There are a number of notable quotes around the subject of history.

‘History is written by the victors’- Winston Churchill ‘

There often is an ‘official’ version of history taught in schools and disseminated by the media that is so persuasive most people take it as a fact of life but that does not mean it is the only history out there. It is very difficult to kill an idea or a memory, and as long as a few people carry the alternative narrative within them, it can eventually be brought into the light.

Times change, people learn. Look at residential schools: they were seen by the majority of the settler society as a place run by kindly nuns and priests to ‘better’ Indian children, to assimilate them into ‘white man’s’  society. That’s what they were told by the government and by the Church. But the survivors of the residential schools and their children remembered. They fought for their place in society and were successful in reasserting their rights. Now a new version of history has been written, one that is more inclusive of a bigger truth.

Other times that history exists but is hidden, and it takes a dedicated historian to bring it to light. Susan Mayse tells how she undertook writing ‘Ginger-The Life and Times of Albert Goodwin’ out of ignorance of the difficulties she would face. There was very little information in government records, newspaper accounts or even the archives in Victoria or Ottawa. Combining the fragmentary information she was able to find with dozens of oral interviews with old time Cumberland residents, she was able to shine a light on one of BC’s most important labour organizers, and on the struggles of the early coalminers.

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it’- George Santayana

We lament that our children don’t heed our advice, when we tell them what we have learned from life’s experiences.  They say that was in the old days; times have changed and that our experiences are not relevant to them. However, history is the study of humans and human psychology has not altered that much over the past 10,000 years.  The struggles of the people of Ur in Sumeria as recorded in their poetry was not all that different from that of the Aztecs in Mexico faced by the armies of Spain. There are countless parallels in history and some contend history comes in waves like the tide flowing in and out with the phases of the moon.

However, to remember the past you have to have known about the past. History is too often neglected by people and often willfully so.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote: “If men could learn from history what lessons it might teach us. But passion and party blind our eyes and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind.”  

Those who control the present control the past and those who control the past control the future.’ -George Orwell.  

This quote is from ‘1984’. 1984 was seen as an attack on Stalin and communist ideology but it is much broader than that. It is directed at any totalitarian or quasi-totalitarian form of rule.  Look at how applicable it is to the United States today with Trump as President.

Trump and his Republican Party election slogan was ‘Make America Great Again’. The campaign appealed to American voters who were deeply unhappy about the progress blacks, women and gays had made over the past 50 years.  Combined with a virulent nationalism it attempted to rewrite the past by painting a picture of a US that never existed. When was America great? What made it great? If these charlatans dressed as champions of the blue collar worker could convince voters that they had lived in a paradise and that they had been driven out by the liberal elites, foreigners, and Muslim terrorists, the Republicans could control the legislature, the courts and Oval Office. If they controlled those they could then shape a future version of America that benefited their agenda and their bank accounts.

One of the reasons Trump and his allies did convince those voters was because the history people had been taught was flawed already. The history the Republicans were utilizing was the official or the dominant history from not so long ago.  With the gains previously marginalized groups had made, the historical record was being revised to include their stories but not without resistance. Keith Jenkins in ‘Rethinking History’ states: “Now the distinction between ‘history as such’ and ‘ideological history’ is interesting because it implies and is meant to imply that certain histories (especially the dominant ones) are not ideological at all, do not position people do not deliver views of the past that come from outside the subject.”

The history of history is a story of conflicts, of revisions and additions. How could it not be? History is one of the ways people and nations create their identity. So we cannot leave history just to the historians. We need to be the historians Marc Bloch describes: ‘The historian’s ability to understand the living, to understand their contemporary world is the essential and fundamental quality that historians possess. And it is the ability to relate the past to the present whether explicitly or implicitly that separates the historian from the antiquarian. The historian is concerned not with the past for its own sake … but rather the historian is concerned with how the past is , in effect , the present. As William Faulkner said “The past is not forgotten, it is not even the past.” “

As part of being that historian you should participate in the many and varied activities taking place on June 22-24 in Cumberland. Miners Memorial and the 100th anniversary of Ginger Goodwin’s death are being honoured.  Besides having a lot of fun, I am sure you will learn a thing or two about your own history.

Brian Charlton

Columnist, Tide Change