Tuesday, 14 October 2008

About History

Finished October 14
The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan
This book is basedon the 2007 Joanna Goodman Lecture Series at the University of Western Ontario. MacMillan is a Canadian historian, who previously taught at the University of Toronto, and is now warden of St. Anthony's College at Oxford University.
This book talks about the various ways history is used: for cultural identity, for nationalism, to push a particular agenda, to predict what will happen in a future situation. She looks at how history can be a trap that we fall into when assessing a current situation. She looks at how some individuals and groups have manipulated history, telling false or one-sided stories and how others have suppressed history in order to increase their power or authority. Even leaders of nations have fallen into these traps.
While it is useful to gain knowledge from past events, no situation is exactly the same as another and it can be dangerous to assume the same actions will produce the same results in a present situation.
MacMillan also talks about how some historians have been writing their works in language that is too esoteric and specialized to be disseminated widely, and how that can cause truth about history to be ignored and knowledge to go astray. The book is thought-provoking and the author's examples cover many recent events, making it topical too.
This should be required reading in every high school world history class.

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