Thursday, May 25, 2006

World history and world languages

Two related sites that are too good to pass up, and serendipitously (see map above, Serendip's right there), they fit in nicely with today's theme of "what world history means to me."

In the post below I talked briefly about big patterns that are sometimes hard to see. Another important aspect of world history is taking the whole world and all the people in it equally seriously. That doesn't mean "everyone is as good as everyone else" (whatever that might mean), but that no one is dismissed out of hand.

The scholarly tradition I grew up in privileges European and neo-European history above all other history. In Canada, Canadian, American and European history dominate the curriculum and many other areas are hardly taught, even to History majors in big universities with great History departments. When I launched a course in the History of Islamic Civilization in the early 1990s, there were really no comparable courses in any History department in the entire province of Ontario. (It would be interesting to know how many there are now.) And I have to say that my course is just a survey put together by someone with no Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Southeast Asian languages.

This lack of non-European, non-neo-European history really is not good enough.

The cure? It would be nice if there were more tools and reference works that look at the whole world from one angle or another. Like

Ethnologue: Languages of the World:An encyclopedic reference work cataloging all of the world’s 6,912 known living languages

a lovely site where you can look up "Geez" and find out that it is the "Official liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Ancient language of the Aksumites." (This is actually an extinct language, which shows you that Ethnologue is more comprehensive than it seems from its own description.)

The site also tells us that Canada has 15,000 Latvian speakers and 5,000 Assyrian Neo-Aramaic speakers.

Once you are done reveling in this material you can then go to the Global Mapping International site to see Dr. Stephen Huffman's gorgeous and detailed World Language maps. For all you graphic learners.

Now that we've got the tools, we just need a willingness to use them.

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