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Re: How should we discuss history?

Posted: Mon February 20th, 2017, 4:38 pm
by MLE (Emily Cotton)
And anyway, William III co-ruled with his wife as equal monarchs. For the time, that's pretty darn progressive. I think the MP just wanted some press, and decided to use this non-issue to granstand against Margaret Thatcher. Another woman who was certainly proof that women have equal rights in Britain. :rolleyes:

Re: How should we discuss history?

Posted: Mon February 20th, 2017, 7:55 pm
by Susan
And anyway, William III co-ruled with his wife as equal monarchs. For the time, that's pretty darn progressive.
William III's wife Mary II was the elder of the two surviving daughters of King James II by his first wife. James II was overthrown by the Glorious Revolution following the birth of a Catholic son by his second wife. (and some other reasons, I'm just keeping it simple) Mary was the next in the line of succession to the throne followed by her sister Anne (who later became Queen) and then Mary's husband William. William was the only child of King James II's sister Mary, Princess Royal who married William II, Prince of Orange. William got to co-rule with his wife because of that unusual situation. If Mary II had married someone who was not third in the line of succession, it is doubtful that Parliament would have offered her husband the opportunity to co-rule.

Re: How should we discuss history?

Posted: Sun March 5th, 2017, 6:48 am
by Margaret
What an interesting thread! I do think we read history for the insights it gives us into our own time. The very fact that cultural norms and expectations were so very different at different times in the past, and yet human beings were fundamentally the same as we are (genetically speaking), gives us a sense of how greatly we are shaped by the norms and expectations of our own time, and how malleable human beings are within the parameters of what remains the same for us, emotionally, physiologically, and in terms of mental capacity. It's precisely because these differences and similarities are so intriguing that it can be supremely annoying when a novel misrepresents the norms of a historical time and place. Only if a novel feels authentic can we reasonably take the next step of reflecting on what might be "better" or "worse" about the way things were done then compared to the way they are now.

I might add, also, that novels set in the past can provide us with cautionary examples of what can happen when collective behavior spins out of control, as with the tulip frenzy of the 17th century, the stock market speculation of the 1920s, or, say, the early lead-in to Nazi Germany (which to some of us in the US is starting to feel uncomfortably reminiscent of our present circumstances). Historical novels can give us examples of courage that we want to emulate, or of bad behavior we want to avoid, and thereby help us live through precarious times without falling all the way into the danger zones people have gotten themselves into in the past (or so I hope) - but only if they represent the psychology and events of their historical settings with enough authenticity to make them reasonable guides.

Re: How should we discuss history?

Posted: Sun March 5th, 2017, 3:26 pm
by MLE (Emily Cotton)
Nice to see you around again, Margaret.
One of the things that gets under my skin when people discuss history is context--as in the Nazi analogy. The social context that produced Hitler's Germany was not JUST Hitler. I'm ambivalent about historian's "great man theory" which suggests that a single human agent is what steers events. That's lazy history. Although it's easy to point to this personality or that one and make quick comparisons.

the 1930's Germany which was ripe for a Hitler (and if he had not stepped into the role, there would have been somebody else like him) was a Germany which was recovering after having been beaten to its knees under the old imperial system, and then had a democracy forced on it, after which France and Britain deliberately refused to let American food in to relieve the starvation that followed WWI. 20% of the population died after the war, while the relief containers moldered in ports. The young men who had grown up with this were burning for revenge. Hitler was only the spark that lit the bomb. And they wanted somebody to blame for their defeat, and Hitler gave them the Jews.

I suppose you could draw this parallel between that time and ours in that 50% of US population vehemently disagreed with everything the previous administration did, and so they were ripe for whatever would REALLY stick it to the other side. And this cycle can repeat and intensify, if people keep doing everything possible to whip emotions up, until our government is nothing more than a cycle of liberal-conservative oscillations in 4-to-8-year cycles, civility and kindness and giving the benefit of the doubt have gone the way of the dodo, and both sides have turned into armed camps.

I see these out-of-context comparisons to Hitler as throwing fuel on that fire, and really wish people would see how WWI and WWII were just parts of the same war, with a pause for the next generation of soldiers to grow up. Which, with reason, does not apply to our nation at all.

Re: How should we discuss history?

Posted: Mon March 20th, 2017, 3:24 am
by Margaret
I find it interesting and somewhat reassuring to look more closely at the parallels and lack of parallels between 1930s Germany and the present-day US. As you point out, Emily, Weimar Germany was a very fledgling democracy, with Germany having been ruled by a Kaiser so recently that most Germans were not necessarily comfortable with the new system. Can democracy ever really be imposed on people from outside? Seems doubtful to me. And although there are certainly many people in the US now who are in difficulties, getting economically squeezed by rising income inequality, the current situation here can't compare to the number of people who were literally starving in Germany after WWI. History never repeats itself precisely, but it does have recurring echoes. The parallels that do exist are shocking to me - the sharp rise in hate crimes, the demonizing of Muslims among some people, and so on. I hope the historical example of Nazi Germany will serve as a warning to us not to go any farther down that road.

Re: How should we discuss history?

Posted: Mon March 20th, 2017, 2:02 pm
by MLE (Emily Cotton)
The problem with discussing history is that humans are wired for STORY. The more dramatic, the better--and the more it sticks. As a storyteller, I sort through the history of the time and place where my tales are set, an d choose the most dramatic--and therefore, emotionally satisfying--method of telling the tale. Which is what modern news organizations do as well. They're in the business of making any molehill seem as mountainous as possible, that's what gets eyeballs.

That's why Hitler as a driving force makes a much better story that Lloyd George (who's he?) and Clemenceau (never heard of him) dragging their heels at letting shipping containers out of port. (what? from where?) Especially when it will be 20 years before the effects are felt. Herbert Hoover (Him? Wait, wasn't he the president who caused the depression?) wrote in a letter begging the two former leaders to release the food, "We are sowing dragon's teeth that will spout as soldiers." That makes a lousy story, even though it is true. Hitler, ranting and raving and hypnotizing a willing populace until they commit atrocities, is sharper, more focused--better story.

Kings, queens, plagues and battles make better story than ten years of bad weather causing famine, or the slow creep of literacy, of diffused adaptation of new weapons and modes of warfare.

I'm guilty of the same thing when I pick and choose. My general, and generally accepted, villainous force is the Spanish Inquisition. It's a lovely bad guy, because everybody 'knows' how horrible and hypocritical they were. Closer inspection reveals many nuances--for instance, the Inquisition threw out the witch frenzy of the 17th century as a ridiculous public hysteria while protestant countries were burning women right and left. I don't really try to nuance that, because it sucks the life out of my story.

But when I listen to and watch the stories presented by the media, my truth-tester guard is up. I notice the way they slant this way or that, and how each story is crafted to get me to think the way they want. It makes me go check what they left out, and observe what they exaggerated. I'm a skeptic when it comes to storytellers and truth. We should all be.

Re: How should we discuss history?

Posted: Tue October 8th, 2019, 2:29 am
by LoyalRam
I don't know any other way to discuss history than to use context of the times. The simple example which every college student gets to analyze is whether Abraham Lincoln is a racist. Reading his words without context, it's logical to say "yes, he was." Yet the context of the times says he was a fair minded progressive at the time. He believed that preservation of the Union was his most important mission when first elected. Whether the slaves were freed or not freed, that was his goal, as Southern states were seceding.

He also believed that African Americans were human beings, but were not smart enough to be equal citizens with Anglo-Saxons. He believed that a gradual sort of emancipation was best as children were born they would be freed while parents continue to be enslaved. This didn't please anyone, and also abolitionisrs were considered radicals by all. He also believed it is was better for slaves to be freed and sent back to Africa in a perfect 1860's World, but of course, it wasn't a perfect as we know. William Seward was a Primary opponent and was an abolitionist, and was also unelectable.
So yes Lincoln could be conisidered a racist by our presentist standards (presentism is using todays morals and standards to judge the past) and convicted by ignorant people, when the truth was that he was the best man for the job in the midst of the war and did the right thing with Emancipation. Even 50 years later, scientists believed in something called scientific racism (total bunk) that stated flatly that white Anglo-Saxons were superior to everyone else, yet Lincoln was progressing in his views decades before. So by todays standards, he held racist views AND was also one of the greatest men in American history.

Presentism is a cancer, in my opinion.