Monday, August 31, 2015

Dear Students - Modern History Tells You What to Think, Not How to Think

More radical ideas about interpreting texts from a dangerous-thinking teacher.

Dear Students:

Many of your analyses of the texts for this assignment were off track. So many of you merely jump to conclusions about the writing without really analyzing it, or coming to grips with what the texts actually say.
As you read historical documents keep in mind that our interpretation of such documents is skewed through the lens of our modern interpretations and sensibilities. It is not good historical practice to filter all history through the lens of one particular philosophy of social structure.
All of you have grown up in a world where postmodernism has affected our interpretations of history. Postmodernism was a reaction against the idea that there can be absolutes, and introduced the concept of relativism. (See What this created for today's historians is a philosophy of history that basically says one interpretation of history is as good as another.
This presents a double standard which has imposed all sorts of conflicting interpretations on original documents, many of which have nothing to do with the writer's intent. In the present day, much of history is now filtered through the lens of oppression ideology, meaning most interpretation of history sees events and people as mere oppressors, rather than as events and people. The problem with this trend in history is that it tells you, as students, what to think, rather than teaching you how to think.
Your textbook is a modest example of the trend to interpret history through the eyes of a postmodernist philosophy. More and more textbooks interpret history as a laundry list of oppression. Over the years, I've watched the authors of the textbook revise the text to replace basic concepts and ideals expressed by the people of the time, only to interpret them through the lens that all history revolves around the abuse of power and oppression ideology. Your textbook is one of the few left that sometimes writes the story of what happened instead of trying to convince you, as students, how "bad things were in the olden days."

I want you to be aware of the influence of historical trends in your own interpretations of history so that you can begin to read and understand historical documents in their own context, rather than reacting to documents because you are influenced by a philosophy of history that pervades academics in today's world.