wheaton college

History Connections

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As I try to be consistent blogging, I am noticing that there are (at least) two types of posts I am motivated to write. One is the more in-depth post that ends up requiring more research. I am not sure if I am doing that well, but I am trying. The other kind of post is on quick connections I make between different places, posts, or readings. Because I want to say something “meaningful” and “in-depth”, and I have work and a family of six, the “Aha!” moments, the connections, stay only as quick notes in my journal. My busy life progresses, and nothing is written.

Well, today is a “quick connect” day.

I started to follow a blog called Faith and History by Robert McKenzie, professor and chair of the Dept of History at Wheaton College. I read this post about (basically) data mining history with the explicit purpose of gathering ammunition for one’s own viewpoint. McKenzie writes:

“The history-as-ammunition approach views the past as an arsenal, a storehouse of weapons to wield in the culture wars. If you stop to think about it, many of the most controversial public issues of the past generation have had an important historical component.”

This approach made me really consider how I look at history, and my purpose for research. Lately, I read and listen to audiobooks on history for curiosity sake. I do know, though, that I have mined history for ammunition. My oldest daughter is learning formal debate this semester, and see how essential it is to build both an AC and NC, researching all the information in order to build an argument for or against whatever the debate topic is. But those notes can be used in the wrong way. I found the writer’s warning profound: “whenever we know in advance what we hope to find in the past, we will almost certainly find what we are looking for.”

I was also struck by this statement about the irresponsibility of historical ignorance.

“As citizens of a free society charged with choosing our governmental representatives, we undoubtedly need to be historically savvy. You could even say that historical ignorance is downright irresponsible when so many vital public issues involve claims about the past.”

The Connection:

I followed a tweet to this video of Ann Coulter on The View. I thought it entertaining, but I don’t want to discuss the politics here. What I noticed during this heated exchange was the following, and connects directly to the post from McKensie:

  1. Coulter is using historical fact to back up her argument. Just listening to her speak (or anyone, really), there is no quick way to “fact check” her, unless you know the history. Did Coulter mine history as ammunition? I am not saying she is did or didn’t, but the discussion/argument should revolve around the validity of her facts, not “how much do you know about being black”.
  2. Goldberg: “I listen to my grandmother…” Wow, warm fuzzy, but not a great historical source there.
  3. Shepard: “You keep standing in the past, you got to come back to the present.” And again: “When you talk about, you stay in the past.” Coulter: “Well, that’s because that was brought up. It’s just a fact.” What struck me was Shepard’s dismissal of the past, that it has no meaning on the present. But in order to have a meaningful discussion, all parties should come to understand the past. McKensie’s charge of irresponsibility of historical ignorance. Shepard doesn’t even want to know the history.