Some thoughts on history
I’ve always been amazed that a lot of people think history is boring, since to me it’s a series of great stories – kind of like the longest-running soap opera ever, replete with apparent “heroes” and “villains.”
Fascinated by the wide variety of ways humans behave and perceive their world, I wanted to major in anthropology in college. My school was too small to have an anthropology department, though, so my next thought was English, awash in stories about people. Looking at the courses I’d have to take, I saw too many on such ancient treasures as Beowulf, so, finally, I chose history, thinking, “That’s about people.” It really is…
You have to be a bit finicky about who’s written the history you’re reading, and why – there’s always an ax of some kind being ground. That’s historiography – how history is written, a whole discipline in itself. But that’s just a matter of finding trusted sources, something you already do when reading the news. You want to get as close as you can to what really happened and why. That kind of history gives you a map of where you and others are, how it came to be that way, and where you might head next, given what you value. Another way of saying that is that it’s a lens through which you can view the past, the present, and the future.
History allows us to see what’s worked for people and what hasn’t. As the old saying goes, it allows us to avoid making the same mistake over and over, if we pay attention to it.
I write this to give a bit of background – or perspective – on the following announcement: There are now some world and American history pages on this website for you to read, under “Realities” at the top of the web page. I’ve taken my extensive notes on history and whittled them down into something I hope will be informative and interesting, food for thought on who we are as human beings and where we can go from here.
A lot of the world history is taken from A People’s History of the World by the British Marxist historian Chris Harman, and a lot of the American history from A People’s History of the United States by the late, and truly great, Howard Zinn. I heartily recommend that you look on YouTube or elsewhere for video or audio clips of Zinn speaking. He had a sense of humor and a timing to his speech that gave dimension and deeper meaning to what he had to say. You’ll love it – I guarantee.
I hope you’ll dip into these history notes as you have time. If you do, you’ll see that both Harman and Zinn – like Marx – emphasize issues of class and class struggles. They show that workers and peasants have often been successful temporarily in throwing off the masters’ yoke, but that nowhere have they kept the freedom and equality that’s rightfully theirs.
If we look carefully at the history of these ultimately failed efforts we can see how they faltered, perhaps allowing our current and future actions to succeed. For me, it boils down to sticking to original principles – never letting go of that initial vision. Also, staying united on a class basis and appealing to “upper” classes to join us on the basis of our shared humanity, rather than being tricked into joining them, thinking that they have our interests at heart. Or frightened by their possession of the instruments of violence, because, after all, as the title of this blog reminds us, “We have the numbers.”
Also just put up on the static pages are the history unit I wrote on the California missions (in “Realities,” American history) and a proposal for a history unit on the relevance of Marxism today (in “Possibilities,” Marxism).