Shakespeare’s audiences only heard the side of the story that made Henry VII a hero and Richard III a villain. They had little access to alternative viewpoints. Today so much is out there that we can’t absorb it all. Picking and choosing, we tend to hear one side as narrowly as Shakespeare’s audiences.
“The past isn’t dead,” William Faulkner wrote. “It isn’t even past.” Competing historical narratives live on in current events: progress versus decay, pride versus shame, self-sufficiency versus interdependence. It’s easy to dismiss one or the other, easy to say there’s right on all sides, but challenging to try to understand a story too complex for sound bites. After the history department at Oberlin College (my alma mater) organized a teach-in about Charlottesville and Confederate memorials, Chair Renee Romano wrote:
“Learning history gives students the knowledge they need to assess claims about the past that routinely circulate in public discourse. A historical education teaches students how to ask critical questions. It prepares them to evaluate competing arguments. And it encourages empathy towards people different from ourselves. These are skills and qualities that the world desperately needs . . .”
[quoted from Oberlin’s “Around the Square” 2018 Spring Newsletter]
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.