Two opposing views of history explain many of today’s disagreements
The centenary of the armistice on November 11th is a welcome reminder that historical memories can unite the country. It is an unfortunately rare one. These days history is more commonly used to divide and inflame. The right of the Conservative Party and the left of the Labour Party—the ideologically ascendant factions in their respective worlds—are wedded to sharply contrasting interpretations of British history, which focus on very different events and freight them with very different emotions. Let us call them the Waterloo and the Peterloo interpretations.
From Hastings to Dunkirk a past that blinds Britain to reality has been peddled.
Superiority, antagonism and a fear of betrayal are not healthy historical lessons; instead they encourage Britain’s worst tendencies. “All the wrong people are cheering,” Dora Gaitskell told her husband Hugh – then Labour leader – of his 1961 declaration that joining the EEC would be “the end of a thousand years of history”. As our experience in Ireland shows, Europe offered not an end but a new beginning. By refusing to confront its complex and difficult history, Britain is turning its back on decades of shared progress, to the dismay of its friends. Britannia is adrift on the waves, and only by facing its past can it reclaim its future.
Art is in the eye of the community
So if the statue doesn’t provide an accurate idea of history, is it valid as a piece of public art? Jeff Hou, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, says no. He says the public realm is accountable to one audience – the public.
“In the public realm, works of arts and design are subject to the public process. In other words, the public can have a say in what’s appropriate in a public space in a democracy,” he told me.
Our conversation about how all history is revisionist and open to creativity with Michael Douma continues this week.
You don’t have a weaker understanding by having an additional explanation, every additional explanation that you have makes the painting come more alive and stronger. That history described and explained from different perspectives is history better understood. And so, a historical pluralist like myself would say there is not one objective story to be told, there’s true stories and false stories based on correspondence theory. But we can look at any event and tell many different stories depending on what it is, that we wanna pull out there what do we wanna highlight what is important to us because history is always written from the perspective of the historian.
A series of articles on the fire at the national museum in Brazil. Raises questions about the role of material culture in studying the past but also of the concept of “national memory.” Further, there were recordings of languages that are no longer spoken that were destroyed. Does the loss of a language represent a loss of knowledge? A knowledge system? Fascinating questions raised by this incident that speak to the volume of loss.
The losses are “incalculable to Brazil,” said Michel Temer, the country’s president, on Twitter. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost.”
Marina Silva, a candidate in Brazil’s upcoming elections, described the fire as “a lobotomy in Brazilian memory.”
BRAZIL’S MUSEUM FIRE PROVES CULTURAL MEMORY NEEDS A DIGITAL BACKUP
It didn’t have to be this way. All of these artifacts could have been systematically backed up over the years with photographs, scans, audio files. The failure to do so speaks to a vital truth about the limits of technology: Just because the means to do something exists technologically doesn’t mean it will be done. And it underscores that the academic community has not yet fully embraced the importance of archiving importance of archiving—not just in Brazil, but around the world.
Textbooks should admit uncertainty. The very first thing that we teach in U.S.-history courses is when and how people first got to the Americas. The best answer is: We’re not sure. But the darned textbooks don’t say that—except for one of the 18 textbooks I studied intensively. Ironically, it’s the oldest one—it was published way back in the 1970s, and it says something like: The information in this section may be outdated by the time you read it. And by just saying that, it turns out to be the only textbook that is not outdated, even in 2018.