Furness U3A World History Group: thoughts by Harry Knowles
“The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future” – Theodore Roosevelt
“What fascinates me are the turning points where history could have been different” – Hilary Mantel
I have always been interested in history, mainly military history. What the Furness U3A World History group has demonstrated to me is how fascinating the study of other countries’ history is and how their cultures, world view and politics have been shaped by that history. With the World History group, while our own personal international travel has been stopped by Covid, we have been free to explore the Ottoman Empire, Japan from the 17th Century to the early 20th and currently Russia in the 17th and 18th Century. All this is done by Zoom from our own homes.
At our last meeting we learnt in depth how Russia under Peter the Great undertook a whole series of reforms to become more westernised but how those reforms only really affected the Monarchy, the Nobility and the Armed Forces. The hard and traditional life of the Russian peasants was not changed. In essence Peter the Great dressed the Russian nation in Western clothing, the Russian Head was changed but not the body. Peter the Great inherited a 17th century autocracy sustained and sharing power with the Nobility and the Greek Orthodox Church. 90% of the Russian population were peasants living in various states of poverty. Serfdom was supported and indeed imposed by the state. Russia had inherited from the Mongol invasion and occupation a militarised, centralised and expansionist state. The Greek Orthodox Churchh ad bequeathed to Moscow the trappings of the now defunct Byzantine Empire. Peter the Great inherited a monarchy challenged by the Church and Nobility.
In a whirlwind of reform inspired by the French King Louis X1V, Peter developed the idea that the Russian Czar had absolute power over his realm. The Russian nation was seen as an organic body headed by a supreme leader. Individuals had a moral obligation to serve the state. The concept of the Strong Man leader was developed, very much in the mould of President Putin today. The nobility became functionaries of the state. Russia’s Armed forces were strengthened and Russia became a well ordered police state.
Peter the Great introduced shipbuilding techniques from the Netherlands to strengthen the Russian Navy. He modernised the Army along Austrian lines. He introduced manufacturing ideas from England, city planning from the French as shown in the new city of St Petersburg. He introduced cultural ideas from France. In borrowing western ideas Peter was concerned to increase the international standing and security of Russia. Peter also enlisted the church through priests to spy and report on the peasantry. I cannot help but see what Russia is doing under President Putin as following in the footsteps of Peter the Great.
If you want to understand more about the world through the Zoom lens of the World History group then why not contact our excellent group leader Rosie Kyles. Join us as we explore World History to better understand the present.
Russia – The Greats
That is Peter the Great and Catherine the Great!
The next topic for World History will be Russia from 1600 to 1800, which covers the reigns of these two Russian leaders and some more besides.
World History Group runs by members of the group finding out about a topic and passing on what they know to the others through a talk or presentation, this works very well and it is surprising how much learning can be accomplished this way. It is also fun; we are a relaxed and caring group and everyone gets a chance to ask questions and discuss the topic as well as listening to the presentations.
We are currently running this group on Zoom, so anyone from Furness U3A (or at any other U3A) is welcome to join us. Just email me – Rosie Kyles – and I can give you more details. The topic will start in September to give everyone a chance to do some reading and to prepare a talk or presentation.
Any new members interested in trying out this group would be most welcome.
Email Rosie Kyles, World History Group Leader for more information.
World History Website - Further reading