Unearth your history.
I was listening to NPR today (typical!) and heard a clip on Morning Edition about George Clooney’s new movie Monuments Men (which, for those unfamiliar, is a based-on-real-life story of American soldiers whose mission it was to rescue art stolen by Nazis during WWII).1 I will likely see the movie, historical drama zealot that I am, but something that one of the based-on-a-real-person film characters says (and which was quoted on NPR) really struck me.
“You can wipe out a generation of people. You can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they’ll still come back. But if you destroy their achievements, and their history, then it’s like they never existed.”
I think this is actually more controversial than it seems at first glance — obviously, people have existed in the world whose histories no longer survive, and it is not entirely fair to just wipe them out in a rhetorical gesture. But I find it a compelling claim, precisely because there is some truth in it. And the thing is that this is a violence that occurs all the time against many, many communities and cultures. I would argue that the majority of us don’t know the histories of our own people because the histories prioritized in our education systems are the histories of the majority, the histories of the victors, the histories of the powerful. Most of us have little to no idea of the communities we came from and their own micro-histories, the twists and turns, running parallel and perpendicular to our national history, that narrated our ancestors’ lives. These are the histories of lives actually lived and it’s true–if those histories aren’t told or passed on, aren’t archived in any way, or aren’t later dug up, then how do we know who we are?
1 “The True Story of the Monuments Men,” Morning Edition, 7 February 2014, National Public Radio, KQED: Northern California (available online at http://www.npr.org/2014/02/07/272512931/behind-the-movie-tales-from-the-real-life-monuments-men?sc=ipad&f=1008).
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