Ignorance & Significance

“Ignorance is bliss”- a famous phrase- but where does it come from? I discovered the answer lies in a poem by Thomas Gray in 1742, where he penned “where ignorance is bliss, tis’ folly to be wise”. I honestly believe that Gray didn’t realise the significance of what he was saying!

A weird start to a blog post? Let me explain…

The famous phrase could well be applied to Colonel Gaddafi’s current situation. Having been interviewed with Jeremy Bowen, Gadaffi’s “delusional words” (as the UN called it) suggested a tyrannical dictator, completely out of touch with the situation in his country. According to Gadaffi, his people love him, and it’s Al-Qaeda who have infiltrated Libya and caused the unrest in the country. The situation in the Middle East, from a historical point of view, is fascinating. There is, inevitably, human tragedy involved. The victims of violence, the humanitarian effort on the western border- these terrible consequences of revolution are unavoidable, however. To witness this ‘domino effect’ taking place across North Africa and the Middle East, and how it could impact future Middle-East relations, is to view History in the making. Where we study the Russian revolution, or the Cold War now, the Middle East situation since the end of the Second World War could well be the History course of the future.

But- to return to the topic in question- in History, the last thing you want to be classed as is “ignorant”. Think to yourself, is there any ignorant heroes in History? I’m struggling here! On the other hand, think of those of whom History has portrayed in a negative light, and the phrase “ignorant” can often be used. A prime example would be Tsar Nicholas II, whose ignorance of the situation in Russia during WWI was one of the factors that led to his downfall.

This takes us to another important point. The opposite of being ignorant is to be acutely aware of a situation, and all the factors surrounding it. A big part of A-Level History is about considering significance. “What is more important here?” “What was the primary cause there?” “why did it happen that way then?” It’s a new skill for students to pick up, who until A-Level are used to explaining events and giving a brief opinion to finish. Analysing significance is a vital life skill- picking out the most prominent events and factors from a specific topic, and being able to explain why. It takes analysis of key details, and a keen ability to prioritise. I think this is one of the biggest challenges facing AS historians as they make the step up from GCSE.

What word would you use to describe him???

So, when we look back, what will we say was the most significant factor that caused the unrest in the Middle East, and why will it be seen as more important than any of the other factors? Here, we cannot just blame Gadaffi’s ignorance (more of a consequence at this moment in time than a cause). It’s a difficult question to answer, but the BBC have attempted it– maybe it will help start your thought processes. Perhaps we’ll study it in the future, and find some answers for ourselves, but until then, a question that even a student not up to date on current affairs can answer:

What, in your opinion, is the main cause of revolutions- political turmoil, economic unease, or social unrest?

Something to think about- or even comment if you wish!

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