Sunday, January 22, 2012

Knowing History

Deliberation depends on a certain degree of historical knowledge. At RealClearHistory, Samuel Chi lays out reasons for concern:
We’re now a country led by a man who thought JFK talked Khrushchev out of the Cuban missile crisis (he didn’t); claimed that our country built the “Intercontinental Railroad” (must be from New York to Paris); and bragged that his uncle liberated Auschwitz (was he in the Soviet Red Army?).
And I’m not picking on just Obama. His political detractors are every bit as ignorant on history: Ask them about the American Revolution, and you’d find that Michele Bachmann thought the battles at Lexington and Concord were in New Hampshire; Rick Perry believed the war was fought in the 16th century; and Sarah Palin claimed it all began when Paul Revere warned the British....
A Marist College survey last year revealed just how clueless Americans are about history. Barely half of the respondents knew that the U.S. gained its independence in 1776 (Rick Perry sure wasn’t among them), and over a quarter thought the colonies revolted against a country other than Britain (some believed it was China). The percentage of correct answers was proportional to the respondents’ age -- which certainly is no surprise.
As our generations get more ignorant about history, it prompts the question: Does history still matter?
I hesitate to bring up George Santayana’s famous “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” warning, because “remember” implied that it was learned at one time and later forgotten. In these times, it’s rather more like “those who are ignorant of the past are destined to screw up because they think they’re doing something new.”...
That’s where we come in with our humble pitch: We launched RealClearHistory in September 2011 with the mission of delivering daily authoritative and informative history commentary and analysis. There are also, of course, a number of established great sites, including the University of Houston’s Digital History, George Mason’s History News Network and The History Channel, just to name a few.