Important Announcement: We Are Now Post-History
I haven’t written in awhile because it’s been a struggle to think of blog posts that weren’t me just complaining. Then I realized if my criteria for posts was so narrow, I wouldn’t have a blog, would I?
So here’s an interesting thing that happened in class the other day. Before looking
at a new text, I give a brief background/introduction to the genre and author, providing historical context where needed. I mean, you wouldn’t get too far with When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d if you said nothing about Abraham Lincoln, right?
So before I began, a student asks me the following:
Student: Why do you always tell us stuff about the writer’s background and the history stuff? Isn’t this going to bias us when we are looking at the text? Like, we are going to be thinking about the writer’s life experience and what was going on and thinking about that too much?
I responded by saying that I thought it was important and sometimes necessary to know a bit about the writer and what was going on in the world when the text was created. And you can take that information or leave it, but it’s a good idea to be aware because it usually helps you understand more about the text itself (of course I was ‘trained’ by new historicists, but there you go). And then ze was either satisfied by that answer or did not give a shit- the blank stare I got in response was all Angela Lansbury wrote.
But my student’s comment is indicative of a more general attitude towards history that I’ve noticed. If it isn’t happening to them and it isn’t on facebook, it didn’t happen. I guess if you aren’t interested in the news, history is going to be even more irrelevant. I’m not a history teacher and I’m certainly not an expert, and I know it isn’t my job to preach or brainwash or do gymnastics in a risque outfit to lead them to whatever the hell I think the ‘right’ answer is. But I do find it depressing. How could it be a bad thing to be armed with more information?
Also, I’m saying, “consider this,” not THIS IS THE ONLY RIGHT WAY TO INTERPRET SAID STORY/POEM/PLAY/WHATEVS. I encourage my students to come up with new interpretations and as long as what they say is supported in some way by the text, I am all for it.
(Also, I do realize that the whole ‘this generation is the dumbest/worst/most evil thing evar!!! is not exactly a new complaint.)
So I will keep on keepin on with my pointless historical context. As long as I’m having a good time, amirite?