“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” –George Santayana
Last week, the co-leader of Die Linke political party in Germany was causing a stir by appealing to the Communist side of her party’s ideology. She has often been accused of trying to whitewash the history of East Germany, and is reflective of a strong element of the population who remember those days far more fondly than one would expect for people who lived behind the Wall.
This week, verdicts were handed down against the people “responsible” for disrupting the hugely unpopular Neo-Nazi march from last year, when the thousands of extremist from all over Europe were kept from marching into downtown Dresden as they usually do every year.
Nazis and Communists. It is almost unbelievable that either of these two worldviews would still persist in the eastern part of Germany, but the fact is that they do. Both the Leftist Party and the thinly disguised National Socialist parties have their strongest support in areas that were formerly East Germany. How is this possible?
Obviously, people have a hard time remembering the past. For many people, the past that these ideologies strongly impacted are simply beyond memory. This is a perfect example explaining why History, and a basic knowledge of the past, is so important. This is why we were all so sorely subjected to History in school.
Any teacher that causes his or her students to hate their subject should not be allowed to teach. However, in the case of History it is an entire discipline and the way it is presented to students that really needs to go. Instead of endless lists of “facts” and dates and events, students need to grasp the Stories of history. Wouldn’t it be better to give students a basic outline and then fill it in with dramatizations, documentaries and memorable presentations of things that are important for us to remember? The problem is that, while most people finally gain an interest in history AFTER school, it is the people wired to like it the way it is presented now that ultimately decide to carry on the profession.
All of this acknowledges the fact that History is manipulation (as far as reality permits) of the past. Cultures all filter what they remember and how they remember it. That being the case, shouldn’t we do so in a way that will positively impact today?