Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Historical Thinking for June 18 2024

 So, one of the things that has me struggling with blogging for the last, oh, 3 or 4 years is that I am supposed to be writing a dissertation. I feel bad to blog when I should write for assignments. Except these days the dissertation is a bit stymied. It’s not so much writer’s block as it is…doldrums. I’m just stating and restating the same things and that is getting me nowhere. I’m also now past the deadline/time-limit and living on appeal.

But one lesson learned from the mechanical world is that sometimes, one must prime the pump. You have to put in a little bit to get a lot out, and since the blog is worth exactly what you are paying for it, I decided it’s a good place to write with a little less formality. Hopefully that gets my brain going to get the other, “proper” writing going. It’s not that I intend to be less precise or spell worse—if I represent something as factual, I intend to show where I got that fact from.

Academic history writing, though, is expected to be dispassionate, third-person, non-prescriptive, and generally lacking in empathy or judgment. As I write about racism and misogyny in late nineteenth century America, I’m not supposed to sound agitated by the people who cloaked that in religious language. 

Except I’m quite agitated by it. It was wrong. It remains wrong that we have never really corrected for the embedding of these attitudes in many of our religious systems to this day. There’s just some agitation to be shared.

Although I do not want to only rant here, but I do want to have a way to talk about where we have been and how that, in turn, drives certain emotional responses. It is good and right and fitting to have emotional responses to history. 

Which is the main point for Historical Thinking today: it is not only acceptable to have feelings about the past, it is right and fitting to have feelings about the past. In the course of those feelings, you cannot ignore the facts or be unwilling to learn new ones. There may be a whole new set of emotional responses to deal with after learning new facts, but thtat is just the way it goes sometimes.

You see, history is not just the facts of what has happened, it is more accurately our understanding of the facts. Not just whether or not the United States declared independence from England, but why they did, when they did, and what difference it made. And our emotional response is part of that. The facts—like the approval of the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776, or the final end of the Revolutionary War (which started in 1775) in 1783—are part of that understanding. Neither fact should affect an American’s emotional attachment to July 4th as our Independence Day. It’s the mutually-agreed upon celebration of all those facts at once.

Most weeks, then, I’ll post a bit of something about the past and how we think about the past. Maybe it will be something that provokes some thought. Maybe it will be something that you find boring. All of it will be from things I have learned or am learning in working in history.

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