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Thread: Presentism and The Unified Theory of Wokeness

  1. #1

    Presentism and The Unified Theory of Wokeness

    New Rule: A Unified Theory of Wokeness | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)



    It's time to stop judging everyone in the past by the standards of the present.
    "Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country, and giving it to the rich people of a poor country." - Ron Paul
    "Beware the Military-Industrial-Financial-Pharma-Corporate-Internet-Media-Government Complex." - B4L update of General Dwight D. Eisenhower
    "Debt is the drug, Wall St. Banksters are the dealers, and politicians are the addicts." - B4L
    "Totally free immigration? I've never taken that position. I believe in national sovereignty." - Ron Paul

    Proponent of real science.
    The views and opinions expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent this forum or any other entities or persons.



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  3. #2
    The original article:

    IS HISTORY HISTORY?
    Identity Politics and Teleologies of the Present
    James H. Sweet | Aug 17, 2022

    Twenty years ago, in these pages, Lynn Hunt argued “against presentism.” She lamented historians’ declining interest in topics prior to the 20th century, as well as our increasing tendency to interpret the past through the lens of the present. Hunt warned that this rising presentism threatened to “put us out of business as historians.” If history was little more than “short-term . . . identity politics defined by present concerns,” wouldn’t students be better served by taking degrees in sociology, political science, or ethnic studies instead?

    The discipline did not heed Hunt’s warning. From 2003 to 2013, the number of PhDs awarded to students working on topics post-1800, across all fields, rose 18 percent. Meanwhile, those working on pre-1800 topics declined by 4 percent. During this time, the Wall Street meltdown was followed by plummeting undergraduate enrollments in history courses and increased professional interest in the history of contemporary socioeconomic topics. Then came Obama, and Twitter, and Trump. As the discipline has become more focused on the 20th and 21st centuries, historical analyses are contained within an increasingly constrained temporality. Our interpretations of the recent past collapse into the familiar terms of contemporary debates, leaving little room for the innovative, counterintuitive interpretations.

    This trend toward presentism is not confined to historians of the recent past; the entire discipline is lurching in this direction, including a shrinking minority working in premodern fields. If we don’t read the past through the prism of contemporary social justice issues—race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism—are we doing history that matters? This new history often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times, as well as change over time, neutralizing the expertise that separates historians from those in other disciplines. The allure of political relevance, facilitated by social and other media, encourages a predictable sameness of the present in the past. This sameness is ahistorical, a proposition that might be acceptable if it produced positive political results. But it doesn’t.

    In many places, history suffuses everyday life as presentism; America is no exception. We suffer from an overabundance of history, not as method or analysis, but as anachronistic data points for the articulation of competing politics. The consequences of this new history are everywhere. I traveled to Ghana for two months this summer to research and write, and my first assignment was a critical response to The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story for a forthcoming forum in the American Historical Review. Whether or not historians believe that there is anything new in the New York Times project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project is a best-selling book that sits at the center of current controversies over how to teach American history. As journalism, the project is powerful and effective, but is it history?

    This new history often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times.

    When I first read the newspaper series that preceded the book, I thought of it as a synthesis of a tradition of Black nationalist historiography dating to the 19th century with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent call for reparations. The project spoke to the political moment, but I never thought of it primarily as a work of history. Ironically, it was professional historians’ engagement with the work that seemed to lend it historical legitimacy. Then the Pulitzer Center, in partnership with the Times, developed a secondary school curriculum around the project. Local school boards protested characterizations of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison as unpatriotic owners of “forced labor camps.” Conservative lawmakers decided that if this was the history of slavery being taught in schools, the topic shouldn’t be taught at all. For them, challenging the Founders’ position as timeless tribunes of liberty was “racially divisive.” At each of these junctures, history was a zero-sum game of heroes and villains viewed through the prism of contemporary racial identity. It was not an analysis of people’s ideas in their own time, nor a process of change over time.

    In Ghana, I traveled to Elmina for a wedding. A small seaside fishing village, Elmina was home to one of the largest Atlantic slave-trading depots in West Africa. The morning after the wedding, a small group of us met for breakfast at the hotel. As we waited for several members of our party to show up, a group of African Americans began trickling into the breakfast bar. By the time they all gathered, more than a dozen members of the same family—three generations deep—pulled together the restaurant’s tables to dine. Sitting on the table in front of one of the elders was a dog-eared copy of The 1619 Project.

    Later that afternoon, my family and I toured Elmina Castle alongside several Ghanaians, a Dane, and a Jamaican family. Our guide gave a well-rehearsed tour geared toward African Americans. American influence was everywhere, from memorial plaques to wreaths and flowers left on the floors of the castle’s dungeons. Arguably, Elmina Castle is now as much an African American shrine as a Ghanaian archaeological or historical site. As I reflected on breakfast earlier that morning, I could only imagine the affirmation and bonding experienced by the large African American family—through the memorialization of ancestors lost to slavery at Elmina Castle, but also through the story of African American resilience, redemption, and the demand for reparations in The 1619 Project.

    Yet as a historian of Africa and the African diaspora, I am troubled by the historical erasures and narrow politics that these narratives convey. Less than one percent of the Africans passing through Elmina arrived in North America. The vast majority went to Brazil and the Caribbean. Should the guide’s story differ for a tour with no African Americans? Likewise, would The 1619 Project tell a different history if it took into consideration that the shipboard kin of Jamestown’s “20. and odd” Africans also went to Mexico, Jamaica, and Bermuda? These are questions of historical interpretation, but present-day political ones follow: Do efforts to claim a usable African American past reify elements of American hegemony and exceptionalism such narratives aim to dismantle?

    The Elmina tour guide claimed that “Ghanaians” sent their “servants” into chattel slavery unknowingly. The guide made no reference to warfare or Indigenous slavery, histories that interrupt assumptions of ancestral connection between modern-day Ghanaians and visitors from the diaspora. Similarly, the forthcoming film The Woman King seems to suggest that Dahomey’s female warriors and King Ghezo fought the European slave trade. In fact, they promoted it. Historically accurate rendering of Asante or Dahomean greed and enslavement apparently contradict modern-day political imperatives.

    Hollywood need not adhere to historians’ methods any more than journalists or tour guides, but bad history yields bad politics. The erasure of slave-trading African empires in the name of political unity is uncomfortably like right-wing conservative attempts to erase slavery from school curricula in the United States, also in the name of unity. These interpretations are two sides of the same coin. If history is only those stories from the past that confirm current political positions, all manner of political hacks can claim historical expertise.

    This is not history; it is dilettantism.

    Too many Americans have become accustomed to the idea of history as an evidentiary grab bag to articulate their political positions, a trend that can be seen in recent US Supreme Court decisions. The word “history” appears 95 times in Clarence Thomas’s majority opinion overturning New York’s conceal-carry gun law. Likewise, Samuel Alito invokes “history” 67 times in his opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. Despite amicus briefs written by professional historians in both cases (including one co-authored by the AHA and the Organization of American Historians), the court’s majority deploys only those pieces of historical evidence that support their preconceived political biases.

    The majority decisions are ahistorical. In the conceal-carry case, Justice Thomas cherry-picks historical data, casting aside restrictions in English common law as well as historical examples of limitations on gun rights in the United States to illustrate America’s so-called “tradition” of individual gun ownership rights. Then, Thomas uses this “historical” evidence to support his interpretation of the original meaning of the Second Amendment as it was written in 1791, including the right of individuals (not a “well regulated Militia”) to conceal and carry automatic pistols. In Dobbs v. Jackson, Justice Alito ignores legal precedents punishing abortion only after “quickening.” concluding: “An unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.” This is not history; it is dilettantism.

    In his dissent to NYSRPA v. Bruen, Justice Stephen Breyer disparagingly labels the majority’s approach “law office history.” He recognizes that historians engage in research methods and interpretive approaches incompatible with solving modern-day legal, political, or economic questions. As such, he argues that history should not be the primary measure for adjudicating contemporary legal issues.

    Professional historians would do well to pay attention to Breyer’s admonition. The present has been creeping up on our discipline for a long time. Doing history with integrity requires us to interpret elements of the past not through the optics of the present but within the worlds of our historical actors. Historical questions often emanate out of present concerns, but the past interrupts, challenges, and contradicts the present in unpredictable ways. History is not a heuristic tool for the articulation of an ideal imagined future. Rather, it is a way to study the messy, uneven process of change over time. When we foreshorten or shape history to justify rather than inform contemporary political positions, we not only undermine the discipline but threaten its very integrity.
    ...
    Perspectives on History
    ...
    https://www.historians.org/publicati...of-the-present
    "Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country, and giving it to the rich people of a poor country." - Ron Paul
    "Beware the Military-Industrial-Financial-Pharma-Corporate-Internet-Media-Government Complex." - B4L update of General Dwight D. Eisenhower
    "Debt is the drug, Wall St. Banksters are the dealers, and politicians are the addicts." - B4L
    "Totally free immigration? I've never taken that position. I believe in national sovereignty." - Ron Paul

    Proponent of real science.
    The views and opinions expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent this forum or any other entities or persons.

  4. #3
    The groveling apology:

    AUTHOR’S NOTE (AUG 19, 2022)

    My September Perspectives on History column has generated anger and dismay among many of our colleagues and members. I take full responsibility that it did not convey what I intended and for the harm that it has caused. I had hoped to open a conversation on how we “do” history in our current politically charged environment. Instead, I foreclosed this conversation for many members, causing harm to colleagues, the discipline, and the Association.

    A president’s monthly column, one of the privileges of the elected office, provides a megaphone to the membership and the discipline. The views and opinions expressed in that column are not those of the Association. If my ham-fisted attempt at provocation has proven anything, it is that the AHA membership is as vocal and robust as ever. If anyone has criticisms that they have been reluctant or unable to post publicly, please feel free to contact me directly.

    I sincerely regret the way I have alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends. I am deeply sorry. In my clumsy efforts to draw attention to methodological flaws in teleological presentism, I left the impression that questions posed from absence, grief, memory, and resilience somehow matter less than those posed from positions of power. This absolutely is not true. It wasn’t my intention to leave that impression, but my provocation completely missed the mark.

    Once again, I apologize for the damage I have caused to my fellow historians, the discipline, and the AHA. I hope to redeem myself in future conversations with you all. I’m listening and learning.
    "Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country, and giving it to the rich people of a poor country." - Ron Paul
    "Beware the Military-Industrial-Financial-Pharma-Corporate-Internet-Media-Government Complex." - B4L update of General Dwight D. Eisenhower
    "Debt is the drug, Wall St. Banksters are the dealers, and politicians are the addicts." - B4L
    "Totally free immigration? I've never taken that position. I believe in national sovereignty." - Ron Paul

    Proponent of real science.
    The views and opinions expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent this forum or any other entities or persons.

  5. #4
    Interesting take from the World Socialist Website, in defense of true history and opposed to "presentism":

    American Historical Association president issues groveling apology after racialist social media attack
    Tom Mackaman - 23 August 2022

    The president of the American Historical Association (AHA), Professor James Sweet of the University of Wisconsin, has issued a groveling apology for a mild criticism he made of the 1619 Project and the influence of identity politics on historical writing.

    Sweet’s column on the 1619 Project was published in the most recent Perspectives on History newsletter of the AHA, the largest organization of American historians. It can be read in full here. Entitled “Is History History? Identity Politics and Teleologies of the Present,” Sweet’s article made two overarching points.

    First, it criticized the dominance of “presentism” in historical writing. In Sweet’s view, this means the tendency to view history “through the prism of contemporary social justice issues—race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism,” while minimizing “the values and mores of people in their own times.” The relationship between present and past is an important and complicated subject, which raises questions of both method—the way sources are used and interpreted—and philosophy. Suffice it to say that the subject is certainly worthy of discussion, not apology and retraction.

    He suggests that this presentism manifests itself not only in the imposition of present-day thinking onto the past but in a decline in what historians call “pre-modern” subjects—roughly speaking, things that happened before the 19th century. This is a fair warning. The teaching of ancient history, medieval history, early modern history—in all geographical areas— is vanishing from curricula across the country, even at very large universities. Budget cuts have played their role. But, so too have attacks from the quarters of identity politics, who find no “usable past” in subjects such as Ancient Rome, as we have argued elsewhere.

    Sweet’s second point gets at the 1619 Project’s insinuation that slavery was a uniquely American “original sin.” An accomplished scholar of African history and the slave trade, Sweet notes that at a single slaving site he recently visited in Ghana, Elmina, “[l]ess than one percent of the Africans passing through … arrived in North America.” Most of the other 99 percent, presumably, were bound to destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Sweet warns, rather gently, that efforts such as the 1619 Project that purport “to claim a usable African American past [may] reify elements of American hegemony and exceptionalism such narratives aim to dismantle.”

    His article was posted on Twitter at 1:18 p.m. Eastern, on Wednesday, August 17. Almost immediately, it brought forward deranged ad hominem attacks from race-obsessed Twitter users. Sadly, many of these tweets came from historians.
    ...
    Tellingly, Sweet did not explain what it was, concretely, that had caused all the “damage” and “harm” he now confesses to have inflicted. If he were to explain, he would have to admit that his column hurt no one, that there was nothing offensive about it. Instead, he would have to say that his column violated the unspoken rules of censorship that hold sway over academia and circumscribe American intellectual life. Having stepped out of line—the president of the AHA, no less!—it was necessary that Sweet be brought to heel, and it was no less essential that he flog himself before his censors. The problem for Sweet is that the embrace of identity politics, which is a religion of the phony “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party (and also the main route to funding and career opportunities for many academics) must be total—observed in public statements as well as private thought. He will remain suspect!

    Alas, it is unfortunate that Sweet capitulated so quickly and so abjectly. The “Twitterstorians” who engage in these ritual acts of public censorship are a small, intemperate and, as their tweets show, generally crude lot. What they fear most is that someone will interfere with their mob. And there were in fact many historians who replied to the Twitter furor in defense of Sweet, and within a day or two, his defenders appeared to far outnumber the attackers. Many of these Tweets, unlike those of his attackers, actually tried to engage with the arguments.

    Sweet’s self-flagellation before a social media witch-hunt indicates the advanced level of censorship and decline in American intellectual life. To be sure, there certainly have been major fights in the AHA over politics and presentism in the past, very famously during the Vietnam War. And the theme of American exceptionalism, which Sweet raised to no avail, has its own rich, and heavily-debated, history. But there is no precedent for such an act of public contrition by the president of the AHA, not even in the McCarthy era.
    ...
    More: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/202.../ogzj-a24.html
    "Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country, and giving it to the rich people of a poor country." - Ron Paul
    "Beware the Military-Industrial-Financial-Pharma-Corporate-Internet-Media-Government Complex." - B4L update of General Dwight D. Eisenhower
    "Debt is the drug, Wall St. Banksters are the dealers, and politicians are the addicts." - B4L
    "Totally free immigration? I've never taken that position. I believe in national sovereignty." - Ron Paul

    Proponent of real science.
    The views and opinions expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent this forum or any other entities or persons.

  6. #5
    The only good news here is that the American Historical Association has become so young, liberal and biased, that it's not taken seriously by anyone other than those who already espouse such political activism.

    This is easy to tell just by considering their leadership. A joke.
    https://www.historians.org/about-aha...ship/aha-staff

    Truth be told, American historians haven't been relevant since the 1950's.
    I think most people realise by now who controls the foundations and institutes that promote WHO THEY PLEASE into academia.

    With such a stunning lack of credentials compared to who's available, the obvious favoring of certain races and racial sub-groups (Jews, ok?)
    and women, is rather like watching television commercials today - nothing is the same. Nor will it ever be, unless we fight them. With all we have.
    Last edited by Snowball; 09-20-2022 at 05:29 AM.
    "For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy ... Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed." - J.F.K.

  7. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Snowball View Post
    The only good news here is that the American Historical Association has become so young, liberal and biased, that it's not taken seriously by anyone other than those who already espouse such political activism.
    Oh, yeah. Wonderful news.

    Decades of making history as stale and boring as possible has resulted in a population so ignorant of the stuff that manipulators can trick them into repeating any part of it they want people to--even the incredibly stupid parts, like descents into communism. And here's someone actually cheering this trend on.
    Last edited by acptulsa; 09-20-2022 at 06:40 AM.
    "Pity we didn't nominate Rand Paul--a man who actually has the Alpha Cojones to put his life on the line, but unfortunately lacks the bad taste necessary to brag about them."-- acptulsa



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