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5 The Twentieth Century

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

This chapter serves as an historical introduction to the themes covered in chapters 6 to 9, where the focus is on recent decades and the organization by types of states. The varied, often clashing, concerns of the state and the market, of officials and entrepreneurs, come to the fore in this account. However, these concerns differ quite conspicuously from the views of many cutting-edge thinkers on the purposes of history and on historical method, and notably so in the twentieth century and the twenty-first. Officials and entrepreneurs offered an assessment of history that was, understandably, far less affected by advances in theoretical developments or in other intellectual disciplines. Instead, the needs of state identity and the very different exigencies of the market took a greater role. It would be difficult to imagine many popular writers joining Jacques Le Goff, the influential director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, who wrote, in 1992, that “banal, reactionary modes of history – narrative, the history of events, biography, and political history – continue or stage comebacks.”1

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14 Conclusions

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

NECESSARY OR A BURDEN; GOOD, BAD, OR INDIFFERENT; THE weight of history can be seen very differently. It is, of course, in part each, and every one, of these descriptions. The awareness of historically grounded wrongs, of empowerment through grievance, of atavistic hatreds, and identities through opposition, that are all mentioned in this book, could readily be extended in terms of examples and, indeed, categories. This awareness encourages a feeling that history is a weight that should be shed, as well as a means of identity. The two, weight and means of identity, combine to emphasize difference, different views and responses. The very terms used illustrate this. Thus, the term “The American War,” which is employed in Vietnam, readily deploys blame for a destructive struggle that in reality owed at least as much to the North Vietnamese determination from 1959 to overthrow any non-Communist government in South Vietnam.2 Emphasizing this role by North Vietnam, however, is totally unacceptable to Vietnam, a state created by this very overthrow in 1975, and one still ruled by the Communist victors.

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13 A Personal Note

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

IT IS NORMAL FOR ACADEMIC HISTORIANS TO SINK THEMSELVES into their subject and to avoid personal comments, at least in print. There are writers who prefer to offer such comments, but they are not the majority. Even in autobiographies, historians omit much and tend to repeat and represent the profession’s norms and collectivity.1 Moreover, by maintaining an impersonal style in their scholarship, authors are assumed to demonstrate impartiality, and also to gain added credence for their arguments. Possibly historiography requires this treatment even more than most subjects as it represents an attempt to move beyond the perspective of the individual in order to chart the development of a subject and to offer judgments on others. Yet, there is also much to be said for providing the personal account, not because it has any special authority, or even interest, but thanks to the particular insight the individual can provide. It is also slightly strange for an historian to write about historiography advancing general reflections, but failing to offer an explicit engagement with the issues and closeness arising from his or her own experience.

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7 The Historical Dimension of Manifest Destiny

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

The United States had gone through its own process of creating history in the wake of independence. The presentation of history, indeed, notably the history of winning independence, was an important aspect of American state-building and nation-forming. More recently, this presentation has played a central role in what the Americans see as culture wars. History wars proved an important component of these, although the term is a misnomer as fatalities scarcely match levels seen elsewhere in the world when such contests over identity are waged.

From the outset of American independence in 1776, the past was not only celebrated, but also contested as an aspect of debates and disputes over the nature and role of political authority. Particular controversy focused on the rights of federal and state authorities. These concerns affected interest in the history of other countries. This history, notably of countries when under republican governments, such as the Netherlands in the early-modern period, Classical Athens, and republican Rome, was scrutinized in order to provide constitutional guidance and political ammunition. The strong interest in history shown by the Founding Fathers focused on how to save republics from succumbing to foreign attack, domestic discord, or the rise of tyranny. James Madison, later fourth president, wrote a study of previous attempts at confederation. Thomas Jefferson, the second president as well as the founder of the University of Virginia, wanted modern history taught in order to show what he saw as the folly of the opposing Federalists.

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2 A Selective Narrative to 1650

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

Historiography began as foundation myths, the myths of peoples, dynasties, and religions, and this theme is still powerfully present today. Indeed, there is a parallel between the origin-myths of the nations and states of two and three millennia ago, and those propounded for the new or revived states established from 1945 to the present. One major difference, however, is the role of religion, which played a key part in early origin-myths, but has been conspicuously absent – or negligible – in most recent ones (although with important Muslim exceptions, as well as Israel), or has been presented in secular guises. Indeed, to a degree, nationalism is a modern form of religion, one in which the state worships itself and its community, with the nation encouraged to think in terms of a continuous mission. The weakness of some states, for example Iraq and Syria, is linked not only to very bad government, but also to a failure of nationalism to overcome other allegiances, allegiances that in part reflect, and are reflected in, the nature of this government. Religions themselves have origin-myths,2 and some religions are aspects of the development of nations, notably in the case of Jews and the Japanese.

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