Yale historian David Blight talks about the differences between history and the past on the “Live the Best Version of You” podcast. It is a nice introduction to how historians work and how the work historians do must contribute to our democratic life.
A few great lines:
- Historians always work with their “umbilical cord” connected to the archives, but all research must be “rendered into a narrative.”
- Good historical story-telling is always going to “convince” some people and “offend” others. This, Blight says, is the “beauty” and “fun” of history writing, but it is also contributes to the “perils” of history writing.
- “It is the obligation of the trained historian to get close to truth as we can.”
- In this world of subjectivity and opinion, “every now and then people seem to want a historian” to tell us “what really happened.”
- “Some of the best history is written by people who have a good hunch.”
- “History is what historians do,” but “memory is what the public possesses.” Everybody “has a sense of the past in their head” and it usually comes from family and roots.
- “Stories take hold in the public mind that may or may not be directly connected to the history historians write, and hence memory can be therefore much more sacred than it is secular because people tend to say ‘I believe in this story.'”
- “We have to find ways to reduce” the distance “between public memory and history….This is the historian’s duty.”
- Blight calls for a “tolerant, educated, civil society” that is “open to each other’s stories” and “open to the essential pluralism of the human drama and human experience.”
- Blight quotes William James: “The enemy of any one of my truths, is the rest of my truths.” We are obligated to challenge our own beliefs.
Listen to the entire interview here.