It’s not ‘just’ history
“Ah, history, it’s just the study of the past, right?”
“Oh, so you’re taking up history… so most likely you’ll become a teacher… or maybe proceed to law school?”
These are the most common questions people ask of history students— questions borne out of certain misconceptions by most people when they think of history as a discipline. It is quite unfortunate that we live in a society that sees the study of history as boring or as being a mere “pre-law” course; a society where young students of history shy away from or avoid such conversations that may require them to answer the aforementioned questions.
This tendency to devalue the study of history shows that there is a lack of understanding and appreciation for history among Filipinos, especially among the younger generation. This may be due to how history is taught in our schools and universities — boring, heavy on readings, and without establishing any connection or significance to our present lives. It is not uncommon to see students fall asleep and drool over their armchairs while listening to the mechanical and emotionless blurting out of dates, names, and events directly from school textbooks.
However, we must understand that, yes, history is about the past, but it is so much more, too. And, no, it is not boring or just a “pre-law” course; rather, it is something that can define a people’s identity and destiny, and has the power to divide or unite peoples, legitimize colonial governments and authoritative regimes, or fuel movements that can topple them down.
As we celebrate History Month this August, let us rethink how we view history, for as a people struggling to form an identity and continuously grappling with social and political issues, valuable lessons can be learned about who we really are and what we ought to be in the future.
Perhaps it is partly because of this disinterest in history and of the neocolonial structures in our educational system that we end up continuously repeating the mistakes of the past. That because we do not study or fully understand our history and culture, we lack a point of reference to compare our present conditions, and find it hard to question the present order of things—the systemic oppression of the people and the rampant corruption and social inequality in our society. That because we are alienated from the past and have had an acquired aversion toward reading history and verifying historical facts, we have become prone to disinformation, historical revisionism, and propaganda.
To gradually shed off this negative view on history, we must see it as not just a collection of dusty records chronicling the works and achievements of historical figures, the dates and places of events, but as a collection of memories and shared experiences of a people. By viewing history in this perspective, we will also understand that it is not only the works of individuals or the circumstances of events that shape history, but it is also the collective consciousness and agency of the people that ultimately shape history.
The Filipino and the Filipino nation itself was conceived through a long struggle, not only by a pantheon of heroes, but by the unheard and unnamed masses, who fought, suffered, and sacrificed their lives for our independence. And yet, the revolution remains unfinished as the problems that it ought to have solved still plague us today. The Filipino nation that was conceived is yet to be reimagined into a nation that is homogeneous, equal, and recognizing of diverse identities.
Young Filipinos must be taught that the study of history is not just limited to acquiring information and statistics from both primary and secondary sources such as archives, records, artifacts, journals, books, news articles, magazines, etc. It is also about making sense of and interpreting these raw information. There is also the ethical and moral judgment of historians: Will their interpretations, their politics, and their being able to include and exclude fragments of the past in their writings push through narratives that will protect the interests of the status quo, or will these allow for the representation of the suppressed narratives of those who have been left unheard and marginalized?
As we face these numerous but interconnected problems and issues today, let us be guided by the lessons of our past. Let us accept our mistakes as a people, improve on areas where we are lacking, and realize our potentials as agents of social change and shapers of history. As a people still in the process of defining ourselves, how else can we know where we are now, than by looking back at where we have been?
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Theodore Ricardo Rapiz Bautista, 20, studies History at the University of the Philippines Visayas.
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