History, Truth, and the Modern Era

Who gets to decide what history is valuable enough to be presented to the public?  Who gets to determine how that history will be interpreted?  These are questions that ran through my mind as I read all of the articles this week.  In this case the focus was on the British representation of the French and Indian War and it was their “truth” that was presented.  For those representing this view the siege of FortNiagara was a pivotal event in American history because the British won.  Without a British victory at this battle the French would have controlled the Northeast and the Revolution would not have occurred.  Although this is the only truth that was presented in this article, it is not the only view of this particular battle.  The French have a completely different opinion of the French and Indian War.  They see it as the beginning of a time of oppression by the British.  Their truth is not considered relevant to men dressed up as Rogers Rangers.  The response to the bitterness of the French people regarding a traumatic event in their past was that they are a “bunch of asshole French separatists.”  I also wonder what modern day eastern Native American tribes think as the watch the reenactments.  Their opinion is not sought out by those representing the American truth but I’d be willing to bet it’s not happiness that the British defeated the French in this particular war.

The Civil War reenactors have some of the same issues.  They represent a specific idea of Confederate history and have not updated that view in years.  This outdated stand is apparently driving new members away from joining the fun.  No one wants to be part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  If they don’t change the way they approach the Civil War, change their truth, then they will simply fade away as their members die.

This representation of a narrow “truth” is one of the issues facing history and historians.  Without looking at how an event shaped all involved, how can we honestly say that we understand the past?  The single focus interpretation becomes dangerous ground when people want to spread ideas that confine minority cultures to the fringes of society.  I am also bothered by the response of Andy Famiglietti who stated that: “Consensus, then, is an important mechanism by which we judge the validity of certain truth-claims.”  This is troubling.  I agree with Famiglietti that Wikipedia “demonstrates that it holds a deep respect for a collaborative scholarly process that is collectively more capable of producing “truth” than any individual scholar.”  However, when one organization, even one created collaboratively by the people, controls that much information the possibility for twisting “truth” exists.  Famiglietti is not a historian so maybe he doesn’t remember that the Americans twisted facts and created a consensus “truth” that the Japanese needed to be rounded up and placed in internment camps for national security.  Consensus does not always mean that those with coinciding opinions are correct.  Sometimes it just means that ignorance and hate are easy to spread.

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