Weekly Insights (5) – The importance of History and the story it can tell

I have often the pondered the importance of journaling. On some occasions I have attempted to write down my thoughts at the start or the end of day. Often, however, this is with little or no lasting impact. Yet, as a historian, I am always drawn to the importance of story.

While studying in America I took an American Christianity course which used story. The lecturer, Dr. Lauren Winner, used a lot of stories. Each week our readings would include somebodies story in the form of a journal entry or a letter. It was amazing to read American history in such a way. It was intimate and relevant. It was deep and profound and it was a course which had a great impact on my thinking as a priest and a theologian.

This week I have thought a lot about stories and wonder what kind of legacy we will leave.

Something I’ve read

This week I have finished this book, Facist Voices, by Christopher Duggan. This history of Mussolini’s Italy is written from the perspective of story. Duggan spent a lot of time finding relevant archival accounts and diary entries which tell the peoples story. The book depicts the rise and fall of Mussolini from the perspective of the Italian people. It is well worth a read for anyone interested in modern history and the use of journal entries in an academic account of the Italian state.

Something I’ve listened too

Similarly, I listened this week to a BBC radio production from documenting the interview of Rudolf Hess who was the deputy Fuher by a prominent British psychiatrist . Once again this was a really interesting listen which further opened up the importance of story. In this case through examining the importance of the stories we tell ourselves and how easy it is to become ensconced in a particular story or narrative.

An Interesting Idea

As I have written stories play a crucial role in how we develop and tell history. As Winston Churchill said  history was written by the victors. Yet, there is so much that can be learnt by reading the stories of those who didn’t win. Those who are different to us. Those who come from different places and times. This week, I would love for you to explore history through story. For it is in reading about someone’s life that we learn what it means to live in a different time or a different way. It is by engaging with, and learning about, those who are different to us that we can come to accept who we truly are and grow and learn.

History may have been written by the victors but we have a lot to learn from the losers as well!

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