How are we dealing with history?
To illuminate the question it would actually be necessary to reflect upon what history is. People are having different experiences and perceptions on history, and would therefor give various definitions.
Skipping the academic discussion I like to think of history as a diversity of experiences and ways of living. Individuals are answering to personal heritage and are driven by internal or external inputs; responding to collective experiences, breaking, maintaining status quo or fighting for traditions, at an individual or collective level, in a personal, local, regional, national, transnational or global context. Acting out our lives driven by personality, ideology and history we are gathering experiences in a the context of a huge complexity of factors. On these basis being a historian is therefore a huge challenge. We are collecting information that have or might have influence on our understanding of a phenomenon in the past. When we ask why and how phenomenons occurred and why they changed we might get perspectives on values, systems and reasons why people acted as they did. Sometimes we leave good solutions because we’re not able to hold back. Other times we leave good solutions because we think we found something better. And in some occasions we leave good solutions because we believe that new equals better. That’s not necessarily true.
What is your backpack filled with?
So: What kind of fragments do we have? How do we select what to use? What do we choose to look into? How do we use what we find? As a researcher, woman, mid-50s, Norwegian, my backpack is filled with cultural experiences and anticipations. I’m not the free spirit that I like to imagine. I’m restricted by the experiences which are partly passed down by history, and the way incidents inflicted my parents, my local society, the national ideology and the international economy and levels of international conflicts. Besides – when does the future begin and the history end? What is present time and contemporaries?
Collective experience and collective identity as passed down history can, to a certain extent be negotiated – that’s how times are changing. New factors are appearing, creating small changes in the present – giving possible big effects in the future, and the long term effects are difficult to foresee. History never repeats itself. Phenomenons can be similar, but the factors establishing the divers context is always changing.
For those fighting for change – they rarely get away with that without paying a price. Thinking of battles for human rights, race, female rights, homosexual rights.
No less dramatic or painful are the battles in families where young people dear to break traditions or stepping out of expectations. On the other hand, family history can make us proud, motivate us and keep us into traditions. This is the power of experience! We are never indifferent to experiences. We consider how they matter or not for those who lived them, and how they eventually can matter or not for us, restraining us or helping us. In a time when God isn’t there anymore experiences matter even more.
Microhistory – a close look at tiny bits
Experiences are passed down through histories, and stories – experiences have always been considered valuable – told by pictograms, characters, photos or film. In history most of the histories have been left out. But not so any longer. Microhistory gives space for a close look at tiny bits, yet studying the small bits as part of a huge context. How are the small bits responding to the complexity of a big context?
We are all small bits in a big context. We are all historians. As human beings we are trying to establish meaning in all that we see and live. When meaning isn’t found, we easily get confused and scared. If history is to collect datas and tell stories about our lives in order to understand the premises of our existence – we are all historians. Today common people, public persons or glitteratis are collecting adventures and experiences using them in stories creating a public or official identity. Using a past to explain themselves for themselves and for others. Which sources are used? What’s the purpose? Where’s the complexity? What happens when identities are established on a narrow base? Who’s directing your self-perception? How free can a human being be not knowing or understanding how history makes a difference?
Nowadays people are big spenders of mental health services – why not try to think like a historian instead? Asking what stories you are using to constitute your identity. Which sources have you used for which purpose? Asking what kind of history is giving attention, to whom and why? What does the choice of perspectives tell us about our own society? Our values and perspectives upon history? How did people handle everyday problems way back when…? Can we borrow something back? Maybe so. And for these and other reasons history matters. As does identity.
NEXT BLOG coming up: How can uncautious storytelling make problems in our lives? To ourselves and to others? Do I own my version of a story, my experience? Is or should ethics be connected to these questions – how? What kind of, and why is that a legitimate question?