I can’t count the number of times I’ve unashamedly referred to myself as a “history nerd”. For me, history is more than simply dates on a page or faded pictures in a textbook. The limits to my understanding of history are defined by the limits of my comprehension of the world, and I truly do believe that there are important lessons to learn from the past. What is important to understand is that it’s not just about lessons, it’s about making sure we are learning the right lessons. Above all, it’s important to note that history is multifaceted, much like politics today. What angers me is the sad fact that history is often written by the winners.. In this construction, the complexity and diversity of the events can easily be lost.
What interests me most is not the stories of glory, but rather the stories of suffering, hardship, and sometimes the ultimate triumph of the “underdogs”. When we glorify our heritage here in Canada, we often leave out the less ‘pretty’ bits. In tenth grade history we spent multiple classes learning about the various triumphant battles of the First and Second World Wars, but spent only a little time talking about Japanese internment, or residential schools.
Even when we talk about history from a more inclusive angle, it is often whitewashed and whittled down. When did women get the vote in Canada? Well, most people would say 1919, not even pausing to think of how this did not include women of colour or Aboriginal women.
My point is not that history should not be celebrated. I proudly celebrated the 199th birthday of our first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, even though I understand that there are many things about his character and his policies that I abhor. It’s ok to celebrate the good as long as we recognize and lament the bad.
If we never acknowledged and learnt from the Holocaust, how would our world look today? Why then are we so uncomfortable learning from other failures of humanity? I know that realistically a Heritage Minute dedicated to the struggle of aboriginal women in Canada or the progression of disability rights in our country seems a little far-out. I just wish it wasn’t.