“They should go and hang themselves.”
That was my answer during a Q&A at York University history graduate conference back in February. My poor word choice reflected the need for improvement of my public speaking skills. Thanks to the generosity of Loyola University Chicago, my Canadian friends and friends-of-friends-of-friends, I was able to present at New Frontiers with three great panelists under the catchy title of “Memories of War: Transforming Violence.” My paper was based on how Spanish society has coped with the trauma of the 1930s civil war during the military dictatorship of Franco and democracy since the 1970s. Until now, everything seems ok.
However, I chose to stir things up a bit expressing my desire that historians ought to do something more than sitting down, giving the same lectures over and over, and to incorporate current topics into their analysis of history in a socially useful way. Then, a professor from York raised the question, what do we do with those that don’t see any problem with society, that are content with what happens around them? Thus, my impolite and somewhat disrespectful response. But was it? If we are not producing history for our present (sorry for break it to you but if you are thinking that you are leaving a legacy for generations to come, chances are that you are wrong), why are we doing it at all? In academia, some may say “because I can, because I want to, because I get paid a lot of money to do so.” I mean, seriously, is that it?
Disclaimer: I am currently in the path of becoming a PhD student. I might or might not end up working at an university but, in any case, I feel obliged to do my best to make a difference. I don’t mean to sound pretentious but rather avid to learn from my colleagues and work with them. The question to solve is how my (future) research is going to make a difference, which I will leave for my next post.
One thought on “The things we do – Reminiscences from Toronto”
Great questions Federico. As public historians I think we are so much more aware of how necessary it is to address current needs with our work. Not that we should change what we do or only address “trendy” topics, but if our work isn’t in some way relevant to the world then why are we doing it? If only more academic historians saw this I think we could reduce the gap between popular and academic history.