“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
One of the biggest issues a historian can face is looking at an issue, time period, or place objectively. We cannot help but look at the past the way we view the present or become emotionally attached to our subjects. Unfortunately, we need to look at everything in a historical context. I can list a hundred things that based on our current way of thinking would be deemed unforgiveable. It is hard to separate those feelings to analyze a historical subject accurately. I fought being a U.S. historian for three years now. I think it is a matter of how close I am to the subject. Many actions the U.S. has taken embarrass me. I seem to be capable of separating myself more when I focus on ancient or medieval history. Now I realize that I cannot avoid the past of the United States, anymore than anyone else can avoid the past of his or her country.
What drives me to stick with history (regardless of the lack of jobs available outside of teaching), is the need to tell people the story of someone who has been forgotten or ignored. I have spent three years and countless hours researching an essentially unknown historical figure. No one cares that she died, how she died, or why she died. But I do. I care so much that her story is the single reason I switched to U.S. history. I need the world to know about her. It is not because she did something great, but because she deserves to be remembered. I look back at her life with a bleeding heart, but I need to put myself within the context of her time-period, and remove myself emotionally from her. I feel closer to her than I have many “real” people. Every time I think about her, find a snippet of new information about her, or tie her story in with a bigger historical picture, I get excited. I am not passionate about much, but I am passionate about her.
I cannot wait until I find her grave. Visit where she lived. I hope that something of hers still exists out there, even if that is unlikely. I want to understand what it must have been like to see the world through her eyes. I am in awe of her, yet saddened for her. Her life did not matter to most, but it matters to me. I realize I am probably another five years out before the book will be complete, and that is probably, in reality, more like seven years. The excitement and passion I feel for this particular girl makes me want to tell her story now, but I could not do her justice at this point. So I wait, impatiently, until the day I can finally tell her story, and I intensely hope that people will listen.
“Do not applaud me. It is not I who speaks to you, but history which speaks through my mouth.” – Fustel de Coulanges