Peter Frankopan: The Winners Write History

  • Tuesday 07, November 2017 in 7:37 PM
Sharjah 24:The winners write history – this is why western-centric versions of our shared past hold sway today. The opinion was one given by Oxford University Professor of Global History, Peter Frankopan, who was participating in a panel discussion taking place at Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) on Monday evening.
An acclaimed author, academic and expert on Eastern civilisations, Frankopan’s work ‘The Silk Roads: A New History of the World’ topped the non-fiction charts in the UK, Ireland, India, China and around the world, remaining in the UK top 10 for nine months. Appearing as part of the fair’s Cultural Activities programme, he outlined his thoughts on why the western historical perspective had gained hegemony over the years.

“Why is it that everyone in this room knows how many wives Henry the Eighth had? How is it that that story became so strong? I suppose that the simple answer is that the winners write history. Since about 1500, maybe 1600, Europe has led the world, for good and for bad – for bad in terms of empire, in terms of slavery, in terms of imperialism and all those things… but for good also because that’s where culture, art music, the sciences, literature has been galvanised and those things go hand in hand. I’ve always been interested in balancing those things,” he said.

Frankopan was attending the fair as part of the UK’s invitation as ‘Guest of Honour’ at the fair, a programme conducted in conjunction with the British Council. The activity has been designed to shine a spotlight on the outstanding achievements of English literature and to strengthen cultural ties between the UAE and the UK.

Responding to a question about how the Silk Roads - the subject of his bestselling book - had been made exotic over the years, Frankopan said that this was something that was inherent in human nature.

“What always happens is that you romanticise the past and the Silk Roads is a part of that romanticising in the same way that people today romaniticise about the Roman Empire or Ancient Greece. That’s why the Capitol Building in Washington and the Museum of Art in Sydney are designed to look like Roman and Greek temples. As far as I am aware, the Romans or the Greeks never made it to North America or Australia. It’s just that you glamorise a past you want to be connected to and the Silk Roads is a part of that story,” he said.

Peter Frankopan’s discussion was just one in SIBF 2017’s Cultural Activities programme, which takes place throughout the duration of the 11-day festival of literature, culture and the arts. Titled ‘A World in My Book.’ this year’s edition of the world’s third largest book fair is seeing the participation of 1,650 publishing houses from 60 countries. More than 1.5 million titles are on display at the event, which spreads across 14,625 square metres. SIBF 2017 features 393 guests from 48 countries taking part in more than 2,600 events.