". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Washington! The Man, the General, the President

According to Jill Lapore, in the NYer Magazine, via the Ron Chernow plod'nthud bio.

This makes an interesting diptych with David O. Stewart's observations about the Chernow bio of Washington.

Myself, mostly I'm patting myself on the back, or would if my chronic pain and other back problems allowed me to do that, that I know who Jared Sparks is, and knew that a long time ago*, via my work with Sam Ward. He and Sparks were close friends and colleagues in Sam's relative youth, decades before he became known as King of the Lobby.

From JL's piece:

[ "Washington was a very good President, and an unhappy one. Distraught by growing factionalism within and outside his Administration, especially by the squabbling of Hamilton and Jefferson and the rise of a Jeffersonian opposition, he served another term only reluctantly. His second Inaugural Address was just a hundred and thirty-five words long; he said, more or less, Please, I’m doing my best. In 1796, in his enduringly eloquent Farewell Address (written by Madison and Hamilton), he cautioned the American people about party rancor: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” And then he went back to Mount Vernon. He freed his slaves in his will, possibly hoping that this, too, would set a precedent. It did not." ]

Despite his faults and sins, of which I have learned far more of this year -- all of them around slavery -- than I even knew, George Washington remains one of my very few heros.

Among the reasons I apprecite historian Jill Lapore's articles in the New Yorker, is that she reminds the reader when necessary, what we need to take into account when women are assessed and described by historians of previous eras, and even now, no matter what nation, what culture, what religion -- this, for example, when running down the descriptions of George Washington's mother:

[ "In Chapter 2, we are reminded that George suffered from a “difficult mother,” alerted about “his mother’s domination,” and alarmed to hear that she was not only “self-interested”—surely a sign of wickedness in the female sex—but also “strangely indifferent” toward her eldest son’s towering ambition." ]

* This is because el V didn't know who Jared Sparks was. Yes, we are that silly and simple! :)

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