Student Conference – Philosophy of History: Truths, Power, Ethics

Today is our Fifth Annual Undergraduate  Philosophy of History Conference and we have come interesting papers – I am looking forward to it. Below is the programme:

Philosophy of History: Truths, Power, Ethics

Fifth Annual Undergraduate Conference

Friday 5 December 2014

Senior Common Room

 

10.00  Refreshments

10.10  Welcome: Mark Donnelly & Claire Norton

 

10.15  Panel One: Whose truths?

  • Joe Hooper, Paul Antick’sBhopal to Bridgehampton. Does the use of fictive devices make an account any less valid?
  • Joanne Rolling, Zlata’s Diary: An Exposition of Truth from the Siege of Sarajevo.
  • Alexandra Melham, Fact and fiction: can we learn from historical novels?
  • Jack Cooke, State controlled history: Memory and the manipulation of the masses.

 

11.00 Refreshment Break

 

11.15  Panel Two: Museums, remains and representations

  • Lorna McGrath, Museums: how are they presenting history?
  • Ciaran Clint, ‘The Burden of History:’ Activism, Museums and Disobedient Objects.
  • Georgina Woolfe, When will the dead be able to Rest in Peace? Human Remains and their place in museums.
  • Caitlin Jennings, To what extent do Interpretive Communities influence how history is written?
  • Nadia Townsend, What makes Truman Capote’s bookIn Cold Blood an historical account?

 

12.15 Break for lunch

 

12.45  Panel Three: Memory, memorials, Mau Mau

  • Ashleigh Weaver, Death and Memory as Tools of Activism: The Anarchist Subculture in America, 1890-1939.
  • Emily Lundie Authority in a historicised world: exploiting the past and the politics of collective memory and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial​.
  • Fatima Ullah,The rightful remembrance for the Mau Mau?
  • Maria Alempic, Mau Mau and the function of history
  • Amy Mawson, Why memorials can be problematic.

 

1.45    Panel Four: Fact, fiction and naming

  • Sebastian Reynolds, Blurring the Boundaries of History: Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’.
  • Rhianna Doran, ‘Maus: a challenge to Power, historical methodology and the fact/fiction divide.’
  • Harry Batory, Does historical fiction and literature produce similar or dissimilar narratives?
  • Cate Blackmore, No Longer a Terrorist Movement: A discussion on interpretive naming and the change in theoretical discourse in relation to Apartheid South Africa.

 

2.30    Refreshment Break

 

2.45 Panel Five: Pedagogy and authority over the past

  • Cas Hance, History, authority and teaching the national curriculum
  • Aimee Garraghan, The Second World War and Key stage 3 History curriculum
  • James Dodd, The use of a textbook as a symbol of authority
  • Maria Bourke Are historical films representative of historical truth?
  • Anthony O’Reilly, Should we eradicate the authority of history?

 

3.45 Panel Six: Making histories

  • Siobhan Trainor, Are historical accounts written using innovative or experimental forms a less reliable source?
  • Plum Bou-Assouf, Title unconfirmed
  • Lydia Birch, Title unconfirmed
  • Anthony Wareham, Title unconfirmed

 

4.30    Closing remarks

Conference ends

Lies my Teacher Told Me?

220px-Lies_my_teacher_told_me

I came across this interesting ‘comment is free’ article by Jeb Lund in the Guardian last week which is worth taking a look at. He discusses how the majority conservative school board of Jefferson County, Colorado want to make changes to the Advanced Placement American History Curriculum taught in schools in order to ensure that the history taught in the classroom “promote[s] citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights”. To achieve this they have drafted a curricula proposal that will ensure that lessons only present American history in a positive light – any negative aspects will be omitted. Students, teachers and parents are protesting – see here  and here.

This is a great example of how history is used in an educational context for political, ontological and ideological purposes as well as to encourage compliant citizens – a topic I am very interested in. Incidentally James W. Loewen has an excellent book on this subject called Lies my Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook got Wrong (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995) – I recommend reading it.

We could ask whether it is wrong for school history lessons to be so partisan and political? We could ask whether it is wrong that history as taught in schools essentially has political and economic functions – it is intended to promote citizenship, patriotism and the free market – rather than simply conveying the truth about the past.

But I would ask is it ever possible for history to be taught in a neutral, non-political way? Would we really want that?

What interested me about this piece is summed up in this quote “[t]he bind facing the Jefferson County school board and the conservative movement in general is that history happened, and pretending it didn’t takes effort.”

“History happened”.

Well I am not so sure about that. For me history is a literary genre, a way of writing about events, the ‘before now’, the past. As such it offers a perspective on events, an interpretation.  While of course we can make judgements about historical texts – we can check to see if they adhere to the (contingent and temporary) protocols of the history profession and we can comment on their aesthetic, literary and political aspects – we can’t distinguish between politicised accounts of past events and those that simply record what happened.

All histories are politically motivated. Yes, some histories flout the conventions of history writing by deliberately ignoring commonly agreed upon ‘facts’ or ‘evidence’, and some employ interpretative strategies that many would find inappropriate – we consider these to be bad histories or not history at all. However, all histories to some extent either implicitly or explicitly have a political agenda – it is just that this only becomes obvious when it conflicts with our own perspective and political preferences. What we agree with is impartial, what we disagree with is partial.

What do you think?