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history pragmatic historian

The Deep Worry of Historians

Here’s a little secret . . . something historians talk about amongst ourselves, out of earshot of museums goers and the general public.

We worry over the lack of appreciation for history. History is the Rodney Dangerfield of culture. It gets no respect in American society.

We’ve heard all the aspersions against history.

It’s boring.

It’s hard to teach.

There’s too much to know and, as high schoolers say about higher algebra, it doesn’t seem to have any relevance to our daily lives. (“Who needs to know this old stuff?” “Who cares about what happened in the past?” “The past is done and gone. Forget about it.”)

If you work at a historical society, as I do, you also hear the term “hysterical society” thrown around frequently.

The result of these attitudes is that history and history enterprises (including history museums and preservation groups) are not properly supported by society. When there are more pressing needs, like curing diseases, feeding the hungry, dealing with the effects of climate change, building and maintaining infrastructure, working to improve the economy, and increasing diversity across institutions, history is almost always relegated to the trunk of the car. With the urgency of the aforementioned societal issues, history doesn’t even make it to the back seat of most policy and funding conversations.

Thing is, history underpins all of society – its people, organizations, events, and functions. History goes well beyond society, to the history of the planet and the universe.

Historians know this. We also know how useful history can be if it is used intentionally.

Historical thinking and methods can lead to a more informed, critical, and engaged citizenry, which in turn leads to stronger organizations and a better democracy.

The Pragmatic Historian will explore how history can be used for the greater good of society and the world.


4 thoughts on “The Deep Worry of Historians”

  1. Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it … or something like that. πŸ˜‰

    1. Hi, Joan! You are officially my first commenter on the new blog. Wheeee!

      Another saying popular among historians is “History never repeats itself but it rhymes.” πŸ™‚

  2. I am so glad to see you starting this new venture. I agree about the importance of history. For those who have neither the time nor impulse to read and explore history, we need to appreciate that there are those who do and make use of their knowledge as we participate in society. I don’t necessarily have the impulse to study the workings of the human body but I appreciate and need those who do.
    I recently finished reading the history of our presidents and learned so much about our form of democracy, its pitfalls and its tendency to rebound. In a way, it comforted me. Many of the issues we deal with today were there at the beginning. The character defects of our presidents over the years have tended to muck things up in the same way our current president is making a mess of things. And, just as in the past, this is followed by discussion about the power of the office itself. I think this is what history is supposed to do: reveal the human cycles of making mistakes and mending.
    I will be watching your post. While I enjoy exploring history myself, I am glad there are people like you who make it a life commitment to do so.

    1. Hi, Judy – You are so right about history providing us some consolation that some of what’s happening today to our democracy has happened before and somehow we worked through it.

      What a lovely way to express the purpose of history … to “reveal the human cycles of making mistakes and mending.” That’s wonderful and I think we could add it to the quotes about history in the comments above.

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