The history of our race is immensely complex. A comprehensive historical account of humanity would include descriptions of many now extinct languages, cultures and civilisations. To understand our identity, it is natural for us to ask about our past and to understand how we fit into this bigger picture. From the perspective of a psychiatrist, the course of human history is not immediately relevant to psychiatric practice. However history, as part of the humanities is immensely important in understanding people and particularly the origins of cultural practices. Significant historical events can have profound effects on societies many hundreds or even thousands of years afterwards, dictating the normative values within a society. These values in turn influence the boundaries of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ attitudes and behaviours. Much has been written about the treatment of people with mental illness in different periods of history illustrating how such illnesses are perceived through the lens of historical cultural values.
One simple question we can ask is ‘How can we make sense of such a complex history?’. While there is no simple answer the efforts of UNESCO present us with one solution. UNESCO is short for the ‘United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’. The aims of UNESCO are clearly outlined on their website which includes the following statement
‘UNESCO works to create the conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values‘
UNESCO has undertaken the ambitious task of detailing and communicating the history of humanity in a way which is inclusive to a multiplicity of perspectives. Here are #3 ways that UNESCO have achieved this.
#1 UNESCO’s website ‘The History of Humanity‘. The website acts as a central point for the History of Humanity projects.
#2 UNESCO’S collective work ‘The History of Humanity’. ‘The History of Humanity’ is a work created by a collective group of experts ‘The International Commission of the History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Humankind’ ‘consisting of thirty scholars of international repute‘ with a further reference to ‘450 distinguished scholars from all around the world‘. The paper version of the book is available from here as is a sample online chapter. The work organises history around ‘structures’ and the interactions of centres of civilisations according to the following time periods.
Volume I: Prehistory and the Beginnings of Civilization
Volume II: From the Third Millenium to the Seventh Century BC
Volume III: From the Seventh Century BC to the Seventh Century AD
Volume IV: From the Seventh to the Sixteenth Century
Volume V: From the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century
Volume VI: The Nineteenth Century
Volume VII: The Twentieth Century
#3 UNESCO’s YouTube Channel videos. UNESCO have uploaded a number of videos to YouTube many of which are distributed under a Creative Commons License. This means that with appropriate attribution and adherence to the conditions of the license, the videos can be redistributed and even edited. Here is a selection of the videos from the Channel.
UNESCO-2 – The Cro-Magnon Man
UNESCO -4- The Egypt of the Pyramids
UNESCO -3- The First China’s Emperor
UNESCO – 14 – Galileo Galilei
The French Revolution
UNESCO – 22 – Abraham Lincoln
Mahatma Gandhi – Pilgrim of Peace
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