Welcome back! I trust you all had a rejuvenating summer holiday and that you were able to reflect on your past learning in order to be able to carry and further that knowledge in 2012/13. Whatever, Henderson!
I had a great summer, thanks to the agrarian model we follow, and I was able to slide in some really fantastic reading. One of the books I read really struck me, not because it was earth-shattering, but because it dealt with the concept of History. At the beginning of the holidays, I picked up Julian Barnes’s The Sense of Ending – a novel about how a middle-aged man reflects on his adolescence, failed marriage, and impending death. Throughout the book, there is an underlying theme about the meaning of history. At the beginning, the main character recalls a History class in his elitist London school whereby the conversation goes as follows, ignited by the teacher “Old Joe Hunt”:
“We could start with the seemingly simple question, What is History? Any thoughts, Webster?”
“History is the lies of the victors,” I replied a little to quickly.
“Yes, I was rather afraid you’d say that. Well, as long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated, Simpson?”
Colin was more prepared than me. “History is a raw onion sandwich, sir.”
“For what reason?”
“It just repeats, sir. It burps. We’ve seen it again and again this year. Same old story, same old oscillation between tyranny and rebellion, war and peace, prosperity and impoverishment.”
“Rather a lot for a sandwich to contain, wouldn’t you say?”
We all laughed for more than was required, with an end-of-term hysteria.
“History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
I had to reread this line a few times. Were these interpretations, including the last one, really what History was about? Is this what I am suppose to teach? What about this last line by Finn? Or is History, like the book, a story? Do we have collective narratives that we debate coupled with our own stories and connections to history? What is Canadian History? Is it different if you are of Hungarian descent or you just moved from Nigeria? Is it merely about military conquest and nationalism? What does it mean to study or read History?
I hope you can help me clarify and refine this critical concept. I have added an interview of Howard Zinn before his death. What is his take on History? How does his story create his own history and his sense of History? How can his interpretation of History differ from the views of the majority?