History has a purpose beyond culture, education, remembrance and research.
I am in constant awe of history. It amazes me how endless it is, and thus it’s potential to inform and inspire us today. It’s the big, universal, history of increasingly complex ways in which matter processes energy that helps you to compare brains, to galaxies, to beehives to cities. It’s the unexpected perspective on human norms which emerges in the present that enables to look differently at past decisions by individuals, and their intended or unintended consequences. It’s that old building in your neighborhood that used to house craftsmen of practices long-gone. It’s the technology you are using to read this text as well as the heaps of collective learning that has gone before this moment to derive meaning from symbols. Heck, it’s even the conversation with your nostalgic elders as they go down memory lane and seek to arrive at an understanding of the present. In short, for me, rooting concepts in the past is not just about having some context, or background. It is about inspiring connections and waging conversation.
But I am also deeply concerned with the ease with which it is used for telling simple stories of “us” and “them”. I fear for the future of the two societies to which I am personally connected: Israel and The Netherlands. The former being stuck in an ironically cruel mix-up of history, identity, purpose and conflict. The latter rediscovering the political capital in nationalism that rejects the realities of globalized society.
Yet, I am driven by all those who not only engage with the past (through research, preservation, commemoration), but also seek to utilize its potential in society; teachers, researchers, story-tellers, and soon. I have seen, followed and supported the tremendous efforts of many history teachers in and around EUROCLIO, who struggle to accomplish just this on a daily basis. In building bridges across communities of historical consciousness, those educators have taken up a responsibility to raise future citizens that are able to think for themselves and question authority.
I create and contribute to endeavours that take history, and the conversation around it, as glue between people, between groups and between where we’ve been and where we’re heading.