To the Historians of the Future

So I did something stupid yesterday.

I suggested to a colleague that for a class on ‘writing style’ we should set students a quick exercise: write the start of a history of the 2016 US Election from the point of view of 2026, looking back.

Why was this stupid?

Well the class evolved into an impassioned – and despairing – debate about where support for Donald Trump comes from. But that’s not what I’m regretting. What I regret is thinking we would all be able to look back – with anger and fear and disappointment of course, but not THIS anger, THIS confusion, THIS dismay.

I feel like I am living one of the contradictions of history, the tension between really being in a moment, and seeing a moment become part of a narrative.

As today becomes a fateful day in history, as it becomes overlaid with a million consequences, as it becomes a step down a path that historians will have to follow, I somehow want to meaningfully record just how shocking this moment is. I want to give the finger to the historians of the future, who will come with their causal explanations, who will put this moment into a narrative chronology.

Because they don’t get it. They don’t get what people are feeling today. This is not part of a historical narrative, it’s waking up and being told that the racists, misogynists, homophobes and haters have won. This is not a trajectory, it’s a car crash. This isn’t an emerging story, it’s the failure of sense-making itself.

Or at least that’s how it feels.

Sending love and solidarity to everyone in America, and to everyone around the world who feels this moment.

And fuck you, historians of the future.

6 thoughts on “To the Historians of the Future

  1. I woke up this morning and cried. I cried for my friends in the States. I cried because I’m scared of what the future may hold in store for the world. I cried because I’m trying to finish writing my PhD, and, after experiencing workplace sexism and seeing this backlash against expertise in the Western world, I begin to wonder what the point is, if even the most qualified woman in history cannot get the job. Why bother at all? I feel so much pain for every parent, for everyone who has to teach the future generation today. I do not understand it myself. A part of me does not want to understand it. How does anyone begin to explain it to the young?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I got up at 3 am in the UK to watch, alone, and all I could think to say to myself (and the cats) as the results came rolling in was Oh My God Oh My God! No!

    If he makes a terrible mess of it, and assuming he hasn’t nuked us all in a fit of pique, maybe it will be easier to get rid of him in four years’ time? Maybe he is something voters have to get out of their system, a lesson they have to learn the hard way? In the meantime we all have to hold onto our hats and hope for the best, or rather the least worst. Our thoughts are with you. : (

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Speaking as an American, well, yeah, it was shocking. Here it is 5 days later, and people over here are still sorting out what it means. One of the sharp twists in the narrative after it became clear that Mr. Trump was going to win, was finding out Ms. Clinton was going to carry the popular vote. William’s right: historians are going to have a hard time reconstructing that moment in context.

    Your thoughts about how hard it would be for historians to capture this reminded me of a study I read last year. The Panic of 1837 has been the subject of substantial scholarly contention since the 1960s. Yet it was only last year I ran into a work that emphasized that the actual emotional panic was really in the months leading up to the suspension of specie conversion by the New York banks. In effect, the emotional panic ended about the time the economic crisis set in, which the use of the term “panic” to cover the business crisis and depression has obscured. The emotional history had been semantically obscured by the economic history.


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