Monday, November 22, 2004

What can History teach us?

I spent the evening with some friends recently and one of them who is an historian demonsatrated the ability to make the case for pretty much anything. I can't recall what he first argued in favour of but it was FAIRLY untenable. This first argument led us to challenge him to make a reasonable defence for various appalling incidents in history. He managed to make cogent and sometimes shockingly reasonable defences for both the Holocaust and the treatment of the indigenous people of the Americas at the hands of the European settlers.

It was shocking how convincing he could be just through his training as an historian. Clearly I don't mean CONVINCING as such. I was not persuaded that either of those things was acceptable. It made me think quite a lot because I was also trained as an historian but I think my arguments were always tinged with some kind of personal response and pastoral concern. I remember reading about the Black Death in fourteenth century Britain and the appalling levels of deaths (though the exact extent of those figures is still the subject of intense debate). When writing my essay I really felt shocked by the individual situations of particular people. One man lost his wife, mother, sister, three children uncle and sister-in-law. That whole concept just blew my mind and made my essay a bit of an impassioned rant about the trauma involved. I never really managed to be dispassionate about those kinds of issues. I think that's why I ended up studying much EARLIER history because I lost a lot of academic objectivity when I looked at issues closer to our present.

Of course now I'm in a job where being empassioned about issues is part of my role. I was even accused of criticising the American government in one sermon about Trade Justice - though fortunately this was a slightly cheeky criticism by one of my American friends. Of course in issues of Trade Justice the US really aren't covering themselves in glory. As to other issues about US policy and politics well... I leave those discussions to others for the moment. I don't want the blog getting too empassioned!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can't imagine you ever making comments about politics?!
I think you have the head/heart thing in pretty good measure!
K the blogless