Autobiography Of a Historian



What do you think history is?


History is never about the deaths and genocides for you, is it? It is always about poetic triumphs and bugles blowing across blood-red fields for you.


A re-enactment of history in your imagination is never without excessive background music and emotionally manipulative orations.


You have been taught of history as a thing to be proud of, a thing to boast about, a thing to paint on walls, ceilings and minds.


You see history through the words of bards and the eyes of victors. You see history as an odyssey of good-trumps-evil, a series of larger-than-life personalities on white horses leading legions of armoured men to heroic conquest.


I am a historian.


The history I see and know is not the same history which you worship and adore.


Where you see glorious speeches I observe despots trouncing commoners.


Where you see halls filled with senators wearing splendid white robes and flaunting photogenic laughter, I lament the absence of women and minorities.


Where you cheer an epic battle scene where men sacrifice their lives for God and country, I see hapless men fighting the battles of egocentric aristocrats who are sitting comfortably in their golden castles, alcohol in their hands and slaves at their beck and call.


History is not the fantasy sprouted by text-books and the lips of patriots; history is a sombre tale of lawlessness filled with characters more directionless than we are.


You may not believe it, but we have never had it so good.


Black men leading, women voting, homosexuals marrying – for a historian it is as if the entire world has turned itself upside-down.


And that is how it should be.


I do not want to live in the past – it was a dreary, dark time. I want to document the present and dream of a future that is brighter than any bygone age.


I want to fight against the education which teaches children to be proud of their country’s heroes and successes while at the same time ignoring their country’s tyrants and oppressors.


I am a historian.


I do not want a yesterday of overrated renown; I want a tomorrow of limitless potential.


Because a historian’s greatest desire is for the history of tomorrow to be less depressing than the history of today.

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