History. Historiography and Power

Although Herodotus is hailed as the father of history, it has been established that history as an academic discipline was born in the 19th century. It came out of the crises of representation under modernity. This is linked to the discovery of time as an absolute agent of change. Modernity had an orientation towards the future and hence there was a loss of empathy towards the past. This led to ruptures in the manner in which history was experienced and produced. This means past was reorganized methodologically and theoretically by the projections opened by the futures . This is why perhaps, Michel Foucault says Modernity lived with crises of representation.

Past could not be presented as past but was viewed as history only if it thought to be worthy and useful to shape the future. History, therefore, became the story of the victors as the past glories were viewed as promising future glories. History, thus, become ‘his’ story with no place for ‘her’ story. Pasts are multiple, whose past counts as history is determined by a second order observer. History, therefore, is profoundly political. It is the comfort of distance that provided space to organize a past to serve the concerns of the present and shape a future.

With history being viewed from concerns of the future and not so much of past, Foucault said the history was a history of the present and not of the past. Often what can be called as Hegelian wound perspective , led historians to view the present as wounded and also imagined a time before the wound as golden and produced a desire to give future to that golden past. Thus, the experience of time was reorganized to suit the present concerns and future orientations. This gave history a performative character.

Hayden White divided past into historical past and practical past showing how concerns of the present and future interests colour the way we view the past and represent the same. Thus, history became disciplinary power that disciplines us. It is by disciplining us that history became a discipline. After the disruptive experience of the two world wars and violence of the totalitarian regimes, it is said that history lost its future telos or destination. History that was viewed with an Eurocentric thrust got derailed and nationalist paradigms began to be played to craft history . We can see how history evolves depending on changing philosophy of history and thematization of temporal and spatial experience with their social, cultural and political developments.

The postcolonial critique demonstrated the oriental bias of the West that used it to interiorize the East and justify domination , and colonization of the East by the West. Unfortunately, postcolonial societies reproduced the imperialism of the West in several ways and writing history become an important site of that production. In India, we can notice how the upper caste invented its imperial location by framing history in the paradigm of nationalism and Hindu religion. Along side these developments, we can find feminist, Marxist and subaltern ways of producing history. Along these developments, history also underwent de-anthropocentric contestations and post-humanities moved to the big history that embraced a cosmic scale as constituting its domain.

In some very deep sense history is shaped by the present that we wish to impose on us. We normalize, idealise , essentialize and think that what we determine as natural to us comes to be viewed as having it roots in the past and fruits and shoots in the future. This is why perhaps, we need to enact the present that we deem as important with those we share it. Thus, we impose limits on us and we close other ways of being-in-the world. Thus, history becomes a technology put at the service of present. To protect one’s interest in the present, one has to continuously rewrite the present which would even require us to rewrite the history . This is because history of the present is a political cartography. Hence, is viewed as the past of that cartography and future is viewed as the future of that cartography.

There is also pain and trauma of the violent past cannot be fully framed as history. Perhaps, we as subjects of trauma have the challenge to understood how there is not just the unsaid but also unsayable of the past. This unsayable and the unsaid haunts present and is looking for closure and healing. This is why writing history can writing back avenge the past. Trauma needs healing other wise our history will become a hauntology.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao