Where Are the Best Places to “Experience” Global Politics?

The best destinations to “experience” global politics are memorable, important and engage with politics on the personal, organizational and global levels.

The disconnect between abstract and far removed global politics at the international level, and lived experience at the personal level, can make global politics seem unapproachable, complicated and even unimportant—right until it crashes through your window. An important way to overcome the seeming distance is to visit locations where global politics has had visible effects. Those locations may not always be obvious, but done correctly, the experience can be inherently valuable to students of global politics.

As part of my responsibilities as an educator, I have the opportunity to travel to various locations, and use those locations to teach students about various subjects. More often than not, I find myself thinking while there: “What a wonderful location! I wish that more people could see it. This makes things so clear!“ In an attempt to make more locations available to this blog’s readers, I will periodically write posts that highlight these locations.
Unfortunately, but completely understandably, most tourist companies do not necessarily treat travel in ways best for learning specific subjects. Tour companies, even very excellent tour companies, are in the entertainment and not education business. While many people want to learn on their trips, they also want to have fun and see cool things. There are ample opportunities to have fun, see cool things, and learn in almost every historic location, so it is easy enough to visit memorable, stand-out locations exclusively, and smart tour companies work hard to make every stop a stand-out is some way.

When traveling primarily for education on a specific subject, learning that subject is the focus and travel is secondary. It is sometimes important to see things which are not inherently as memorable, but which provide context to other salient locations, or support for educational points. Some sites, artifacts or locations are stand-out and memorable in the context of study subject, even when not obviously notable independently. Furthermore, there are many striking locations of secondary importance to the subject at hand, which could easily become the focus of travel, if you allow it.

Shifting focus to famous, beautiful or inherently remarkable locations at the expense of sites and points which teach a subject is tempting, but sub-optimal. For example, at the same exact location the Marquis de LaFayette addressed Revolutionary French Republicans, those same Republicans later guillotined many victims in the Terror, and the Eiffel Tower now stands. Guess which of those three gets the most attention.

Some places that might be interesting, but no longer resemble their appearance  when “history came knocking,” and often the important locations or artifacts are not available to see. If it is easy to reconstruct the salient points of the location when in place, then changes may not be as important, but the battles fought on Manhattan during the American Revolution took place in locations now within a dense metropolis. The modern reality makes visiting that location worthless for understanding British operations on Manhattan at the time.

Consequently, whenever possible, I will talk about locations that still resemble in the important details the relevant issues and that casual visitors (i.e. most people) can reasonably get to. Each “trip” will deal with a thematically similar issue, from a similar time, and within a reasonably travel distance. Whenever possible, I will try to focus only on locations I have visited relatively recently, but I will point out when that is not possible.

The most important part of any educational trip is the reading list. Since no one is actually taking this “blog” as a course, not every trip I describe has to have an A-level reading list. Nevertheless, I will attempt to provide a list of books most people could buy or find at a library that, even if you could not visit a location will help you understand its historic importance, and should you visit a location will add value beyond what you would see anyway. Every time I read before traveling, it pays great dividends, and if I read after travel, I almost invariably missed looking carefully at something I should have paid closer attention to.

Global politics has touched everyone a little, but it touches some places more than others. Hopefully, if you dear reader can see some of those places, it may prepare you better for the inevitable day when global politics touches you in a way you did not foresee.