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 Pratchett on History

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brenogler
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PostSubject: Pratchett on History   Sat 31 Mar 2012, 22:48

"It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do
not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if
you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going.
And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong."

I Shall Wear Midnight

“History isn't like that. History unravels gently, like an old sweater.
It has been patched and darned many times, reknitted to suit different
people, shoved in a box under the sink of censorship to be cut up for
the dusters of propaganda, yet it always - eventually - manages to
spring back into its old familar shape. History has a habit of changing
the people who think they are changing it. History always has a few
tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.”


Mort.

I thought I'd post these simply because I like them and thought some of you might appreciate them.
For someone who was primarily interested in science and sci-fi I think he expresses my feeling for history perfectly.

glen
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sat 31 Mar 2012, 23:23

I like that second quote, Glen, but I'm not so sure about the first one. There's a certain freedom in not knowing too much about where you've come from, and I found it warming to read a quote as I did recently in a local history book that one school teacher used to think of his pupils as mongrels since English and Irish here would marry happily. (Doubtless some did in Britain too, but this was commented on as a feature of the isolation here.) Too much knowledge of your history does seem to bring its own problems.

I overheard something in a supermarket that amused me a little recently. A woman was talking to her friend about the (light) novel she was reading. It was set in the time of George III and she said, "It said George III was obsessed with his six daughters. I never knew that, but it must be true."

Her faith in novelists' accuracy was touching!

Caro.
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sat 31 Mar 2012, 23:50

I don't know about Terry, but I was thinking of history of a time period which long preceded nationalism.

I would have thought that anyone who considered history of a reasonably long period and not within a narrow geographical area would know that we are all mongrels. Didn't the population of NZ come from Polynesia and later, Britain, the British having originally walked over from various parts of Europe?
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sun 01 Apr 2012, 03:38

Quote :
Didn't the population of NZ come from Polynesia


Yes, and before that from SE Asia. I think you'd be going back a long way before you didn't find wars and fighting at least partly based on where people came from.

I wonder if it was the same teacher that one of the very old members of our community (now dead) spoken of as being a mongrel, in a different sense. And at times both children and parents took to him physically. Violence in the classroom isn't a totally modern phenomenon perhaps.
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sun 01 Apr 2012, 05:57

I've just finished the first in a series of fantasy/SF books named The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Not something that would usually appeal to me but I must say that the underlying theme on the morality of war, conquest, slavery, racism and the consequences of excluding accurate history (however distasteful and painful it may be) from our lives was thought provoking indeed.

Can't remember the specific quote offhand but in a nutshell, in ignoring history and it's lessons then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes time and again.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sun 01 Apr 2012, 11:19

@Caro wrote:


I found it warming to read a quote as I did recently in a local history book that one school teacher used to think of his pupils as mongrels since English and Irish here would marry happily. (Doubtless some did in Britain too, but this was commented on as a feature of the isolation here.) Too much knowledge of your history does seem to bring its own problems.


As brenogler said, this is a better example of someone with too little knowledge of his history, not the reverse. It is at least a typical example of someone with a highly selective knowledge of history, and subjectively selected at that. History when it is utilised to support bigotry always conforms to these characteristics.

I like the first quote as it suggests through use of the term "going wrong" in the end that there is more reason to study history than simple intellectual curiosity. The implication that the requirement to understand modern motives and circumstances includes a requirement to understand their historical context and development too becomes almost a moral imperative in situations such as those where one is being taught history by people like the schoolteacher in the example above.
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sun 01 Apr 2012, 13:24

If English - well, Welsh, actually - and Irish hadn't intermarried here, I wouldn't be about now.



Knowing your history is not enough, surely - you have to apply that knowledge wisely.
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sun 01 Apr 2012, 13:29

This is true, but since the wise application of history depends on first knowing that history then it seems a reasonably wise thing to learn it first too. I think that is in fact the general thrust of the maxim.
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sun 01 Apr 2012, 14:48

Quote :
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce

Do you agree with Karl Marx's reading of the cyclical nature of history, which seems to have no room for experience modifying the mechanism, or do you find George Santayana more persuasive?

Quote :
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
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PostSubject: Re: Pratchett on History   Sun 01 Apr 2012, 15:04

Marx's comment is always misquoted - his point was that history repeated for the sake of emulation always produces farce. The full quote is:

Quote :
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.

Essentially therefore he was making a similar point to Santayana - emulation for its own sake alone is not enough. Santayana, like Marx, advises us to study history in order to avoid the trap of being doomed to repeat it. Marx advises us that, even more than studying it, we should learn exactly what not to repeat. A tragedy repeated, when done without a true knowledge of history, is simply a farce.
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