The uses and abuses of history

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the uses and abuses of history

The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan

History is useful when it is used properly: to understand why we and those we must deal with think and react in certain ways. It can offer examples to inform our decisions and guesses about the consequences of our actions. But we should be wary of looking to history for dogmatic lessons.We should distrust those who abuse history when they call on it to justify unreasonable claims to land, for example, or restitution. MacMillan illustrates how dangerous history can be in the hands of nationalistic or religious or ethnic leaders who use it to foster a sense of grievance and a desire for revenge.
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Published 16.12.2018

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life

The Uses and Abuses of History

This is a thoughtful assessment of the power of the past in modern politics, says Jeremy Black. An informed and well-written account of the place of the past in present politics, this consideration of the use and abuses of history throws light on the role of history in national identity and also in history wars, such as dissension over the French Revolution and the controversy between Japanese and Chinese accounts of the past. As the author notes, ideologies call on history, but in their hands it becomes a prophecy, and a cause of grievance. Macmillan, author of a notable account of the Paris Peace Conference, argues that it is particularly unfortunate that, just as history is becoming more important in public discussions, so professional historians have largely been abandoning the field to amateurs. She argues that historians do not own the past but that because they spend their time studying the subject they are in a better position than most amateurs to make reasoned judgments.

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JavaScript seems to be disabled in your browser. You must have JavaScript enabled in your browser to utilize the functionality of this website. Offer applied at checkout. Margaret MacMillan. Perhaps more unusually she is also a gifted writer, and her account of the various uses of history is wonderfully accessible.

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Margaret MacMillan won great distinction a few years ago with her book Peacemakers on one of the more misunderstood events in modern history, the Versailles conference of Based on lectures given by the author, her chapters deal more with the misuse of history than its legitimate use. At a time when history is becoming highly marketable — not just programmes such as those presented by David Starkey, but also books that popularise the subject — these considerations are more important than ever. MacMillan is exceptionally cogent on the subject of history and national identity; though she points out that much of this is rooted in myth rather than reality. This brings us to the basic point she makes and it is one that anyone interested in history does well to take seriously: that history is fundamentally about the search for truth. It is this pursuit that, as she points out, puts historians and the craft of history at odds with so many people who have a reason to be interested in it.


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