A fascinating piece from the Times on the recent vogue for doing books and exhibits that are just assortments of things, collectively telling a certain story, sort of.
An object allows people to touch the past, but Hannah Rosefield, a cultural critic, identifies a chicken-and-egg question: “There’s a difference between the history of a thing and using a thing to tell the history of something else.” And while our infatuation with lists doesn’t necessarily trivialize history, the objects we validate are limited to those that somehow survived. Consider this caveat from Russell Baker, the former New York Times columnist: “Objects,” he once mused, “can be classified scientifically into three major categories: those that don’t work, those that break down and those that get lost.”
I’m a sucker for articles like this one (and the one cited in it) — It’s kind of red-meat for political-history geeks, with all those red and blue-state maps, and the linking of the fairly distant past (the GOP as the “party of Lincoln”– Ha!) and the more recent past (Eisenhower’s Republican party), with the toxic partisan politics of today. A great example of “the usable past”! Here’s what Lincoln’s “coalition” looked like in 1860– remember, red=Republican=Lincoln.
“We’re unlikely to return to a mid-20th century situation where the white South is going to support the more liberal party in presidential politics. American politics has instead returned to what appears, historically, to be its natural state. Given that the alliance between the white South and the Republican Party has grown more firm than ever, it is hard to imagine how the party can refashion itself along Lincolnian or Rooseveltian lines.”
via A Southern GOP Can’t Be the Party of Lincoln — NYMag.
An Op-Ed piece appeared in the New York Times yesterday — appropriately enough, on the first day of school for millions of Americans, from kindergarten to college. Entitled “The New History Wars,” the piece, by James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, revisits the landscape of the “wars” fought over alleged “revisionism” by “leftist” historians.
Grossman writes: “With the news dominated by stories of Americans dying at home and abroad, it might seem trivial to debate how history is taught in our schools. But if we want students to understand what is happening in Missouri or the Middle East, they need an unvarnished picture of our past and the skills to understand and interpret that picture. People don’t kill one another just for recreation. They have reasons. Those reasons are usually historical.”
The objections of critics of the teaching of history in the nation’s schools have a familiar ring, echoing the “history wars” of the 1990s. As Grossman writes: “Disagreement is not a bad thing. But learning history means engaging with aspects of the past that are troubling, as well as those that are heroic.”