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Let's teach history in a different and better way

By John Avery - posted Monday, 28 May 2018

Let's teach history in a different and better way

Human nature has two sides: not only the dark side, to which nationalism and militarism appeal, but our species also has a genius for cooperation, which we can see in the growth of culture. Our modern civilization has been built up by means of a worldwide exchange of ideas and inventions. It is built on the achievements of many ancient cultures. China, Japan, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, and the Jewish intellectual traditions all have contributed. For instance, potatoes, corn, squash, vanilla, chocolate, chili peppers, and quinine are gifts from the agricultural achievements of the American indigenous people.

My recent book, The Information Explosion, discusses the role of information in evolution, and especially in the evolution of human culture, and is free to download and circulate.


In it, I discuss the need to reform our educational systems, particularly the teaching of history. As it is taught today, history is a chronicle of power struggles and war, told from a biased national standpoint. We are taught that our own country is always heroic and right. We urgently need to replace this indoctrination in chauvinism with a reformed view of history, where the slow development of human culture is described, giving credit to all who have contributed. When we teach history, it should not be about power struggles. It should be about how human culture was gradually built up over thousands of years by the patient work of millions of hands and minds. Our common global culture, the music, science, literature and art that we all share, should be presented as a precious heritage – far too precious to be risked in a thermonuclear war.

Many areas of science can be thought of as history:

Cosmology is history: It is the history of our entire universe.

Geology is history: It is the history of our Earth, its continents and its oceans.

Evolutionary biology is history: It is the history of all living creatures. It is the history of our own species and our place in nature.

Paleoanthropology is history: It is the history of how homonoids became humans.


The study of languages is history. Relationships between languages allow us to trace the spread of humans from their origin in Africa to other parts of the earth.

Modern genetics contributes to history: The study of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomal DNA allows us to trace the pathways that our ancestors followed when populating the earth.

Two sides of human nature: Compassion and Greed

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About the Author

John Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin, evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its background situated in the fields of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory.

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