History as a study in irony

Michael Dirda reviews a new book by the distinguished British historian J. H. Elliott, History in the Making, which reflects on how historians exercise their vocations and the lessons of history for our own times.  Here are some quotations from the book, as put together in the review:

“If the study of the past has any value, that value lies in its ability to reveal the complexities of human experience, and to counsel against ruling out as of no significance any of the paths that were only partially followed, or not followed at all.”

Today, it is apparent that “the nation state, while remaining the standard form of political organization, has been under growing pressure both from above and from below. . . . From above, it has been compelled to yield ground to international and supranational bodies, of which the European Community is a prime example. From below, it has come under pressure from the suppressed nationalities, and from religious and ethnicities demanding their own place in the sun. As a result, what once seemed certain has become less certain, and structures that once had about them an air of permanence are showing signs of frailty.”

Certainly, contemporary history has shown us, with a vengeance, that “the stronger the emphasis on secularization, the greater are the chances of religious revival. The advance of science finds its antithesis in the advance of fundamentalism, and the supranationalism of a world of multinational corporations and organizations finds itself challenged by the upsurge of the irrational forces of old-style nationalism.”

Thus, as Dirda concludes, “The study of history is a study in irony.”

The more secularism the more religious revival.  It would follow that conservatism is not dead, any more than liberalism was a few years ago, that ideologies ebb and flow and take their turn.  I suspect the same is true of moral codes.  The sexual revolution will probably spur a counter-revolution.  Then again, world wars, totalitarianism, fascism, and communism will probably come back too.

via A historian’s Spanish lessons for modern America – The Washington Post.

 

What history was made in 2011?

Here are the top news stories of 2011 according to the Associated Press:

1. Bin Laden’s death

2. Disasters in Japan

3. The Arab Spring

4. EU fiscal crisis

5. U.S. economy

6. Penn State scandal

7. Gadhafi’s fall

8. U.S. Congress

9. Occupy protests

10. Congresswoman Giffords shooting

Other contenders: the death of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, Hurricane Irene, tornados in he Midwest and Southeastern U.S., the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy

I think we could agree by acclamation that the killing of Osama bin Laden was the biggest news story of the year.  But let’s take a bigger view than this list of mere news items.

What do you think were the most historically significant events of the year?  That is, events that future historians will study because they proved pivotally important in whatever happens next.

 

The 9/11 attacks ten years later

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. So we need to observe the occasion. And yet I find myself experiencing grief fatigue, outrage fatigue, war fatigue. I wish we could get beyond 9/11, put it behind us. Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, could we downgrade from threat level orange and keep our shoes on in the airport? I do realize we must remain ever vigilant because the threat remains. And I do agree that we should never forget what happened, honoring those who died, those who helped the victims, and the soldiers that enacted our national retribution. Still, I can’t help my post 9/11 exhaustion.

So where do we stand 10 years after the attacks?

Has “everything changed,” as was widely said at the time?

Does it take an attack like that to give us a sense of national unity? Why didn’t that last longer than it did?

What is the big picture, historical, and cultural impact of those plane crashes?


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