Defending Ambeth, history
History is not “tsismis” (gossip).
History is a science and a discipline. Before one can be considered a historian, a scholar specializing in the study of history, it takes years of studies, not a quick trip to the neighborhood sari-sari store to rumormonger.
Yet despite the years that historians put in, spent mostly on scrutinizing, studying, and analyzing primary and secondary sources, it has been so easy for today’s internet trolls to invalidate their hard work and cast doubts on their credibility. All it takes is a few minutes to compose social media posts meant to go viral and spread hate and disinformation.
Ambeth Ocampo, a long-time Inquirer columnist, history professor, and one of the country’s most eminent historians, has become the latest target of hate by social media trolls after he countered the statement of a young actress likening history to “tsismis” and claiming that it is biased, filtered, and embellished.
In a viral Facebook post, Ocampo had replied: “Don’t confuse history and chismis. History may have bias but it is based on fact, not opinion. Real History is about Truth, not lies, not fiction.” Trolls then called him stupid and a “yellow” historian.
The online vitriol was not only directed at Ocampo and other historians but was also an attack on history as an academic discipline. Scholars and educators under a group called Network in Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom released a statement to defend the profession: “Is this how we treat and repay our teachers? Our historians? Historians like Ambeth Ocampo deserve respect, and if a writer and scholar of Ocampo’s stature is vilified like this, then what can others expect, when they stand up for truth and history?”
Ateneo de Manila University, where Ocampo’s history classes are highly popular among students, said the professor is a “distinguished historian” whose track record speaks for itself. “He, like many others who fight to preserve facts in understanding our nation’s story, is now the subject of harassment, attacks, and intimidation just because he is standing up for the truth,” said Ateneo president Roberto Yap, SJ.
“Only with truthful history can we move forward as a nation, and only through recognition of the failures and successes of the past can we create solutions for the problems that beset our society,” he added.
But social media has changed how information is packaged and consumed — influencers and content creators, who are not necessarily experts on the subject matters they post about but know the public pulse, have replaced traditional media and experts who are not savvy with platforms such as YouTube and TikTok.
The information that is shared on these sites does not go through rigorous fact-checking and scrutiny and, thus, becomes a source of disinformation and misinformation. This has serious repercussions that do not only affect election outcomes, for example, but can also threaten, as Ateneo history professor Francis Gealogo pointed out, the “social fabric of a mature society.”
History is certainly not immune to criticisms or questions; it may be challenged in the event that new primary sources come to light. As historians themselves say, it is a continuous process of looking for evidence, checking their credibility, analyzing content, and corroborating other sources.
Among students, however, history is not a favorite subject because they associate it with rote memorization. They are made to memorize dates of historical events and names of historical figures without understanding their importance and implications. They are then more unlikely to appreciate history and view it as relevant to their identity as Filipinos.
“History is not there to test your memory … Ang kuwento ng kasaysayan is how we came to be, bakit tayo naging ganito, bakit parang nauulit lagi ang kasaysayan. History repeats itself? Hindi totoo ’yan,” Ocampo told journalist Christian Esguerra during an interview on the latter’s YouTube channel. When events appear to repeat themselves, Ocampo said, it only means that there has not been much progress over time. In his column, “Looking Back” in this paper, Ocampo wrote: “History cannot repeat itself because it has no mind of its own, no power over us. Rather, it is we who repeat history because we don’t know it, or ignore it at our peril.”
He then asked: “What can we do so the present will stop reading like the past?”
Defending historians and learning from history that is based on facts and not tsismis is the right thing to do if we don’t want the future to feel like déjà vu.
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