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Could there be a worse Weekly Photo Challenge prompt for me this week? The only narrow thing I’ve seen in the last few days was my airplane seat in the economy section of a U.S. carrier that should be charged with inhumane treatment. And that was not a pretty picture, literally (I did take one) or figuratively, so I’ll spare you.

No, these next few weeks are not going to be “narrow.” I’ve just landed in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, to begin a trip through this vast, wide-open country. A land of unfurling skies, rolling grasslands, and big new ambitions, Mongolia and its most famous leader, Genghis Khan, have nothing narrow about them.

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Genghis Khan cut a huge swath through the world in the 13th century, leading relatively small, nimble armies of highly-skilled horsemen with insane archery skills against robust militaries from Korea to Vienna, Russia to Viet Nam, and all over Central Asia. In 25 years, this man (who was also known to be physically large) conquered more territory than the Roman Army did in centuries.

Those with a narrow knowledge of Genghis Khan know him solely as a rapist and pillager, and those things he apparently was, according to most sources. But he was a complex character to many historians; some see his numerous accomplishments as “worth” the multitudes of deaths he ordered, while others can’t see past the killing, even as it led to a whole new world order. In the fullness of time, men and events can lose their distastefulness when seen in the context of later developments, and revisionist history has a way of softening the personality traits and actions that “great men” used to change the world. When we narrow our eyes and look closely at Genghis Khan, what do we see as his legacy?

In coming days, I hope to learn more about this multifaceted man and his role in Mongolia’s history, and I will venture out into the land of the nomads who still populate much of rural Mongolia. There will be few shots of small things or narrow spaces; my eyes, camera, and mind will be prepped for panoramas, wide angles, and the very big picture. Stay tuned!

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