“History isn’t what happened, but a story of what happened.”
This simple but profound statement, if properly understood, would make many a student take delight in learning history in high school or college. The line above comes from a website that publishes one of the books upon which this website is based: A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.
But alas, many students stare at the clock during history class, and while teachers may struggle to make the class relevant, there is really one key ingredient that makes history worthwhile. That is the experience of life, maturity, that allows a person to look at the events of the world and see that they are colored by how they are told to think of them.
In other words, when we are told that black slaves suffered enormous indignities while being carted from Africa to the seaports of the Caribbean, we sympathize with them, and even feel indignant toward their persecutors. But at the time it was happening, many people in the United States did not feel this way. Slaves were just seen as property, as inferior, and therefor as less human and thus less deserving than the privileged races.
The experience of life teaches us that there are gatekeepers of history, those who talk about — well, let’s be honest — they spin the past. They tell us in such subtle ways: here are the good guys and here are the bad guys. The gatekeepers are the storytellers, the molders of the mind. Today the gatekeepers are the media, such as television newscasters and newspaper writers. They are also academia, government, and other influencers of society. Let’s hope that the gatekeepers are good trail guides of our past.