Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ethics of History

"There are different kinds of love and each, according to the Fitz, is never like the other." - Rachel's ofdeerfolk

Um.  So, I totally found a source on the Ethics of History (not the History of Ethics), and I kind of want to give this some more thought, and also I mentioned today in class that it'd be a good post to write about.  So here goes it.

As indicated by my annotated source for Wednesday, this source has a chapter that outlines the three responsibilities of a historian: 1.) to be "advocates of collective memory and responsible for its order."  2.) to be "responsible for the future insofar as it is a matter of their representation of the past." and 3.) to be "responsible for taking over the heritage of the past," doing "justice to the people of the past and..." coming "to terms with crimes and horrors which belong to this heritage" (Carr 197).

I love this idea.

I wish I were a historian.  Also, history is not dead!  And I like the idea of being an advocate of the collective memory, responsible for its order.  I think that means not only uncovering lost truths, but learning and holding on to known truths so it passes through the ages.  This is why I want to learn about these people who played music and lived in Paris, because their experience was also an American one and I don't want it to be forgotten, but I also don't want it to go unnoticed.  I think there are ethics to not letting history be forgotten.  But I also think there are ethics to being expansive and open-minded about the history that really is, and never making a decision.

"The time to make up your mind about people is never." - The Philadelphia Story

I would add, no matter how long they've been dead, you should always take in new information, ESPECIALLY if it will change the way you see a human being.

But I also look at this history in a very real way as my responsibility to the future.  I like the idea of the past reflecting onto the future.

I think the biggest relationship to ethics, however, is in the 3rd point: being responsible for taking over the heritage of the past, doing justice to the people of the past and coming to terms with crimes and horrors which belong to this heritage.  I believe this is important because it implies staying away from the interpretations of history done by others, and making your own decisions.  It means staying away from the stereotypes or decisions people made about others in the past to interpret history at this time and place.  We do this particularly with the horrors of war where we refuse to teach some of the worst parts of history.  But ethically, it is important not to dredge up old hurts, but to see people in the context of those hurts, and when dealing with history I think its particularly important not to color things in a rainbow of goodness for it is much too hard to understand people, their motivations or their intentions if we forget the trauma they went through or the challenges they faced.  As an example, I think it would be ethically wrong to portray the 20s as a time of great fun, new ideas, liberal lives, and wonderful pervading ideals of equality and love for all men.  Sure we remember the flappers and the speakeasies, the great clothes, and the freedom from tradition and strictures.  But it's important to remember also that there were race riots, horrible acts of violence, overspending and reckless living that led to the Great Depression, the racketeering, the murders, scandals, the breakdown of familial relationships, and the oversimplifying of the issues that pervaded the time period.  I think it is far more ethical to make educated guesses about people living at the time when they are taken in the context of the trauma, "crimes and horrors which belong to [their] heritage."

I think there are incredible ethics to writing and representing and learning history.  I think it means endless reading and research, open-mindedness, and a willingness to take all stories into account as possibly true, while checking sources to confirm it.

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