What use is history at a time like this? In this beautifully written and tightly argued piece, Paul Kramer of Vanderbilt University reveals that history is not only in political discourse and accounts of causation, but also in the ways individuals narrate their own lives. Kramer outlines what historians are especially good at: showing how current distributions of power emerge from past alignments, helping identify alternative paths, and cultivating empathy for others both past and present. However, talking about the ‘lessons of history’ is elitist and technocratic, so Kramer encourages historians to carry out their work in public and in collaboration with all kinds of citizens.
Neoliberalism works by disconnecting us from our past, from the natural world that sustains us and from each other. History can and should do the opposite. That’s why it matters so much at the moment. In the face of disconnection, it traces lines of connection and forges bonds of solidarity.
The Chronicle piece is behind a pay wall but here’s an open access link to it on Kramer’s own blog.