There are those who believe History has ended. No, seriously, even after the man who made that claim bluntly and famously, Francis Fukuyama, has recanted and wrote a new book explaining why his previous article and book were wrong, there is a general consensus that history may be meaningless as technology changes everything.
It is a strange phenomena indeed. On one hand, the popularity of 'popular history' books are at all time high, and historical fiction writers are receiving literary awards as well as topping the charts. On the other hand, however, the enrolment in history majors are falling and the public funding for history research is high on priority - for cut-backs! The fate of history needs more attention than it has received hitherto.
That Technology has made a decisive break with the past and there is no reason to look back anymore is the usual, but apparently false, explanation. In fact, technological change doesn't shut off the questions about social identity, progress or human relationships; instead, it creates new questions that need to be explored historically. In fact, if there is any kind of association between technological progress and history reading, this needs to be gleaned in the popularity of history and historical fiction.
The other explanation provided, mostly by historians in endangered university departments, that the study of history is discouraged by the neo-liberal state as a part of its larger project of making consumers, to encourage people to live unexamined lives. There is perhaps some truth in this, particularly in the State's encouragement of 'business studies', which tend to celebrate shallow and temporal ideas as universal truths and panacea to all human ills. But this masks the true nature of academic history, which itself was conceived as a tool of power, an essential ingredient of state making. The quest for global consumers, a people with no loyalties other than that to money and material, has definitely precluded the need for identity-bound populace marching to the front, and yesteryear's kingmakers may have found them in the resistance in a sudden twist of fate, but this does not elevate academic history to something it's not: The true consciousness!
Rather, the responsibility for the lack of popularity of history as a discipline should be laid, at least partially, on academisation of history, which sought forever more specialized areas of research for far too long. That academic history is one of the most racially defined discipline is not just a reflection of linguistic boundaries that inevitably define historical research, but also a legacy of its state-making origins. And, as this sits uncomfortably with the neo-liberal globalization agenda, academic history has lost its reason for existence and fast falling by the wayside.
And, yet, history is back. Those days, when a new computer model was touted as a revolution and company IPOs were all that there was to make history, are coming to an end. Sometimes, the contours of history are changing by the hour - with mood-swings of a sleep-deprived American President or the silent violence of cross-border capital flows - and while these make barely a ripple in academic consciousness, the ground beneath the historian's feet is shifting nonetheless. Technological possibilities in the hands of historically ignorant do not rule out history-making, but rather create newer, darker versions. While academic history hasn't fully caught up with the changing shapes of the state, which is left with only the limited function of guaranteeing the currency, history, in its sense of awareness of temporality of our existence, practises and beliefs, has come to everyone's doorstep unbidden.
This has left the space for popular history, firing up the genre. But this is also problematic, as popular history, with easy access to myth-creation and even easier routes of dissemination, may help fabricate false identities and propagate new forms of violence. And, this enterprise is different from that of history: Unlike the news serving as the first draft of history, the fake news appear as the propagated form of false history, the final product full of certitude. The hope that the mistakes of Facebook feeds will go away when true history emerges misunderstands the predestination inherent in these endeavour. History making has become history fabricating while historians entertain themselves in the narcissism of small differences.
So, time for a new history is now: Something that is popularly engaged but critically ethical, something that seek relevance over novelty, and attempts to answer today's questions over fetishistic nostalgia. It is time for history to take to the street; or, otherwise, streets will make its own history.
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