So what is so frustrating about History? Well this is History, and not history. For those of you who think I am as mad as a fish, history is what we read at school, it is passing us every moment and is creating impacts on our future as it rushes up on us; History is the study of that, the evidence, the definitions of facts and the identification of the causes; the constant reassessment and criticism of the facts and their interpretations.
I love history. I admit it, it is mostly military history although I am beginning to develop an interest in political history. This however is the same sort of interest as I have for Religion; being apolitical and an apathist its the sort of interest that reflects a curious need to understand the why and the how in a mindset of almost bemused disbelief.
Anyway, why is History frustrating. This has been my first year at university studying contemporary history. As a part of the course and as a foundation we have spent a substantial part of our time understanding Historiography – the history and epistemology of History so to speak. This study has convinced me of a few things:
- history is something common to use all, even if it is open to cultural interpretation
- History is elitist
- History has found a nice dusty archive to sit in and discuss obscure and only academically relevant details, hoping the world leaves them alone while protesting how important it all is
- History is jealous, and therefore counter productive
- History has almost missed the boat on the new global world, with many opportunities for influence, contribution, and lets be honest money making, flying by at a rate of knots
- as a consequence history has become fractured and disjointed with some areas lacking any social and commercial value, whereas others have that value but have moved beyond the academic sphere of influence.
- Oh and post-modernism is a nice tool but is not a lifestyle choice.
I suppose part of my problem is 20+ years in retail has driven into me the need for effectiveness, efficiency, sales driving, customer relations, marketing etc. Applying this model to History and you don’t get a Tesco; you don’t even get a Waitrose. What you get is a Mrs Miggins Pie Shop in Obscuretown who 50 years ago cornered the market on Lentil pie, then didn’t catch the bus with the business opportunity, the opening market, or the last former inhabitants as they moved to Success City. As such History just isn’t in the race.
This is the frustrating bit. history (note small h) is a part of our lives every single day. We might label it as sociology, economics, politics, military action, decorating, gardening or almost anything else. Every day you will interact with history. Now don’t get me wrong, a huge majority of this is really interesting on a local level but pretty much irrelevant outside of moving trends and statistics. Yet with something so crucial and so integral to our every day life and community interaction, Historians have allowed history to become elitist, fractured, uninfluential, undefined and uncared for while fighting over the last cream cake of authority.
History is based on interpretation of the facts. What Historians have to understand is that there are 6.8bn historians out there, interpreting the facts of their lives to make decisions every single day. Just because they do not have a PhD History and just because their research is not as broad, does not make that interpretation or that history any less valid for them. Its time for History to open its doors, let in the sun and fresh air and revel in the global love of history.
So coming soon: Why Western-centric history isn’t a problem; Why British History is really important; Why “Great Men” count.