Learning from history

THERE is a lot about history in this week’s Talk of the Town, from the research into European shipwreck survivors who became part of the lineage of Xhosa clans, to stories which elaborate on the motivations of the Great Trek.

There is also a piece about the restored wheel at Bradshaw’s Mill in Bathurst, one of our prized historical possessions dating to the 1820 Settlers.

This is in addition to our regular historical anecdotes by Bev Young, always appreciated by readers.

It is good there is so much interest in history in our area, whether it be specific to the Ndlambe/Albany area or further afield in South Africa.

Clubs like the Lower Albany Historical Society, U3A and Probus are nurturing this interest by inviting speakers who have a passion for historical research, who have visited places of historical interest, listened to stories handed down from one generation to the next and written books for the benefit of others.

We are all the richer for knowing more about our past. And it is good new things about our shared history are still being discovered which may lead to greater connectedness and understanding in our society.

Of course there will be competing versions of history, as the old saying goes that history is written by the victors. It was attributed to Winston Churchill, but might just as easily have been made by Hermann Goring.

The view behind this quote, and I will cite the website Exploring the Past, which puts it so well, is that “the truth of the past is not shaped by reasoned interpretive historical scholarship or a factual understanding of the past, but by the might of political and cultural leaders on the ‘winning’ side of history who have the power to shape historical narratives through school textbooks, public iconography, movies, and a range of other mediums.”

Of course, if this is true, when governments change along with an accompanying change in worldview, they can simply alter the historical narrative to suit their version of events. This could then be applied throughout history, that when one kingdom or empire vanquished another, they simply expunged the annals of the rulers they succeeded.

Exploring the Past continues: “It is a mistake, however, to assume that only the ‘winners’ of history have the power to manipulate the past to attain their present-day goals, especially in an age where the internet wields enormous potential for a person from any walk of life to build a powerful platform for spouting their beliefs and opinions.”

History is written by everybody, not just the “winners”.

– Jon Houzet

Leave a Reply