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The World We Have Lost

Too many historians and commentators view history from a western perspective. In doing so, they turn their back on the roots of our global system, argues Peter Frankopan.

The walls and minaret of the Abu Dulaf mosque, Samarra, Iraq, ninth century.

If you were to round up some of the groups of school leavers pictured waving their A-Level certificates in the middle of August, I suspect that most would be able to recall some of the history they had been taught during the course of their school careers. The Romans in Britain will be in there somewhere, as will the Norman Conquest and the murder of Thomas Becket. The Wars of the Roses and the era of the Tudors will feature, as will the Civil Wars (with any luck). Those who stuck at it better and longer would hopefully be on solid ground when it comes to the transatlantic slave trade, the American War of Independence, Gladstone and Disraeli and then the two World Wars.

If you were to sit the same group in front of the evening news, I suspect they might struggle. Prominent on any given day would likely be the breakdown in Iraq and war in Syria; the increasingly likely prospect of Iran coming in from the cold; dramatic military confrontation in the Ukraine; continuing violence and uncertainty in Afghanistan; or perhaps a piece to camera on the significance of China to the global economy. Ask any of the new school leavers about the history of any of these countries, peoples or cultures and you will draw a blank. Ask them about contemporary culture and you'll get an even more bewildered look: who is the finest Russian contemporary artist, the best Arabic pop star (or classical musician), or the most exciting Chinese author?

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