A public historians responsibilities

What are a public historians responsibilities? A good question especially in today’s less than friendly political climate where any thing and every thing is a controversy to some one no matter how careful you are to be controversy free and try to please every one. Or as the situation for historians is best described by Cathy Stanton in her rephrasing of Shakespeare ” some public history work is born political, some becomes political, and some has politics thrust upon it”. After reading her post “Hardball history: On the edge of politics, advocacy, and activism” I get the feeling that she is arguing that the public historian has a responsibility to side with and support certain controversies with their scholarship and academic background and for the most part I agree… to an extent, we do owe it to scholarship and the public to inform and teach as much as we can about certain controversies and to dig up and present as much information as we can about the history of issues, but we have to be careful as historians to not go past the line of historian and into that of trying to be a politician. We have to separate our history and our scholarship from political advocacy lest we fall victim to having politicians and other interest groups twist and corrupt both the historical scholarship that we have worked so hard to present and the historical memory of an event to suit their political agenda. There are to many sides and angles with in the political world all angling to try and get one foot up on the other, we shouldn’t let history become a casualty of such political one-upmanship for this is how history itself is erased and simply becomes another tool of oppression. It’s one thing to say ‘oh well I’m not worried about that, the current government would never do that, they’re on my side’ but that’s the thing about government, the people in charge change, just because they’re on your side in one election cycle doesn’t mean they will be the next time, so giving the tools of history to be politicized to one election cycle means your giving it to all of them. History and public historians have a responsibility to the public to pull history out of the political quagmire and show to the public ‘hey look, this is how it really was’ with out any political spin or agenda attached. Public historians have the unfortunate responsibility of having to walk the tight-rope of historical truth, political advocacy, and public opinion. That isn’t to say in small doses or when properly balanced any of these things are necessarily a problem far from it, they’re quite good things, it’s just when historical accuracy and scholastic integrity is sacrificed at the altar of political agenda that problems begin to arise. We have to be careful not to become that which we fear and that’s all I’ve got to say on the matter.

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