Creating History (People believe what they want to believe)

Trouillot’s book and Filene’s article crystallized many of the ideas that have been in the back of my mind this year. Many of the concepts introduced and explained in the book are similar to the ones that we discussed in Exploring History (the required seminar for history majors).  In the first class, Professor Kurimay had us brainstorm and discuss the differences between social memory and history and if history as an academic discipline should be categorized as part of the humanities or as a social science (or both).  She pushed us to define both categories and in doing so, I realized how much stock I placed in the idea of ‘proof’ and how it related to producing professional history.  I had always believed that the answers were in the archives and that enough research or enough thoughtful interpretation would allow us to expand the historical narrative to include the histories of marginalized groups.  After this year, I now believe that my previous faith in the archive and in professional historians was misplaced.  Instinctively I think I understood Trouillot’s point, “When reality does not coincide with deeply held beliefs, human beings tend to phrase interpretations that force reality within the scope of these beliefs.  They devise formulas to repress the unthinkable and to bring it back within the realm of accepted discourse” (Trouillot 72).  Or as my grandmother would say, “People believe what they want to believe.”  This leads me to ask: How then do we produce history that challenges, changes and engages our audiences when we understand how imperfect our sources and methods are and with the understanding that our work has been and will be interpreted through many biases?

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