HISTORY MATTERS

I am an independent scholar functioning as an independent think tank. This means that I practice applied scholarship or applied history. Just as scientific theory can be applied to a practical use, so scholarly knowledge can illuminate the present.

I'm a student of the Mongol Empire, which makes me a student of medieval history. I apply my knowledge of East Asia's past to current events.

My object is to go beyond reportage that does not rely upon history. The idea is to provide context to inform the general reader and background to inform policy makers. This is context.

When engaging cultures with long histories and intellectual traditions, it is best to be aware of the resonance of history. For our time, that means global history.

There is no greater period of cross-cultural relations, in war and peace, than the Mongol Empire. Narrative history simply means the telling of the story. My love of history is a tribute to my father, a brilliant man, a lawyer of international repute and my model for my portrait of Chinggis Khan. I call him Genghis in Miami.

THE PAST ILLUMINATES THE PRESENT:

When I was a girl, my father taught me about the importance of history, of knowing the characters and deeds of the past. This has been missing from the curricula of most students today. Meanwhile, the popularity of authors such as David McCullough shows that there is a tremendous appetite for the general reader in works about the past.

The importance of the Mongol Empire is that it spans the first period of global history. Because of modern technology, we are in a new phase of global history. As my father used to say, there is nothing new about this. It is comforting to know that we have been here before. Humanity has undergone massive changes, cultures have clashed and intermingled. Nations have risen and nations have declined. Humanity has adapted. That is why I tell these stories.

I tell the amazing stories of the glorious deeds of the great characters of the Mongol Empire. In our time, the new scholarship paints a new portrait of The Conqueror, Chinggis Khan. We know that the conquests took generations, but we do not know much about the lives of the the successors of Chinggis Khan. The successor Khans were geniuses and villains, both, and their deeds are brilliant and sometimes bloody.

Why bother? The fallacy in the thinking of those who do not study history is that everything is new. The wisdom of those who study history is that everything old is new again. These stories form an important backdrop to the modern period. They help us to understand where we are today and how we got here. As the great Simon Schama says, "History matters."

Chinggis Khan built roads from one end of the empire to the other. It was said that a virgin could walk from one end of the empire to the other with a sack of gold on her head and arrive at her destination unharmed. This was the first extended contact between Europe and Asia since the ancient world. The fortunes that were made in the overland trade with China financed the Renaissance in Italy. This meant the rebirth of science and the emergence of the West. This is its significance.

First Chinggis Khan conquered North China. Then he conquered Central Asia. Then his brilliant General Subudei conquered Russia.

His grandson Khubilai Khan completed the reunification of China for the first time in 400 years, to the boundaries that China proper has today. His grandson Hulegu conquered Iran and Iraq.

His generals were on the verge of conquering Europe. They had already taken Hungary and Poland. Only the death of the Supreme Khan saved Europe, for it was divided and no match for the greatest fighting force of the Middle Ages.

After the Mongol conquest, the two most important communist states were more authoritarian and more centrally organized

The Mongol Empire lasted for one hundred years in Asia, but the problem with the Mongols in Russia was not that they came, but that they stayed for two hundred years, until the time of Ivan the Terrible.

Europe was completely unaware of the new political master of Asia. But news traveled.

This is what the Chronicler of Novgorod said about the Mongol storm from the East:

"In the year 1224 for our sins, unknown tribes came. No one knows who thy are, what their language is or race or faith but they called themselves Tartars.

They took many cities, Vladmir, Suzdal, Kiev and only when they could not come across our marshes in a wet summer were we saved.

The riders departed for that season. We know not whence they came, nor where they hid themselves again. God knows whence he fetched them against us, for our sins.

***

Alarmed by the juggernaut of the approaching Mongol Army, Middle Eastern Islamic rulers sent embassies to the Christian Kings of Europe in the 1230s.

The Arab ambassadors warned of the danger Europe could expect from the Mongols.

The ambassadors were ordered by the Caliph of Baghdad to offer a military alliance between the Christians and Saracens, as the Muslims were called.

The reasoning of the Muslim rulers was that Christians and Muslims, both being People of The Book, had a common enemy in the infidel barbarian.

The courts of Europe received the full-ranking Muslim ambassadors in their magnificent clothes, but rejected their proposal.

The Islamic world was far more advanced than the Christian world in science and mathematics at the time. All the learning of the ancient world, of Hellenic and Judaic science, medicine, philosophy was preserved in the libraries of Islam and among its learned class.

Still, the Bishop of Winchester pronounced his judgment to Henry II, the King of England: "Let these heathen dogs devour one another."

As I am fond of saying, this is Game of Thrones, only for real.