In the chapter we read on history, there were numerous examples and explanations for something I had previously considered as simple events in the past. The method they seemed to promote came across as very scientific to me, stating that “historical meaning is produced rather than dispassionately uncovered or rendered visible” (Nealon 111). This statement seems to indicate that all the events and consequences are there: what is important isn’t interpreting or giving personal meaning to one event, but instead putting the pieces together to learn about the past and how it could affect the future. The task at hand, therefore, is to try and figure out how something in history has meaning for today—or even for that period—through the responses to a particular event.
The examples they give of the Holocaust was really helpful to my understanding of the concepts they set out to illustrate. Indicating that it in itself “doesn’t contain meaning” but that what it sparked by way of change is where its true significance lies shows their idea perfectly (112). The idea that this history is always being changed and molded into different shapes made sense, as well. One clear example that comes to mind is our understanding of Christopher Columbus. While in kindergarten, I learned that he had discovered the land I now call home. Growing a little older, I found out that this country was actually named after Amerigo Vespucci, not Columbus—which seemed a little odd to me. Why wouldn’t they name America after this great hero? Growing older still, it came to light that Columbus wasn’t actually the great man I had been taught; instead, he enslaved the natives in his greed for gold. My shifting view of this event in history in particular seems to portray what they are talking about. Though my perspective shifted, giving it different meaning, this isn’t what is important about his discovery of America and who it was named after or why. What can be taken from this event is the effect it had on the Native Americans, international trade, and political boundaries. From this event, for the present we can learn that conquering nations and enslaving their peoples probably will lead to mass genocide and war; therefore, today we are more likely to aid developing countries. The US’s shift from complete domination of a peoples to preforming as a role model and benefactor for smaller countries emerging from colonialism shows that, while not a result only of Columbus’ experience, this event in history had traceable affects coupled with other similar events by which the present generation has evolved a new strategy for dealing with more primitive cultures.