Thursday, December 22, 2016

History. Whostory?

I'll openly admit that history is not my best subject. I appreciate it. I enjoy when it is told to me in engaging ways. It is certainly important.

I took a fair bit of history in grade school that I still remember. I don't remember all the details- dates and names and specifics- but I recall the overarching themes and lessons from each period and nation. Still, my knowledge of history is millions of miles behind Jonathan. To be fair, he's a history buff. I'll ask him a simple question about a basic historical fact and 15 minutes later he's managed to retell the entire story of some nation or people.

I've been wanting to increase my own knowledge of history but have always felt a little overwhelmed at where to start. I enjoy reading, but history books have never quit been my thing. I don't always enjoy documentaries, though there are some good ones. There are probably some decent audio programs out there.

It used to be that learning more history just wasn't really a priority in my extracurricular life. It's still not truly a priority, but more and more I've found myself wishing I had a better understanding of the context and past of different people and places to help me process the present. We've watched a few engaging documentaries recently that have helped start to fill in the large gaps in my history knowledge.

But, I still feel hesitant about diving in. I used to think I was just intimidated by the vast amount there is to learn. I'm coming to realize, however, that it isn't intimidation, but concern, that keeps me at arms length.

I feel concerned that what I read will only be one side of the story, that my view of a nation or people, and subsequent interpretation of history and even the present will be colored by an only partial truth, or worse, by a false retelling of events.

History, so often, is written and told by the victors, the powerful, the resourced. I know many true historians, past and present, place great value on truth and strive to retell the stories of the past with the greatest truth they can find. They do research and care about the information they are sharing with others. I appreciate their effort, but it doesn't feel good enough. I feel constantly concerned that whatever I choose to read or watch or listen to will only be part of the story. An honest effort to tell the whole story, perhaps, but still just a part. There will be people's voices who won't be heard.

Even two similar people can experience the same event or time period so differently. What and how they recall what happened will sound different. I know this to be true even from simple examples of my own life- my sister and I, I'm sure, would tell different versions of life together growing up. Neither are wrong, but neither is complete.

Current academic historians, I believe, do try to research and tell the fullest and truest version of history, though even they have special interests and agendas. But the primary documents they have and period literature they use to research is still generally written and told by the wealthy (not the losers of battles), powerful (dominant culture, men), and resourced (not the poor, uneducated). In school we're taught history as though it is fact- simply a set of events that have happened that we are to memorize and take for granted. But who decided on that version of events, on those set of facts?

So I find myself feeling trapped- wanting to learn about the past, but concerned I won't hear the whole story. Arguably, this is not a reason not to being learning (got to start somewhere). But, it does make me feel cautious. I don't have time to read multiple sources and accounts and vet authors and such. I haven't found a good solution to this discomfort. I know there are authors out there who focus on telling history from the perspective of the losers and powerless- their books aren't as fancy, mainstream media and publishing doesn't promote them in the same way, so they feel less credible, which is the whole problem to begin with! These are the people whose story wasn't incorporated into history the first time, it's hard to weasel your way in decades or centuries later.

Truth is so exhausting to search after, sometimes.

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