Over at the Partially Examined Life

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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29 Responses

  1. Kolohe says:

    I’ve mulled over this for a day now. (and on Columbus Et Al Day, appropriately enough). I don’t agree with the postulate, “our culture’s lack of historical memory”.

    Take Columbus Day (please). It was a huge honking deal for the 400th anniversary, and as recently as the early 1980s was still a pretty significant event in the school year, but by the 500th anniversary, the wind had pretty much completely gone out of the sails of ‘celebration’ except in Italian American communities. (it could be, however, that perception is heavily colored by the difference between being in grade school and being in college).

    Nonetheless, we’re still fighting the US Civil War over flags and whatnot (one whatnot being Meryl Streep). If anything, the problem isn’t a lack of historical memory, it’s a panoply of historical memories, many mutually inconsistent.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Kolohe says:

      Oh no, we’re still fighting over whether slavery was the root cause of the Civil War. The flag is merely a very public symbol of a much nastier fight, which often takes place in public school textbooks.

      I occasionally troll the odd relative or friend when they get on their “The Civil War Was About State’s Rights” rants by posting quotes from Texas’ letter of secession.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

      Has anyone here written about the Meryl Streep thing? Seems right in Tod’s strike zone. And worth writing about, actually. Just intensely stupid. From what I’ve read about it, anyway.

      And your right about still fighting the civil war. I don’t know that the current “war” is about differing histories as much as attempts to redefine history, tho.

      Adding: as an example, there was a rally at Stone Mountain recently to protest placing a MLK statue amongst all the confederate heroes, and the “rebels” objected on the grounds that doing so would introduce race into the history of the civil war.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe says:

      The Indigenous People’s Day seems to have taken a hold with the general public rather fast. I think the big difference between Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day and the fights we are having over the Civil War still is that there are many more African-Americans than Native Americans and many more contemporary issues can be traced back to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. Columbus Day involves fewer contentious contemporary issues.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Kolohe says:

      I don’t really think any of this really contradicts my basic assertion that the average person is not carrying around a great deal of historical knowledge with them though. They may have a vague opinion about Columbus Day or the Civil War, but that’s basically what you’d have after elementary school.Report

  2. Tod Kelly says:

    LeeEsq: The Indigenous People’s Day seems to have taken a hold with the general public rather fast.

    I suspect your view of the ‘general public’ is somewhat skewed.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    Rufus, I really wonder if “our problem is not having an excess of historical awareness.” In the places where the masses have a really strong historical awareness, what most people are aware is really national or tribal mythology rather than messy actual history. Its all our group against their group for what they did to do us for the most part. To use the most neutral example I can think of, look at the Balkans during most of the 20th century but especially after the fall of Communism. There was a lot of historical awareness of a sorts among national the populace of the Balkans but it tended involve a lot of tribal myth than actual history. The Serbs hated the Muslims for ruling over them for centuries, the Albanians and Bosnians despised the Serbs for dominating them, and the Croatians wanted an independence they dreamed about but never really had for most of their history unless you go way back. There was an element of truth in all of this histories but it tended to get overwhelmed by a lot of storytelling for some really atrocious real world consequences.

    I sometimes get frustrated with the lack of historical awareness among the general population but when you think about, widespread historical awareness never really works out the way that liberals want it to. We might wish that the average American or citizen of whatever other country had a better grasp of actual history and it’s importance but this tends to usually workout as more of a historical mythology than actual history. Sometimes this mythology is relatively harmless like with romantic views of the Wild West or Pilgrims and other times it is more deadly like with the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, or the dispute between the Tamils and Ceylonese in Sri Lanka. Maybe the best thing is that we have a populace that really doesn’t think that much about the past and is sort of content with the present.Report

  4. Tod Kelly says:

    LeeEsq: Most Americans probably do not care one way or another because Columbus Day is just a day off for a lot of them.

    What I said above about your view of ‘most Americans’ being skewed? Copy and paste here.

    Out on this side of the country, pretty much no one has the day off.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Yeah, same in my neck of the woods. I don’t know anyone who cares about Columbus day, one way or the other, and the only reason for that is a non-reason: they simply don’t care.Report