History 17B Lecture 1 What is History? Page 2


C.  What story and how?

1.  Ask a question

steelplant.jpg (34801 bytes) But how do we know what story to tell?  First, we ask a question about the past.
What were the factors leading to American industrialization?
Why did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor?  
Why did so many Americans oppose the Vietnam War but not World War II?

But more often the questions we ask deal with trying to understand the present.  Why is there a crisis in funding social security and other social services?  Why is it that most poor Americans are non-white?

Why did terrorists attack   

  the World Trade Center on 9-11?


2.  Search for evidence

Secondly, we see what evidence there is to answer the questions we ask.  We read newspapers and magazines; we watch old movies and newsreels; we search through documents and letters that people wrote; we even interview them if they are still alive.  We look to the evidence to form our interpretation - how we will tell the story.  When new evidence is introduced, we reinterpret the story.


3.  Present-day experiences and Ideology

a.  Textbooks

But new evidence is not the only factor in how we tell the story.  Our interpretation of history is also shaped by the events and ideas of the present.  In short, ideology also shapes our interpretation.  Whether you are conservative, liberal, moderate, or even somewhere on the extremes, you have a worldview that shapes your interpretation.  This is certainly the case for conservatives in Texas, as Jon Stewart explains:

 

 
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b.  Monuments

Another example for us to look at in regards to interpreting history through present day experiences and ideology would be historical monuments.  Monuments are meant to convey a particular message.  They can be majestic, inspiring patriotism and nationalism like the Lincoln or Washington Memorials; or they can be somber and sad like the Vietnam Memorial.  They are all, however, political - putting forward a message that reflects the political culture of the times.


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