I’ve been a student of European history, and also tried to make some headway in Asian history and other “world history.”
Much of more recent world history is about Europe and Europe’s impact on the rest of the world, and truly no patch of land was uninfluenced by Europe.
While European history, by itself, is fascinating, one can’t ignore the largely destructive effect that Europeans had on other parts of the world.
It’s ironic indeed. Take the 1800s, where Europe was struggling with the new socio-political ideas like democracy and communism. Both were ideas intended towards the betterment of ordinary people, against the privilege of aristocracy and the old orders. It was also a period of literature, economic development, scientific discovery and technological innovation. It makes it a fascinating period to learn about what made Europe what it is.
At the same time that Europeans were revolting in 1848 for democracy, self-determination and social upheaval… several European countries held large colonial holdings in the rest of the world. They did this largely at the expense of local cultures, peoples and rulers. All the rights that Europeans were struggling for were ignored in the colonies.
The Victorian period is what people most identify with Britain. Even though England today is nothing like England then, the outside concept of England is inevitably tied to the reign of Victoria. This is because it was a time when the British did so much to contribute towards the world, again in science, literature, and trade.
At the same time, it had an evangelistic approach to its colonies, converting Africa to Christianity by the machine gun, imposing Christian moralistic virtues upon India, and forcing Opium to be traded in China by force.
The thing is that the study of history cannot be made in a vacuum or in a bubble. It is too simplistic to focus entirely on European excesses and oppression of its colonies without also exploring European progressive developments. Similarly, one must always bear in mind how much of European advancement was based on its exploitation of its colonial resources and peoples.
I have long found the Italian Risorgimiento fascinating. The uniting of Italy was accomplished by republicans, socialists, monarchists and progressive statesmen and revolutionaries in 1866. How did that same country go on to attempt imperialistic conquest in 1895 in its failed invasion of Abyssinia? How did they reconcile their formative principles with the desire to grab their own piece of the imperial pie? The same question can be asked of most of the influential countries in Europe.