Even when we don’t know we are, we are wearing blinders. There was recently a show entitled “Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. What most people do not realize is that the Seljuks were a different people than the Ottomans who followed in the 14th century. From roughly 1071 to 1307, there was a Seljuk Empire that stretched, at times, from Samarkand to Anatolia. The “Turks” the West was fighting during most of the Crusades were the Seljuks. To the permanent settlers of the lands taken over by the Crusaders, both the Christians and the Turks were barbarians.
Too many cultures of whose existence we are either totally unaware or in other ways woefully ignorant have passed through the lands we have studied over the last two millennia. And our focus has typically been only on Western Europe and the lands of the Mediterranean. Asia and especially Africa are tierra incognita to us still. As an Eastern European, I am dismayed that Americans know so little about the peoples who were merely regarded as Soviet Satellites since World War Two. I doubt whether as many as 0.1% of students could name the countries bordering on Hungary, for example.
According to a review of the exhibition by Peter Brown entitled “Splendors of the Seljuqs in New York” for the The New York Review of Books for August 18, 2016:
But the meaning and uses of many of these objects are hard to grasp. Faced by so much beauty, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are not walking through a splendid jeweler’s store. These objects once lived. They had a part in solemn ceremonies. They conjured up images of the good life. Many are covered in inscriptions in Arabic and Persian that only few of us can decipher. Even their geographic placing is puzzling to us.
We Americans have to realize that we live in the world, and that we form an ever decreasing share of the world’s wealth and culture. Why are our students not being taught a global perspective on history and culture? Not only are we not a “City on a Hill,” but we are more Podunk-ized as time goes on. Thank you Mister Trump for making us all wear the Emperor’s New Clothes.