Thursday, October 04, 2007

history ~ upon the shoulders

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I have recently discovered this man. He rocks and rolls, people. If you're into history conversation, the type you'd find among history nerds at the water cooler, then check out his podcasts. If you don't have an iPod, you can still get iTunes ~ its free ~ and download the casts and listen to them on iTunes. Anyway, here's what his words have stirred up in me so far. Expand the post to read more.


We, existing fully and consciously in the now, stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before us ~ of those actors who have played out our history. Human nature binds us all into this matrix, in which we find ourselves. Do the winners write history? If so, then, how can we really know history? For, what of those who lost ... what of the worthy, yet much obscured, lost cause? What of men such as Tecumseh? And Vercingetorix? Did their outcomes - loss - render their cause, their vision worthy of knowing?


Are the winners, in history, necessarily correct? Don't we need to see both sides, before really learning the lessons that history begs to teach us? Why do we revere Alexander the Great, and Constantine, yet despise Hitler? Does the same distance which provides objectivity, also remove the passionate context from these figures? In 2500 years, will humans view Hitler in the same light that we, today, view Alexander the Great and Constantine? What's real? I remember learning about Constantine in Catholic school as a great man, not a brute who had his wife and son, among others, killed. How do we, who find ourselves here, and not there, know? Can we ever achieve accomplish the production of an accurate historical record? How do we utilize the stories of history ... to move forward?


Does it matter so much how the Cold War transacted itself over four decades? Or does it matter more that certain key moments and individuals in history provided the hinge upon which the Cold War swung? Can we really analyze historical events without considering their context, and the context of the major players? Do we need to consider that each person, each decision-maker, represents an entire vision, an entire culmination of life experiences and moments? Does this make a difference ... in what we grasp from history? And how it shapes us in the here and now?


I find myself drawn to dialectical process of analysing events that occur in society ~ past and present. I find history most fascinating when I pick at it ... bits and pieces that seem to fit together, despite existing in different time realms. Such as these . We forget, in our haste to react, that this has happened before to humanity ... at some point. Why do we harbour such conceit and arrogance about our superiority? So much has gone before us ... and yet, in some ways we remain blinded to the real lessons of humanity. Intriguing. How we understand so much of the universe, yet fail to understand the most important element ~ humanity. I wonder what would happen if we stopped destroying each other long enough realize that our individual self-awareness exists, only due to the existence of other humans, different or alike.



9 comments:

Enemy of the Republic said...

I just came across a book called Constantine's Sword, which explains how the Emperor's legitimizing of Christianity hastened anti semitism. I would love to read it when I can. Alexander the Great is admired for his youth and military prowess, but if you were one of the conquered, he was another exterminator. Alexander at least did not call for a Final Solution to an entire race--Catholicism, on the other hand, declared war on the Jews, and only certain popes granted them reprieve (during the Black Death, many people blamed the Jews and the Church, to its credit, protected them.) Unfortunately those incidents are few and far between; they did nothing to stop Hitler.

Interesting site--I personally had no problem with Iran's president coming here--a part of me (and I know I may get flamed by certain folk) gets a real kick out of him. I know what he is guilty of, but he tells the US that we are an arrogant bully and he isn't scared. I admire that.

the.red.mantissa said...

one could say, tho, that hitler did not earn his place in history because of a megalomaniacal drive to world domination ... perhaps its a naive view, but hitler had ultra-nationalist intentions. perhaps it makes no difference ... but its interesting when you actually learn about these people, like, at the micro level ... what makes them tick ... and then consider their actions and decisions.

about iran's pres visiting ~ i hear you. i get a kick out of him for the same reasons. and maybe, they think that about the western leaders ... you know when said leaders visit the middle east.

X. Dell said...

How can I say anything other than "amen"?

One of the most problematic aspects of historical depiction is the two-dimensional way in which it is presented. There are good guys; there are bad guys.

I was just listening to some PBS broadcast about two girls (preteens) who met in the US during summer camp, and became best friends. One was Greek, the other Cypriot. When they spoke to each other, it didn't take them long to figure out that they had been taught two completely different versions of history. Not only did the facts clash, but also the contexts and the validations.

Enemy, I came across Constantine's Sword too when someone mentioned it on my page. I want to read it, and probably will when I finally get a chance.

Behind Blue Eyes said...

When I read about history, I like to have different books on the same subject which have conflicting viewpoints. Then I like to make up my own mind....but we will never really know if we weren't there. I truly believe that people haven't changed...if you can find out the facts and imagine people like us in the same situations, then you can put together how it might have been. So, I often like to read books that are more specific....for instance....a book about Thomas Moore rather than England during Elizabeth's reign...that way you have more of an idea of how people were then and how they thought. I said that you have to put yourself in the situation but that means totally. Like if people didn't know how to read, you have to imagine yourself in the situation having never seen a book and having no contact with the outside world etc...

I am reading about the Mitford girls right now. They were aristocratic celebrities from England during WWII. So, it is a story about individuals in which you learn about the broader events happening and being interpreted through the eyes of the people who lived them. One of the Mitford girls fell in love with Adolph Hitler. She was a silly girl but you see Hitler through her eyes. Interesting.

Have you ever read the Enders series by Orson Scott Card? Very good series. In one of the books, Speaker for the Dead, he explores what you are talking about...how history is written by the victors. It's sci-fi...they can time travel so he has been able to go a thousand years into the future and see how history has rewritten what he did and he learns how differently it has potrayed him as opposed to what actually happened. Card also writes a book, an alternative history, in which Tecumseh is one of the major characters. If you have already read him, then I apoligize for rhapsodying on and on about him.

the.red.mantissa said...

thanx for the references i will check them. i've come across a book called eva's cousin, a story based on the tales of eva as told her cousin. as you mention, very interesting to see such a figure through the eyes of a child ... of a girl.

you should listen to the hardcore history podcasts ... dan carlin doesn't really narrate the history, he talks about it. its way interesting. and, indeed, we must consider the context of historical figures and events ... not just what they did and said. considering the context of history makes it so much more relevant to us in the here and now ... and makes us see how many lies we were fed in history class as kids.

the.red.mantissa said...

susan ~ i have heard that about constantine. perhaps you'd find the podcasts of the 12 byzantine rulers interesting ... the link is in the sidebar there. constantine was not the great man we all were taught he was ... he was a brute, a bully, and a megalomaniac ~ almost to heretical proportions.

i wonder ... are they still feeding our kids bullshit history like 'constantine was a great ruler' ...? grrrrr

eric1313 said...

History is filled to the brim with contradictions--inconsistencies that show us where more truth is hidden than shown.

I love history, and yet I take it with a grain of salt. History is longer than what is recorded, whether lost long ago or never recorded. It truly is His Story. Only the greatest women have had their names repeated through the pages, Hatsheptsut to Cleopatra to Bodicea to Elizbeth and onward.

Glad you had this discussion, Mantissa, it was very interesting.

foam said...

humanity doesn't learn it's lessons cause we're basically fairly egotistical. we believe the here and now is unique ... when in fact it is not.

this was a wonderful post. i'm always amazed at how you can formulate your thoughts so well.

the.red.mantissa said...

eric and foam ~ its becoming more and more clear to me that we need to have these kinds of discussions ... learn about history, the stories of our elders ... to gain a more complete understanding of the human condition.

i fear you're right, foam, its that darned ego!