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Monday, March 08, 2010


History comes from "Historia" or Knowledge acquired by studying the past!

I seriously have doubts about History, History students and Historians, not just in today's world but the whole concept, be it past, present or, even the future. It sounds like an oxymoron, a concept of future history, but let me elaborate.

The last week has seen me spend significant time with Jr. for her project, a speech she has to give with another student to celebrate Black History. The person she has to talk about is Elijah McCoy. Now this guy was a black inventor with over 40 patents when Slavery had just been abolished, but discrimination was still around. Pretty amazing stuff considering the term "The Real McCoy" which means "the original" or "the dependable" product refers to an oil lubricator that McCoy invented.

The assignment gets complicated because different sources give him different birth dates!? different mother's names, etc. Either a lot was left out and no one cared because he was Black, or people tried to resurrect his image long after he died in the name of Black pride. In either case, history has failed or is failing us by either not telling us the facts or by deliberately misleading us.

If you use the most common search engines for Elijah McCoy, you will see the same few pages come up.

Most of my knowledge/information/history comes from Google news these days and articles get pushed to the front page, simply because more people are reading those articles in specific categories, be it world, politics, sports, science and technology, etc. etc.

Certain concepts reiterate themselves in these search engines. In other words, an article will gain momentum if it catches the public eye. Correlation of that happening because the veracity of the article would be pretty abysmal is my guess. Most of the articles that get pushed in the "recommended" category all seem to be polarized.

a. it is an article that resonates with what would be "common sense" or the "duh" or "stating the obvious"

b. it creates controversy and attracts the flamers and provides an "anti" viewpoint

There seems to be very minimal moderation of ideas or a balanced view. (those articles are a minority), which brings me to some instrospection. What the hell is a balanced view? A neutral view? My view? My biased view? A view with pros and cons or cons and pros?

and the thoughts wandered to a hypothetical..

50 years from now if a kid had to do a school project on George W. Bush what are the odds that he /she will probably see GWB as a peace loving man and how many articles will flag GWB as a warmonger? It all depends on what gets pushed across screens over the next 50 years would be my guess.

Maps of the world conveniently show what each country wants to show its kids in the classroom, you do that for a few decades and you have given millions of kids an alternate reality. Take Kashmir for example.

Kids in China were taught a distorted version of India in the late seventies for sure (know this for a fact from Chinese friends) and kids in India were taught an untrue version of China in our history books. What we read, memorized, regurgitated for 10 marks/100 is not even close to what Chinese kids were told by their parents or what they experienced firsthand.

That said, history is all about screening the information you leave behind so that the suckers who come long after you, believe in something that never happened.

Worse, let us tell them that History teaches us how to shape our lives by learning from the past. If the learning from the past is all based on corrupt data, then the future is going to be very very bleak.

In corporate America information goes to employees on a need to know basis. The country runs the same way with wire taps, extraordinary powers for the state, unwritten laws, etc. etc. with the citizen being the last to know or given little information on how his tax money is spent wisely or unwisely.

If the information that is given by the have's to the have not's is so filtered, then we can be guaranteed that when Google Search replaces our history books for good, our kids will find out things about their parents that will make them shake their heads in disbelief!

I can almost imagine Jr. typing "Sundar Narayanan" into a google window and shaking her head and saying "But I was raised by this fellow and he was nothing like this search result shows!"

One thing is sure.

Jr. will get her 10 points out of 100 for her understanding of Black History.


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I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

I think it was in middle school, when a history teacher told us, history is "his story". So I guess any story pretty much comes with the perspective of the story-teller. How does one eliminate the bias from that?

Also, many a times, I feel it is the bias/ view point what makes the whole reading all the more interesting. Going to be pretty insipid without that. Almost like perhaps some statistical data!

Rigged facts which creep their way into history textbooks/ historical data , and over time making people believe they are true, is another issue altogether :)

- Aditi

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:57 AM, Blogger Kavi wrote...

I quite like what Aditi says. It is indeed His story !

History just shapes perspectives and as you say we have a very distorted set of perspectives about what Britain did to us and what we did to...say a Bangladesh!

I am always in awe of how lines on the map can alter our view of the world !

That said, the modern day world with google and such else atleast provides us opportunity to see the 'other' point of view !!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:44 PM, Blogger Sundar Narayanan wrote...

what I was trying to say was that history is not about what happened but more about what gets into recordable media, be it a cave wall, a stone, a book or the internet..





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