On Wednesday, We were informed that we needed to explore the PCL and check a book out. After class, my colleague Cole graciously offered to show me around the PCL (Perry-Castaneda Library). While I was initially turned off by the buildings bland concrete exterior, I was quickly reminded of the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” (rather ironic seeing as it is a library). Within The concrete confines I found a veritable treasure trove of information. Each floor packed with an immeasurable amount of knowledge I was at a loss for where to start. Cole eventually directed me to the history section where I spent almost an hour sifting through the various Middle Eastern texts written in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi, French, and even Belgian.
For nearly half an hour I was enthralled with the writings of an early 1900’s explorer relaying the tale of the Great British explorer Henry Stanley and Belgium’s colonization of the Congo. This book coalesced perfectly with the topic of interpreting history we have been debating in class. Written at the turn of the 20th century, the book tells nothing of the forced labor, mass mutilations, and general savagery of the Belgian colonizers in relation to their Congolese subjects. Rather, coming from the perspective of a European imperialist, the text speaks of “willing conversions of the local populace” and “substantially higher quality of life”. Last I checked 5 million people with severed limbs doesn’t equate to a higher standard of living. But this is exactly the reason that history must continually be rectified and why history, much like wine can get better as it ages. In the immediate aftermath of the Congolese takeover, Belgium experienced huge economic growth from exploitation of Congo’s vast resources, so obviously imperialists looked at this colony as a resounding success. However, as news of King Leopold’s brutality filtered out the world was appropriately aghast at Belgium’s actions. To this day The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country with vast resources racked by continued warfare, exploitation, and death. In retrospect it is obvious that the book I read was grossly misinformed and biased. However if someone with no knowledge of the Congo were to read this book they would infer that European imperialism was the best thing that ever happened to Africa.
I digress though, I eventually settled on two books, A Study of Islamic History and a biography of the great Korean admiral simply called Sun-Yat Sen. After a detour to the libraries map room (AWESOME) I went home. That night looking over the assignment for Thinking Like a Historian I found out that I was supposed to get a book from the American Studies section! So now I find myself sitting in the PCL writing this blog post (my computer is having some serious hardware malfunctions), wondering what path of history this library will take me down when I walk to the American section after this.