History is a discipline, not a virtue

 

There has been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over the past few days on the part of white supremacists who suddenly have a heart-felt attachment to the ‘history’ of Confederate monuments in the United States. The monuments, they argue, must be preserved because they honour the legacy of a bunch of guys who lost a war to enslave other people and participation trophies are important. Never mind that the majority of Confederate monuments have not survived to us from the American Civil War, and were erected during the Jim Crow era of the twentieth century. No no! They must be preserved, in situ, because they are a part of history.

I regret to inform you that this thinking makes no sense to actual historians.

The sudden cri de coeur about the importance of preserving ‘history’ is absurd because history isn’t the act of simply remembering a series of events. It is the act of combing through documents and artefacts from another era and analysing them. We then use this analysis to inform our view of how society functioned at that particular time, and how people lived within it. A statue is not, therefore, in and of itself, valuable because it recounts a particular time. It is valuable because it tells us about the values of the people who erected it.

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On the concept of the Renaissance and Outkast’s Hey Ya

Being a medieval historian means quite a few things.  Among other things, it means you get irrationally irked by the popular usage of medieval as a pejorative, make literally no money at all ever (Haha – I’m not joking, tho. HELP.), and spend a lot of time being frustrated with the concept of the Renaissance. Over this time, I have come to realise that the Renaissance is, in many ways, like the seminal classic Hey Ya by Outkast.

Now the thing about the Renaissance is that, much like Hey Ya, everyone can agree it is cool as hell. We’re out here enjoying that art and damn if it is not amazing.

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