Silencing the Past – Race Politics and Historiography

Professor Krause’s lecture had a heavy focus on the potential inaccuracies of historiography, and how silences are deliberately introduced to paint a portrait of the past that suits somebody’s agenda. His examples mostly dealt with race politics and the relationship between whites and blacks as a dominator and submitter.

I felt that a lot of his examples were made not to present an objective historical truth, but rather just to present a sort of counter-history that directly challenges the accepted narrative. Trouillot tells us that humans “participate in history as actors and narrators”, and that any recorded history is probably recorded to positively portray the victors. The story of Sans SouciĀ is a poignant reminder of the role that race politics continue to play in Western literature, as the “past” has chosen a white leader for the Haitian revolution.

Nonetheless, studying the past must always be done taking a grain of salt, including any challenges to the accepted narrative. Keep in mind that any account of history, including counter-history provided by Trouillot or Dr. Krause, are just an interpretation of the truth. While there certainly are racial political issues at play in many events that Trouillot and Krause discussed, the extent to which those factors play into history is likely over or under-exaggerated to suit a purpose.

The comparison that comes to mind for me when talking about historiographical challenges to the accepted narrative is conspiracy theory. At some point, challenging the narrative and replacing it with your own is just as dangerous as not challenging it at all.

Either way, the usefulness of interpreting history in different ways is only important so far as it relates to the present. Trouillot warns us not to focus too much on the rights and wrongs of the past, as it “often diverts us from the present injustices for which previous generations only set the foundations”. We should do our best to keep in mind the purpose of studying history, and use the knowledge we gain from the past to improve ourselves moving forward.

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