Naoíse Mac SweeneyMay 27, 2023
A New History of an Old Idea
Dr. Naoíse Mac Sweeney presents a radical new account of how the idea of the West has shaped our history, told through the stories of fourteen fascinating lives in her book The West: A New History of an Old Idea (Dutton, 2023).
We tend to imagine Western Civilisation as a golden thread, leading through the centuries from classical antiquity to the countries of the modern West - a cultural genealogy that connects Plato to NATO. It is an idea often invoked in the speeches of politicians and the rhetoric of journalists, and which remains deeply embedded in popular culture. But what if it is wrong?
In an epic sweep through the ages, prize-winning archaeologist and historian Naoíse Mac Sweeney charts the history of this idea - an idea of enormous political significance, but which is nonetheless factually incorrect and obscures the wondrous, rich diversity of our past. She reveals how this particular version of Western history was invented, how it has been used to justify imperialism and racism, and why it is no longer ideologically fit for purpose today.
Told through the lives of fourteen fascinating historical figures - including a formidable Roman matriarch, an unconventional Islamic scholar, an enslaved African American poetess and a British prime minister with Homeric aspirations - The West is a groundbreaking retelling of Western history and a powerful corrective to one of the greatest myths of all: Western Civilisation.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.