History, Memory, Identity

I graduated with a Masters degree in History at the end of May, and I have embarked upon my first semester teaching at college, which I already love. Arguments about the availability of instructorships , and the horrors of adjunct pay levels aside, I know that this is something that I love to do. I know that my first semester is unlikely to garner any professor-of-the-year awards, but I hope that I am providing a useful education in a subject that I am very passionate about.

These days, I find myself at turns either vexed or outraged. Our local school boards seem to be taking it upon themselves to openly and willfully engage in historical silencing in the name of “patriotism;” our pundits shamelessly proclaim the extinction of racism within our borders; and blinkered ranting about immigration brazenly overlooks any level of historical complicity in the current plight of children around the world.

It seems that history as a discipline is under attack in this country, and for this reason, I have made a point of beginning my classes with an investigation into the importance of studying history. It is not possible to understand ourselves or others (as societies) without studying history. I am interested in history because of the impact it has on present day populations. Its importance in the development of identity cannot be understated. Our cultural fabrics are woven from the discourses and narratives generated, matured, and defined in our collective historical experiences. Memory, collectively and individually, is crucially linked to identity construction through history.

Public history – the acknowledgement, commemoration, demonstration, and practice of our pasts openly and publicly – is essential for the development of strong community and national cohesiveness, and directly challenges the systemic prejudice and intolerance, which insidiously proliferates exclusivity and division through America.

I hope that I will have the opportunity to continue teaching our future leaders about the importance of historical thinking for a long time to come. I also hope, in the process, I manage to retain my natural optimism, and do not allow myself to become jaded and cynical.  Ultimately, I do believe that we can change the world, through education and leadership, and, if that’s what it takes, one class at a time.

Please watch this short clip in which acclaimed (and fabulous) British historian Margaret MacMillan talks about why history is important:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYY6lqv9uF0

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