OGDEN COLUMN: Significance in the filters of history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

We pedagogists as dedicated educators have a tendency either to trust history in its entirety or to dismiss it in its totality. It is almost as if we assume that fact in the face of history has a malleability which becomes a tool of the one who is evaluating its consequences.

Our cynicism moves to the edge of absurdity when we assign complete veracity to the locution that &8220;it is only the victors who write the history books.&8221; This pronouncement clearly prejudices the issue and assumes that no historian has ever had an objective view of events which has brought us to this point in the sequence of human measures.

Such an approach severely hampers our efforts at advancement in a logical progression since we become dependent upon the views and analyses of an agent or an agency which seems inherently incapable of presenting history as fact. Rather it presents history as the product of a predestined sequence designed to defend the status quo or to be the apoligetica for a particular agent in history.

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But today, it is more important than ever before to be able to identify what history is and how it is to be used &8212; and it is absolutely crucial that educators lead this crusade. The reason it is so important is that radical Islamists are manipulating history at an incredible rate using every conceivable technological device available. And they are very good at it!

It comes to us in subtle forms &8212; the rejection of those premises of American history, such as just who discovered this continent and when, along with the belittling of some of the founders of this nation because of their participation in slavery &8212; and it grows into a monumental rejection of the Judeo-Christian principles upon which our America was founded.

Still, it is not so much the rejection of an acknowledged Euro-centric view of our history, but rather, it is a denial of any significant contribution from that which we consider our source of cultural and religious genesis.

And this is why it is important to see that all history can become victim to specific views, or &8220;filters&8221;, through which it is difficult to ascertain the validity of seemingly &8220;known&8221; facts. My favorite case in point is the invention of the printing press. For centuries we assumed that Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable type which allowed for the modern printing press. Now, we find that ancient Chinese civilizations had moveable type pre-dating Gutenberg by three to four centuries.

Of course, we now acknowledge that Norse Vikings &8220;discovered&8221; North America long before Columbus &8220;sailed the blue in 1492.&8221;

So just what does all this mean? And it better mean something, my fellow Americans, because the war in which we are now engaged is not a war with political boundaries and well delineated country borders. No, this war is a war of ideology.

In a war of ideology it is the foundation of beliefs that is at test &8212; and this is exactly why understanding the cultural significance and the consistency of our history is so very important.

But the German novelist Herman Hesse said it best: &8220;History seems to us an arena of instincts and fashions, of appetite, avarice, and craving for power, of blood lust, violence, destruction, and wars, of ambitious ministers, venal generals, bombarded cities, and we too easily forget that this is only one of its many aspects. Above all we forget that we ourselves are a part of history, that we are the product of growth and are condemned to perish if we lose the capacity for further growth and change. We are ourselves history and share the responsibility for world history and our position in it. But we gravely lack awareness of this responsibility.&8221;

It is less important that we claim originality of an invention than we know how to use it. It is less necessary to cling to the possession of an idea simultaneously emergent than it is to see our place in its development. And from these two approaches develop a culture which appreciates and positively exploits the capabilities of the events or the inventions.

Humankind is a series of simultaneous events distinguished only by wisely applying the utility of those events and understanding their consequences for the advancement of the human condition.

Whereas focusing on the filters of our history and their questionable origins can only lead us to repeat the negative effects of their applications and yield stagnation in human advancement.

While it may be culturally reinforcing to claim discovery after discovery, it seems far more important to understand the applications of that which has been discovered and to focus on the fact that we all are part of a continuum of human achievement.

Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern&8217;s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy. He can be reached at aogden@ascc.edu.