Future historians and past visionaries

I always feel amused, and also awkwardly directly called out, when I read things like this quote from today’s Financial Times:

RBS Greewnwich analysts said: “We have a new Black Monday for the financial market history books, with Lehman stating its intention to file for bankruptcy, BoA acquiring Merrill, AIG struggling to dispose assets, the Fed broadening its eligible collateral pool to include stocks and 10 banks creating a $70bn liquidity fund.”

So, you would have events which manifest an obvious “historical” character just a day after they happened. Somehow, a history textbook in 20 years time just got a paragraph written today.

A parallel case is when past commentators made such comments. In the introduction to Man and Beast: Comparative Social Behaviour (Eisenberg & Dillon, eds., 1971), the editors remarked that future historians will be surprised to see how much attention scientists paid to violence in the late 1960s. The reason is, they patiently explained, that the world is plagued by domestic and international conflicts, and this is what triggered a renewed interest in the nature of aggression. Once more, as an historian in the 2000s, I felt a bit robbed of my freedom to make my own comment: the paragraph I had wanted to write had already been dictated to me by characters who had had access to the mood of the times, and who had taken the care of transmitting their opinion through a dusty book, now in my hands. If history is so obvious to those who are making it, is there any work left for the historian? 😉

4 thoughts on “Future historians and past visionaries

  1. Isn’t the world always plagued by domestic and international conflicts?
    Don’t worry, historians don’t (hopefully) write horoscopes.

    Anyway, stealing a DeLorean and travelling back in time might be useful, for instance for Beatrice , in any attempt to write the definitive history.

  2. Historians of the future are still left with the question, why do the present folk decide to sometimes remember the past and sometimes to forget it? How does the present use history?

    The Depression has been a recurring bogeyman in the press, at any depression, recession, mild or severe, they ask the question: is this the 1930s? So far it has not been.

    P.S. Timetravel wise I prefer the series Quantum Leap to Michael J. Fox’s blockbuster.

  3. Sorry guys but I have to remind you that Quantum Leap was a quite cheesy show – eve the last season finale …
    More seriously, I think we are quite lucky that some people want to tell a history of their field in the making because it creates a canon that future historians can deconstruct and upon which they can build their own narratives. It can prevent us from building a straw man.

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