Thomas Peace is an assistant professor of Canadian History at Huron University College and examines in an OpEd ‘History’s Reputation Problem’ the view of some that historians have deserted their professional posts and differences in use of the past – interpretation/utilitarian –
All of these historians remind us that, to be relevant, history must be much more than a chronicle of military battles, national histories and politics.
James Ottavio Castagnera, formerly legal counsel for academic affairs at Rider University (USA), has investigated the life of Leo “Butch” Armbruster’s, his grandfather and Civil War veteran.
‘What does it matter?’
The reason I think it matters…is the disruptive moment in which each of us, and our nation, find ourselves. If we are going to raise our eyes from the abyss, gaze across it and acknowledge our fellow Americans, I believe we must first look to ourselves. What are our personal stories that teach us that the American democracy is greater than our transient differences?
I am convinced that Churchill could not have faced the existential threat of the Third Reich and rallied his nation had he lacked his appreciation of British history and the place of his family tree in that history.
I believe each of us is well advised to tear ourselves away from the ephemeral distractions of the social media and presidential tweets and TV’s talking heads, and take a little time to recall those ancestors who contributed to making each of us an American.
Adam Laats is professor of education at Binghamton University (SUNY) and author of “Fundamentalist U.” and “The Other School Reformers“. He says there is a need to understand history in the push to impeach President Trump:
History is crucial in our tumultuous moment. But to make a difference and shape our debates, trained historians must contribute a particular kind of historical thinking — one based in fact, evidence and painstaking research. In the big picture… the historians make the better case.
University of Michigan-Dearborn historian Anna Müller says that:
In many respects, I think the historians’ trade provides foundational skills in analyzing and understanding the world around us: the significance of changing context, a complex set of factors that define individuals and their positions in society.
While this raising lots of hopes, she says:
Although new partnerships among archaeologists and scientific specialists are not always tension-free, there is growing consensus that studying the past means reaching across fields.
Efforts to make archaeology and museums more equitable and engage indigenous research partners are gaining momentum as archaeologists consider whose past is being revealed. Telling the human story requires a community of voices to do things right.
As new methods enable profound insight into humanity’s shared history, a challenge is to ensure that these insights are relevant and beneficial in the present and future.
Filmmaker Rachel Perkins observes in her 2019 Boyer Lecture The End of Silence
We cannot live in the past, but the past lives in us. The past has made us. We are its inheritors, for better or worse, and this is now our time.
The past has made us. We are its inheritors, for betters or worse and this is now our time.
Perkins quotes distinguished poet and stateswoman, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, when she wrote:
Let no-one say the past is dead. The past is all about us and within.
Historian Fernande Raine asks……………
…history gives people power. It gives you the power of belonging, by helping you grow roots that go deep into the rich soil of time where they tap into values and traditions that feed your soul.
Why does history matter?
This is best summed by Canadian historian Andrea Eidinger who was a keynote speaker at the 10th Canada’s History Forum at a symposium Making History Relevant in 2017.
Andrea Eidinger in a nutshell
Some of the key words in history are: past; present; future; people, stories; understand; learn; study; know; better.
For Andrea history is deeply personal. She maintains that history is to better know and understand the past, the present and the future by learning and studying the stories of people.
She maintains that history makes us who we are. and how we remember history is important.
History is not an abstract concept or a dead subject. It is complicated, messy, contradictory and part of the everyday experience as we move through a world that is shaped by history. History is as much what we remember, forget or invent.
History is personal. It is a web of relationships over time and place which determine how we see the world.
Andrea teaches from a social history perspective and emphasizes the stories and experiences of people. Students find it easier to relate to the past if it is alive and not dead.
It is important for historians to challenge the dominant narrative and shine some light on invisible or forgotten histories. Historians should encourage open and honest discussion about stories. They should help marginalized communities and raise their stories and in doing so make the world a better place.
The purpose of history is to understand the present and make the world a better place in the future. We cannot change the past but we can help build a better future by rethinking the stories that we retell.
Historian … Naomi Malone states to the question:
Why is history important today?
History is vitally important because it gives us a basis from which to resolve current issues. Evidence from the past helps us to understand societal change, how the Australian community came to be what it is today and how to best live in the future.
Blog post ‘Five minutes with Naomi Malone’, PHA (NSW & ACT), 15 March 2018. Online @ http://www.phansw.org.au/five-minutes-with-naomi-malone/
Historian … Kelly Lytle Hernández writes radical history and says:
“History is a narrative of the past. It is based upon the sources that we regard as relevant or that we can find,” she says.
“Where we come from matters deeply, and it shapes the present,” Lytle Hernández says. “And how we understand that past, can shape our future.”
On the debate of whether history can be rewritten Hernández says:
I think there’s something, everything, good about reframing, and the dance of history, and the debate of history and where our present comes from. And that we should always engage in that debate rather than invest in a objective truth of the past.
And what we’re talking about here is a power struggle, about the well-known phrase that “the winners are the ones who get to write history.” Well, we’re talking about developing newly empowered communities, new winners, and so we’re beginning to rewrite our own stories.
My work and the work of many others is very much invested in telling the stories of communities that have been marginalized, that have been caged up, that have been locked out, that have been enslaved, and bringing our story, and our experience, to the center of the American narrative and helping us to change the American future with those stories.