". . . 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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Poet Elizabeth Alexander

While working out this afternoon I listened to poet Elizabeth Alexander speak and recite her poetry. Like I have, many who recognize Alexander's name probably first learned of her work when she recited at Obama's second inaugural.

Her mother was an historian. She's a professor herself as well as a poet. The professor part supports the creative part of her life in many more ways than the financial -- just as being a mother does, she thinks. She's so articulate, her thinking so deeply grounded, that her language shimmers as much while speaking as on the page.

She spoke of reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, or rather, how for some years she avoided reading it. "I thought I just can't take it right now.  Some other time."  When she did read it, she could read it only in small bits, over a long period of time.  The novel has captured terrible dimensions of the African American historical experience -- particularly that of the antebellum mother's experience, in the language of poetry. It's terrible beyond describing yet Morrison did it, in language that "shimmers" in words of "radiance."

In the course of the program Alexander said without centering the black experience and culture in our educational system we have no idea what this nation and its history are.  Of course she's far too generous, intelligent and compassionate to even think that this centering of African American history and culture must be accomplished by, or even should be, through the exclusion of everything else.

A review of Alexander's latest book here.

What she means, what we believe, is that this experience must be finally taken from the sidebar and put as much front and center as that of the battles and diplomacy of the War of Independence.

When I brought this up to my partner and co-author of The American Slave Coast he responded: "that indeed is where many historians are at these days.  I think the general weight of the history profession now is there. We have the moral force of history on our side . . . "

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