- Why I Study History
- Why Critical History in a Postcolonial World? Part 1
- Why Critical History in a Postcolonial World? Part 2
- Why Critical History in a Postcolonial World? Part 3
The past is often treated as the other of the present, as if it can be captured, but in truth it escapes our grasp. The infinite fullness and diversity of the vanishing present cannot be held onto, preserved, as the antiquarian would desire. It slips through our fingers. We can never capture the past in its rich livingness; we cannot make it present. Neither can we cram it into a single master narrative, to possess its essence or meaning. Its teeming complexity will overflow even the grandest monumental account.
We can never know everything that happened in the past – Nietzsche's superhistorical perspective notwithstanding – but neither can we be outside of history. Though the past has passed, its traces remain in the present. If I have a broken leg, it is because last week's event – say, falling out of a tree – is in some way present today. There is no standpoint outside of history, outside of human experience. As temporal beings, we are imperfect, finite, embedded in a particular history and culture. This contingency of our existence, rather than discouraging, is actually cause for hope. If contingent, it can be created otherwise. We can destabilize history's all-knowing narratives of power by starting with the limits. This opens new vistas. An imaginative source for re-presentation, history can be transformative. This is history in service of life.