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HUMA 2195 Defining Europe Essay

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Chris Morris - 213925177
Professor Tanya Taylor-Cherry
HUMA 2195 Defining Europe: An Introduction to European Studies
24 October 2014
Europe: A Culture Area
Tackling the definition of Europe is by no means an easy task. Terry Jordan argues that
Europe is a human entity rather than a physical one; that the cultural and historical
distinctiveness of Europe is what defines it as a region. When one considers culture it is the
beliefs, customs, traditions of a particular society, group, place, or time that come to mind.
Therefore, Jordan’s outlook collects criticism for its generic and eurocentric approach. If Europe
can be defined by a cultural area, can the same argument be implemented for every other
continent, country, or even city? Jordan’s thesis of Europe as a cultural area can unquestionably
be proved correct; it is not difficult to reason that only the Europeans and European culture
entails a true history in the sense of a diverse, dynamic past, distinguishing it from and elevating
it above all other cultures of the globe.
Terry Jordan defines the requirements an area must have to be considered a culture group
as "any large area inhabited by people of a particular culture, a land upon which the visible
imprint of that culture has been placed". As briefly noted above, these have been disparaged for
their broadness and prejudice. Jordan set out two separate distinctions of a culture area, one
being the old world, and the other is the modern Europe we know today. When describing the
old world culture area of Europe, Jordan brings into play three requirements: must have a
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religious tradition of Christianity, speak one of the numerous related Indo-European languages
and be of the Caucasian race. At first glance this would seem entirely unreasonable-surely there
must be more to defining an area than language, religion and skin color. However, it is essential
to remember that culture is contextual-one generation’s understanding and perception of culture,
or of a culture area is different than another. At this specific period in history, it would not be
intolerant nor would it be unreasonable to conclude that Terry Jordan's designation of the old
world culture area is a suitable one.
Upon examination of Jordan's definition of the modern day European culture area, one
will notice it consists of numerous generic factors-factors which are arguably present in all firstworld countries on the globe today. These factors include a well educated, healthy and well-fed
populous. Jordan also mentions the requirement of political, social and economic relevance with
percentages that must surpass the world average. These aspects are broad and could potentially
be applied to every developed country in the modern world. However, if we take a glance at the
top twenty-five countries of the 2014 Human Development Index reported by the United Nations
we will notice an interesting trend which complements and supports Terry Jordan's thesis.
The Human Development Index (HDI) is a statistical tool utilized to measure a country's
overall achievement in its social and economic dimensions. The social and economic dimensions
of a country are based on the health of people, their level of education attainment and their
standard of living(The Economic Times). What the HDI assesses countries on is an accurate
comparison to what Jordan requires of the modern day European culture area. From the top
twenty-five countries found on the 2014 Human Index Report, fifteen of these countries reside in
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continental Europe. Six of these countries are currently, or were at one time in modern history
colonized by the Europeans. Out of the top twenty-five countries on the HDI, there are only three
countries that are not in Europe nor assisted in development by the Europeans. Now this may
appear as a eurocentric observation, a way to proclaim European excellence, but these are merely
facts that have been examined and reported by an unbiased source. Yes, Jordan's definition is no
doubt broad and unspecific. However, after taking the previous facts into consideration it is not
hard to deem his proposal an accurate one.
Let's set aside Terry Jordan, and consider a culture area on its own. According to the
Merriam-Webster Dictionary a culture area is "a contiguous geographic area comprising a
number of societies that possess the same or similar traits or that share a dominant cultural
orientation". When referring to this definition it becomes evident that this culture area can be
applied virtually everywhere, whether it be a continent, country, or city. Nevertheless, European
culture-a culture which is present all over the globe in today's world, has a right to possess its
own exclusive cultural area and definition.
Europe symbolizes a set of standards which has advanced over the last two centuries into
a grand meta-narrative: a story that traces the long march of Western civilization from its genesis
(Peckham 64). Referring again to the results of the 2014 Human Development Index it
demonstrates the continuation of European excellence in the modern world with fifteen of the top
twenty-five countries residing in Europe. Although a number of grand civilizations have exis5ted
throughout time, it is the civilisation of Europe which has made the deepest and widest
impression, and which set the standard for all peoples of the Earth (cited in Davies 17). Again,
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permitting Europe its own specific culture area is certainly a eurocentric approach. However,
Terry Jordan is not the first to define Europe as a distinct cultural area. The Ancient Greeks
originally divided the world into continents as a way of setting themselves above what they
considered to be the inferior, or barbaric cultures of Africa and Asia (Mikkeli 7). While this
perspective in the modern world would be extreme and likely considered discriminatory, it is
again imperative to remember context. The Ancient Greeks division of Europe from the rest of
the globe is on par with Terry Jordan defining Europe as a culture area.
It is only natural to endeavour in the preservation of European uniqueness and
exceptionalism by pronouncing ways to differentiate Europe from all other cultures. Europe has
always and currently does stand above other cultures of the globe with political, social and
economic influence. Europe can be defined as a homogeneous culture area because of its
remarkable history, it's unique merits, and what Europe symbolizes and provides to the modern
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Works Cited
Jordan, Terry G. “Europe Defined.” The European Culture Area: A Systematic Geography. 2nd
Edition. New York: Harper and Row, 1988. 1-20.
"Human Development Index Definition | Human Development Index Meaning - The Economic
Times." The Economic Times. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
Peckham, Robert Shannan. Rethinking Heritage: Cultures and Politics in Europe. London: I.B.
Tauris, 2003. Print.
Mikkeli, Heikki. Europe as an Idea and an Entity. New York: St. Martin's, 1998. Print.
Davies, Norman. Europe: A History. London: Pimlico, 1997. Print.
Webster, Inc. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 2004.
"Human Development Index Reports." United Nations Development Programme. 2014. Web. 17
Oct. 2014.
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