The Stories We Need to Tell

adbb2-why2bstudy2bhistory-bakerKawandeep Virdee argues that “democracy needs storytellers.”  Amen.

Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

The 2016 election cycle demonstrated what happens when media outlets favor views over integrity, and audiences favor validation over depth. Outlets subsidized by ad impressions—coupled with audiences willing to share articles that confirmed their biases—provided feedback loops to push some outlets to cater to bias. The walls between points of view thickened. There now seem to be multiple realities, each with media outlets to support them with fragments of a story instead of the full picture. Because of this divisiveness, people cannot understand each other, and even choose to ignore each other.

Post-election shock among those who did not believe Donald Trump could win the presidency appeared online, followed by organizing and action across a range of expressive outlets. In this, a new form of media emerged. Sticky notes placed on subway tiles revealed fear, love, and hope. Posters were made for protests, and then displayed publicly afterwards. For many, this public expression offered a renewed sense of purpose and confidence around activism.

A few quick responses:

  1. Historians, of course, need to tell stories from the past.  When stories are told well they can imaginatively transport us into worlds where people are different than us.  Such an engagement with the past cultivates democratic virtues such as empathy and humility.
  2. History majors need to tell stories about how their study of the past has equipped them for life in the marketplace and the public square.
  3. First-generation students who entered college and were inspired by the study of history and the humanities need to tell their stories.  As the nation’s demographics change, our colleges and universities will encounter more and more first-generation college students who may be suspect of a humanities education. (There parents will also be skeptical).  We can provide them with statistics about how humanities majors are transformed by their studies or how they are marketable, but stories are much more powerful.