Posted by: aboutalbion | January 25, 2013

Storytelling

An unexpected link took me to a video of the 2013 Presidential Address of the American Historical Association earlier this month in New Orleans.  The President’s theme was “Storytelling”.

What I found of interest was his citing the end of the Cold War as the cause of the slowdown in resources being allocated to higher education in general, and to history in particular.  He seemed to be arguing the thesis that resourcing higher education had been a contribution to the Cold War effort.  Now, with reduced access to funding, he was of the view that the infrastructure that supported the discipline of history was being undermined.

So he posed the question, “What is the future of history?”.

For him, the most basic answer of all was … storytelling.  Storytelling helps people to understand the past, and to make sense of their lives.  The form and shape of stories will change (especially in a digital age), but the human need for stories is unlikely to go away.

The tension comes when a separation occurs between a historian’s professional understanding of the past and the popular understanding of the past.

The President endorsed the view that Mr Everyman wants a story about the past that he can use.  The President went further and echoed a previous presidential address to the effect that popular understandings of the past are ultimately more important than professional understanding of the past.

He claimed that ‘living history’ (whether true or false) is history that influences the course of history.

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