Perspective is a very personal, unique part of ourselves. Perspective provides a wonderful motivation to make change but can also hinder our ability to change. Our perspectives change as we glean more information on a subject or become more “solid” as we become overloaded with too much information. The interdependence between the two are intriguing.
Historical perspective is the understanding of the social, cultural, intellectual, and emotional settings that has shaped people’s lives and actions in the past. This requires comprehending the differences between us both in the present and the past. Historical perspective has an impact on who we are, how we view ourselves, how we view others. Our perspectives impact change.
Recently, my husband and I were watching an Australian murder mystery that presented not only a traditional academic view but also a strong Indigenous point of view regarding an archaeological dig located in northwest Australia. Although the show’s plot was fictional, it presented moral and practical dilemmas regarding a dig on the Indigenous People’s land.
The University staff were trying to preserve bones and artifacts that would prove life existed on this particular location longer than anyone in the academic world had thought, thus securing the department’s future funding. The local people who had inhabited the lands for thousands of years saw the dig as intrusive for they knew through their strong oral tradition how long their ancestors had inhibited the lands. They knew their place in time and history. Ironically, there was a changing tide pattern threatening to sweep the bones away into the sea in six weeks.
The Indigenous community did not want their family members displayed in a case or in a traveling exhibit. The question arose: don’t ancestors have the right to rest in peace? The Indigenous community brought up the point that the scientist only cared when there was something in it for them. The scientist argued that the rest of the world would have this new knowledge and if these items were not recovered they would be gone forever. Different perspectives. Who was right? Who was wrong? Or were they both right?
I found this an interesting dilemma. Each perspective was compelling. How many of us have good intentions looking in, but do we really understand? Do we want outsiders digging up our great-grandma only to display her bones in a museum far away from the land that she nurtured? Where is the reverence for the dead? Do we only care when it is about us?
It also got me thinking about the many questions that have been raised the past few years regarding the teaching of the history of the United States. Here are some questions that came to mind.
- Who owns history?
- Do we want to be ”economical” with the truth? If so, why?
- Does everyone deserve their connection to the past?
- What is our relationship to time?
- Should healing be a part of teaching history?
- Is revisionist history healthy?
- If it is the truth, why are we afraid to reveal it?
We are a nation with changing perspectives. Not everyone’s history has been recorded in the history books. What is wrong with recognizing the contributions of several? Why are we afraid to know that some of George Washington’s teeth were taken from slaves and not made solely of wood? Forty-one of the fifty-six Founding Fathers owned enslaved people. Women basically could not own property when this country was formed and could not get a credit card in their name until the mid-1970s. Standards of citizenship, property ownership, marriage and several other rights have evolved differently for different people as perspectives have changed. Our founders understood that their way was not going to be the only way of doing things.
Gouverneur Morris, the “Penman of the Constitution,” wrote regarding the mindset of the framers of the Constitution that “Surrounded by difficulties, we did the best we could; leaving us to take counsel who should come after us from experience, and exercise prudently the power of the amendment, which we had provided.”
Unrest and events that have caused our nation to have different perspectives have been a part of the beginning of this country …Boston Tea Party (1773), Trail of Tears (1830), Stockyard Strike (1904), Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (1911), Matewan (1920), Puerto Rican Cancer drug trials (1930s), Institutions of Wartime Civil Control (1942-1946), Tuskegee syphilis study (1946-1949), Puerta Rican birth control pill trials (1950s), Emmitt Till (1955), March on Selma (1965), Stonewall Riots (1969), Legalization of Same Gender Marriage (2015), George Floyd (2020) and many more.
Your relationship to the time of these events can have an impact. The rapidness of change impacts perspective.
The 2020 U.S. Census showed for the first time in the history of the U.S. Census since 1790 that the white population has not grown, and race-ethnic minorities are responsible for all national growth in the United States population. The white population is declining among the total U.S. population years ahead of the expected trend.
Consider how rapidly population rates are starting to change. The U.S. was 88.9% white in 1910 and 88% white in 1970. By 2010 the white population was just over 70% and is approximately 60% in 2020 census. I have to wonder how this has impacted all people’s view of their perceived power and their standing in society. Has this demographic change impacted perspectives on the many changes that have happened the past 20 years? Maybe.
The United States is a tapestry of people with different perspectives. There is great strength in the diversity of strands. For my beautiful multiracial, multi-ethnic grandchildren, I hope America recognizes them as more equal partners to be valued for their rich, diverse heritage. Their unique heritage and perspective will help them and others be the courageous problem solvers this beautiful country needs. They need to be full participants, part of the evolving change we are witnessing. Their perspectives are needed for the change that is ahead.
(Intramuralist Note: we are experiencing technical difficulties in this posting and are currently unable to edit our “person/quote” of the day. Allow me to introduce you to VEE…)
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I can’t remember a time when VEE and I weren’t friends. From endless summers debating the old N.L. West and who was better — Garvey or Rose — VEE and I grew up together. In fact, I would suggest, we are still growing up together.
Perhaps one of the most empathetic hearts one will ever meet, even though our life’s journeys have taken us via different routes, I have always had tremendous admiration and respect for VEE. Her positive attitude, zest for life, and genuine love and concern for other people make her a blessed gift to me and many.