History: A Pedagogy of Vulnerability

Within our current political landscape, it can be difficult to navigate thoughtful discussion of historical subject matter. Bringing up topics like the Civil Rights Movement or the Israel-Palestine conflicts can lead to aggressive, closed-minded battles of dogmatic opinions, where it becomes a contest of who can argue the loudest, and ultimately, nothing is achieved. What is often forgotten is that history as a pedagogy is ultimately one that entails vulnerability.

When relating history to vulnerability, one must view the subject as being inherently fluid when it comes to perspective and interpretation; it is not something that can be defined in a single manner. This was the case 100 years ago, when the subject was primarily documented and dictated by the opinions and perspectives of white Europeans and Americans, but within the last 100 years, our world has gotten smaller, with the advent of technological innovations. Nowadays, we are able to tread the terrain of history while taking into the account the perspectives of peoples from various races, ethnicities, and social classes.

That is not to say that these diverse perspectives couldn’t be considered valid 100 years ago, but if they were, it was on a smaller scale. As mentioned, historical perspective was established by the elite at the time, which often consisted of upper-middle class white males, and was often accepted by the common people as fact. Figures like Christopher Columbus and George Armstrong Custer were considered heroes, and at the time, history dictated that this was true, for there were very few active perspectives who could stand in opposition. Due to being disenfranchised by whites, Native Americans did not have a voice to speak out their opinions or perspectives.

Christopher Columbus: Hero or Murderer?

As mentioned before, living in the age of technology, people who once had no voice now have one. Ideas, thoughts, and perspectives can be communicated by people from all across the world, by those of differing cultures, economic backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. And as tolerance has become more commonplace, people are now more willing to listen to those perspectives. History is no longer a single-sided story, for there is a much more diverse array of voices and interpretations that make up our common experience as humans.

This is what I mean when I assert that vulnerability is essential to our study of history. We must be willing to be vulnerable by opening ourselves up to the ideas, perspectives, and opinions of others, even if they do not match up with what we may believe. It is difficult to embrace ideas which can seem to oppose what you may have always believed, but embracing and opening up to different perspectives helps use to complete our understanding of history as a complete story. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns about the danger of single-sided perspectives in her TED Talk, “The Danger of A Single Story” (linked below), as she asserts that receiving a single story ultimately gives us a perspective that is “incomplete”. By being vulnerable and open, it becomes easier to embrace historical views that are different from your own, which ultimately results in a more complete understanding of historical pedagogy.

Do you have a story of a time you learned of new historical perspectives? If so, feel free to leave a comment below, or if you just have any questions or comments about the article. Thank you for reading!

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