” by Michelangelo (1501 – 1504) Image by Jörg Bittner Unna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
The importance of historical fact against racism is starting to gain momentum. A segment recently aired on the satirical program “Full Frontal” and was titled “White at the Museum”. You can watch it here. *Its funny – go and watch it*
Unfortunately, there is not enough time in the world to discuss all the reasons that studying History is so important in the 21st century. However, here are a couple of points that I think deserve a special mention!
You know Democracy? The popular political structure? Well, that was invented by the Greeks!
You can find a plethora of speeches online that were written by Ancient Greek politicians, my favorite was written by Pericles during the Peloponnesian War and is Chronicled in Thucydides’ ‘The Peloponnesian War.’
Oh, and if you ever wind up at the doctors, don’t forget that even now, they still have to take the Hippocratic Oath!
CONCLUSION: REPLANTING THE SEED
So, why is it so essential to study History?
Well, we are in the wake of a social and political revolution. People are more conscious now than ever before about the importance of cultural diversity and social acceptance. The work of Archaeologists and Historians in the 21st century is essential for this cultural transformation because it re-evaluates the bogus narrative of our predecessors.
It’s time to take a handful of seeds and plant Yggdrasil anew – though, we may have to wait for Ragnarok first…
Considering everything that’s happened over the past couple of years, it doesn’t look like its far off anyway…
If you are interested in learning more about why History is so important, check out the articles below!
J. Blair., (2011), ‘Overview: The Archaeology of Religion’ in D. A. Hinton, S. Crawford, and H, Hamerow (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Oxford), pp. 727-741.
A. S. Gräslund., (2008), ‘The Material Culture of Old Norse Religion’ in Brink, S., & Price, N. (eds) The Viking World (1st ed.), (London), pp. 249-256.
T. Insoll., (2001), ‘Intoduction:The Archaeology of World Religion’ in T. Insoll (ed) Archaeology and World Religion (London), pp. 1-32.
C. Raudvere., (2008), ‘Popular Religion in the Viking Age’ in Brink, S., & Price, N. (eds) The Viking World (1st ed.), (London), pp. 235-248.
C. Renfrew., & P. Bahn., (2020), ‘Archaeology Theories, Methods and Practice’, London.
Thanks for joining us, we hope to see you next time!
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The Arting the Ancients Team