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 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.