Friday, July 13, 2012

Mything the Point of the Past

Louis Menand of Harvard corrects a bit of TV-journalism mythmaking in the New Yorker and reflects:

People in any profession like to create an imaginary past, populated by the Ones Who Came Before. Sometimes, we figure these people to be narrow-minded fools and feel motivated to demonstrate our own superior tolerance and sophistication. More honorably, if not necessarily more accurately, we imagine our predecessors as nobler and braver than our small and anxious selves -- as men and women who stood up for principle . . . 
I have seen this happen in some literature in the fields of urban planning and education. I reckon this commentary could apply to genealogy as well, and often to our use of history in general, not just the history of a profession.

Was some part of our past a Golden Age? Or an Age of Dunces and Midgets? Any history that fits either plot may make a riveting story, but it has probably (at best) omitted a lot of interesting information. Like our own lives, the real past is usually more mixed and confusing than makes us comfortable.

Louis Menand, "Seeing It Now: Walter Cronkite and the legend of CBS News," The New Yorker, 9 & 16 July 2012, 88-94.

Harold Henderson, "Mything the Point of the Past," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 13 July 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

No comments: