Dave Davisson of Patahistory (and the History New Network’s Revise and Dissent group blog) has finally put up his Patahistory Manifesto. All in all it’s a good fun romp, but it’s a little to esoteric for me (as I’m sure my own manifesto is for most people).
Some bits and pieces I liked:
…Syllabi and textbook intros are littered with historian’s hopes that their writing and teaching will somehow transform the learning of history into something fun! They then proceed to write and talk about war, disease, starvation and oppression. Only perverse and idiosyncratic minds (the current state of the historian) want to learn more about this miserable past. Where are the jokes? The songs? The dancing? Where is the can-do spirit of enthusiasm? Must every optimism be overshadowed by the evil humanity commits? Isn’t play also part of the human condition?…
…Historians simultaneously disdain popular histories and yearn for popular success. Patahistory is the reverse. It disdains success and yearns for popular histories….
…Patahistorians are deliberately aware of creating the future. Students look to historians for their cultural metanarrative. They accept or reject current events based on the history they are taught. Creativity and imagination are primary tools of the Patahistorian. The Patahistorian of today helps create the metahistory of tomorrow….
But I think there is some tension between Dave’s patahistorical vision in the first two quotes and the third one. I whole-heartedly endorse song-and-dance, jokes and enthusiasm, and the goal of creating popular histories. But the manifesto suggests that the way to do that is to embrace the historical topics that consumers want. History of pleasant things, genealogical history… he fails to mention the overwhelming popularity of (and scholarly disdain for) military history. These may be cultural dead ends.
If we patahistorians (and here I’ll jump on board) are going to take our roles as creators of the future and authors of the cultural metanarrative seriously, we shouldn’t be turning to the subjects and issues of interest to the history consumer… we should be turning the interests of the consumer to the subjects and issues that can help us move forward culturally. The current range of info- that our society derives -tainment from is one of the parts of modern culture we should be trying to overwrite. Instead of turning history toward the established ruts that happen to be popular, we need to create new genres, new mediums, content that is better than docudramas, family histories, and war films.
Furthermore, we shouldn’t just try to replace current types of popular history, we should aim to take over/replace the modern sitcom, TV drama, feature film, pop song. We want a culture that fundamentally, metaphysically values history and reality (including, as the patahistory manifesto rightly celebrates, future history and potential reality) at every level, from education to entertainment.