Connecting culture and history

The historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto sets out to document the intellectual history of the world in Out of Our Minds: What We Think and How We Came to Think It.  

He explained history’s connection with culture and how it influences our understanding of history: “The way we understand the past is itself a function of the cultural circumstances that surround us.”

When attempting to understand human history, the author said that he would consult a hypothetical 'galactic observer'. He explained humans’ intellectual history in two words – convergence and divergence.

Fernández-Armesto said, “It’s a past of divergence because it’s your habit of multiplying culture, of behaving differently in different places...We exchange culture and become more like one another again, and I call that process convergence, and it’s going on pretty much all the time.”

He posed the question, “Will convergence create a kind of global homogeneity whereby we all share the same ways and even the same thoughts? Or will globalisation add another culture to all the vast multiplicity that we’ve already developed?”  

If you’re interested in history, also see AC Grayling discuss the history of philosophy at 11.30 am, 2 June. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally, please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.