History Policy and Historical Memory

History Policy and Historical Memory

by professor Rimvydas Petrauskas, rector, Vilnius University, for DELFI.lt

Recent discussions on the topic of historical memory and policy have brought to the fore the issue of the role the professional historian plays in shaping the public’s historical memory. This text is about history, historians, historical memory and the historian’s mission.

History and Historians

The noted French historian Jacques Le Goff who died a few years ago spoke about the relationship between history and the present, soberly saying history can at one and the same time be that which connects, and that which afflicts. It can be utilized for the most different ends, to encourage healthy patriotism and to justify the annexation of another country, and those are just two of the more extreme poles. At the same time, Le Goff explained, the discipline of histry should help people live their lives and in communal life, help them navigate between a rich legacy of the past and what is sometimes a dangerous nostalgia.

He knew what he was talking about. In 1942 his teacher Marc Bloch, founder of the Annales School of French social history, had lost his job, books and some of his old friends in occupied France, but authored what is probably the most optimistic explanation of history ever, calling for seeking out historical truth in the face of historical tragedy. This member of the French Resistance was shot two years later by the Nazis.

Full text in Lithuanian here.