Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|The Story of Civilization - The First Empires|
Genres: Educational, Documentary
This fascinating episode journeys to the first great empires of Greece and Egypt to provide a superb overview of everyday life as it was more than 3,000 years ago. The program explores the society and culture of both empir... more »
Disapointing. Myopic. Eurocentric.
Leo | ny | 07/28/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I purchased this DVD as a history student who has always been fascinated by the ancients. Sadly, this was not what I was neither the documentary I wanted it to be, nor the documentary its title promises.
If you're a fan of the History Channel and other info-tainment and educational programming, then you should know quite well that historical documentaries are skewed in terms of content towards a seemingly fixed set of time periods and subject matter. You'll have no problem finding numerous high quality series on Rome, World War 2, or the American Civil War, for example. If your interest is ancient Egypt or Greece, then likewise you will have a number of entire series dedicated to these topics, all tending to drive home the same tired old cliches--not to mention the occasional tired old misconception or two. But if your interest lies in real world history--the kind of ancient history that you (hopefully) learn in a good world history text or class, then you're out of luck. Assyria, Persia, the Hittites--the list of Mespotamian empires that both laid the ground work for the later classical world (not to mention the modern world) and have also been forgotten to the public at large are numerous.
When I saw this series, I was hoping--and expecting--to get what I was promised: the "Story of Civilization", this chapter focusing on "The First Empires". I was excited. But I was wrong. As any 6th grade history student knows, the "first empires" were Mesopotamian (starting with Sargon the Great and the Akkadian Empire). But you wont find any information on the great cities of Sumeria--Ur, Uruk, etc--Babylonia, Assyria, the Medes, or any of that. Nope. What you get is largely Greece and Egypt. This is despite the fact that Greece didn't even come onto the scene as a major power (certainly not a major IMPERIAL power) until the time of the Trojan War (I'm being generous here, too)--and by that time the Mesopotamian region was already "civilized" for quite some time and already saw numerous empires rise and fall and set major precedents for their successors. But no. We don't meet these empires or their rulers. We don't hear about Cyrus the Great of Persia, or even Hammurabi.
The Eurocentric view that Greece is the beginning of civilization is condescending, ethnocentric, and just plain wrong. It's a misrepresentation that completely ignores the BEGINNING of civilization and the important transitions (like that from hunting and gathering to nomadic and sedentary lifestyles) that lead to the agricultural societies and state societies that represent civilization as we know it today. The "Story of Civilization" starts with chaper 4, and while that format worked for George Lucas, it does not work for human history.
The inclusion of Egypt is likewise suspect. While Egypt was certainly one of the earliest civilizations, its existence as an "empire" was brief and only much later on (the New Kingdom, many would say). Of course, the series never bothers to define "empire", let alone contemplate it's meaning, origins, or importance in the evolution of human civilization and the political dynamics between socio-political entities. Perhaps that's a bit too anthropological or poli-sci, but without the context the episode's subject matter (or title at least) is empty and devoid of any meaning or intellectual integrity. I digress. The inclusion of Egypt would be great, necessary even, if it were within a wider scope of topics and a deeper inquiry into the stated subject matter, but it is not. We all know (or should know) that the Nile Valley was one of the centers where human civilization began to develop, but what about the Indus Valley, or China? These too deserve consideration and attention, no? Or the independant birth of civilization (and empire) that took place in Meso America and South America. Of course, the "Story" of Civilization opts to follow a single linear path that simplifies, waters down, and narrows historical scope to the point where it becomes not just simplistic, but (assuming we trust the title implicitly and take the episode as a definitive account) actually harmful to a true understanding of world history.
No. I was sorely disapointed by the lack of vision, lack of scope, and the narrowness and shallowness of the approach. What we end up with is yet another basic introductory documentary that spends about 20 minutes looking at Greece and 20 minutes looking at Egypt, covering the typical features one would expect from any other of a hundred similar documentaries. Now, in this regard the content is not terrible. It's relatively well done. But the misrepresentation of what is actually being covered is unforgivable. It's as if I entitled a series "the Story of Language: the First Spoken Words" and started by providing brief, heavily generalized, cliched overviews of Greek and Latin.
If you want some basic introductions to Greece and Egypt, this episode isn't bad, but there are many other choices out there with higher production values, much more content, and much more depth and bredth. If you really wanted the story of how the first empires emerged onto the scene and what that means and meant in terms of the larger story of human civilization, you're going to be very disapointed (if you already have a background in the subject), or very mislead (if you're trying to learn about it or if you're a student watching this series for educational purposes).
I hope that some day someone will actually have the gaul to produce a quality series on the full story of human civilization, with intellectual depth and a broader, yet still reasonable, scope. Untill then, if you want to find out about this period you'll have to turn to print."