Sunday, May 13, 2007

History Lesson

What is the purpose of history?

I was listening to an item on BBC Radio called Transcending the Troubles, where I learned that the Apprentice Boys of Derry (Website, Wikipedia) are opening a new museum, with a permanent exhibition showing the history of the Siege of Derry.

During the troubles in Northern Ireland (Wikipedia), it seemed almost impossible for sectarian groups to recall and celebrate historical events without this having the effect of bringing the conficts of the past into the present. History was enacted through parades and marches. Many people regarded these marches as deliberate provocation. In such a context, history may have (or appear to have) a divisive purpose.

As the troubles have subsided, it may now be possible for history to be constructed in a more bipartesan way. Perhaps a museum is a step towards indicating that the past is now past. Bygones be bygones.

If those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it, then the purpose of History is to avoid any such repetition. (Obviously there are some events in the twentieth century which we pray will not be repeated in the twenty-first.) But there is another purpose of History - to help define national identity. Perhaps we can hope to see a new national identity being forged in Northern Ireland, one that combines both Orange and Green celebrations?

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