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When does living history end?

07 Apr 12 - 08:17 AM (#3334885)
Subject: When does living history end?
From: GUEST,SPB Co-operator (need to reset my cookie)

I'm not sure what side of the line this question should go. I put it above as folk traditions in my view would come under this. At the same time, it would also apply to any other aspects of history.

So, to expand the question, at what point does history become confined to the history books?

Firstly, if people who lived and experienced historical events or ways of life are still alive, then this is clear cut living history.

Secondly, and the one I would tend to go for, is history is still living history when the descendants of those who knew or experienced the events or ways of life are still alive, through first hand accounts.

Thirdly, could it be argued that archived first hand media accounts keep history in living memory>

Another possible 'cut-off' may be the impact of what has happened in the past is still with us today, and therefore we are still living those moments of history. But then again some aspects of much older history - in UK Magna Carta, in US the war of independence still have an effect to this day.

I would like to see how this develops, both from a purely historical point of view, and also in the context of folk traditions and those whose daily lives were impacted from these traditions.

07 Apr 12 - 12:00 PM (#3334952)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Mo the caller

As I get older the past gets closer.
When I was at school and had to talk to Grandparents for an essay about their childhood the fact that it all happened more than 50 years ago and in the last century, made it seem far-distant.
Now a hundred years seems just yesterday.

For me living memory is something someone who was there, told me about.

Maybe it's even longer if you live in the same place as your family (e.g. farmers). I've just reread Alison Uttley's Traveller in Time about events that were talked of in her childhood re Mary Queen of Scots.

07 Apr 12 - 12:09 PM (#3334958)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Will Fly

Time is all a continuum, isn't it? Like Mo, I can recall chatting to my paternal grandfather when I was a child - I'd be about 10 and he was then about 55 years old. He told me stories about his grandfather - my g-g-grandfather - who was born in 1841.

A few years earlier, when I was about 6 or so, my maternal grandfather - born in 1878 - told me stories about his grandfather, another g-g-grandfather, who was born in 1809...

I'd be hard put to insert a marker somewhere here and call it "history" because, to me, it's just family fact. But I suppose it has to be "history" because the people we talked about - and now the people I once talked to - are all dead.

I'm just waiting for my grandchildren to become old enough to pass the stories on to.

07 Apr 12 - 12:19 PM (#3334961)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: TheSnail

Some friends told me their granddaughter was being taught about the Falklands war in her history lessons.

I still remember it as news.


07 Apr 12 - 12:50 PM (#3334973)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Stringsinger

I couldn't agree more. The best way to study folk music is to be around the original practitioners. The denigration of old ways and people has its consequences in that
history can be rewritten in an Orwellian fashion with new "Ministry of Truths" emerging every day. The deification of Woody Guthrie is a case in point.

Whenever possible, living histories need to be preserved, recorded and used as legitimate references.

07 Apr 12 - 01:30 PM (#3334995)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: SPB-Cooperator


I think by my preferred definition, stories about your great-great grandparents, although being passed down through future generation would not count as living memory as any account by this stage is at least once removed from the person who experienced the time/event i.e. the memory is a second hand interpretation, whereas a person who has a living parent or grandparent or even great-grandparent may or may not have the opportunity to enter further discussions with the person, and maybe confirm or clarify understanding - and the first hand account doesn't have to be through family or even through people thanks to media technology.

My view therefore is that anything that is related first hand is living memory - and after the person dies, that is whether the living memory canon ends - although it can be augmented from other sources, that surely must be historical reference.

07 Apr 12 - 06:50 PM (#3335154)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: JedMarum


07 Apr 12 - 07:57 PM (#3335178)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?

Living History ends when we stop talking about it.

07 Apr 12 - 08:15 PM (#3335182)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Artful Codger

Living history ends when Fox News gets hold of it and starts making up the "facts".

07 Apr 12 - 10:33 PM (#3335220)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Little Hawk

As far as I'm concerned, real history ends the moment the mainstream media get hold of it and sanitize and shape it. Fox is simply the worst of them, that's all, but "the news" as it exists nowadays is not done to inform the public any longer. It's done to push a certain sanctioned viewpoint, to arrange public consent for foreign wars of choice (meaning: aggression), to bamboozle people into believing bizarre and paranoid propaganda so they'll put up with what their government is doing, to enforce conformity, and sell a certain corrupt attitude and material lifestyle that makes money for the chosen few at the top.

Which is to say...we are now living in the realization of Orwell's "1984" and Huxley's "Brave New World", complete with an endless war against a vaguely identified and mysterious "enemy" who can conveniently pop up almost anywhere...and that keeps our keepers very nicely in control of us, and busy fortifying the police state they are building around themselves and all of us.

07 Apr 12 - 11:15 PM (#3335226)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Tim Leaning

When the time machine is un invented ?

07 Apr 12 - 11:43 PM (#3335229)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: John P

It's odd having the reached age where I am the living history. I had a wake up call a couple of years ago when I was talking about Led Zeppelin with some of the younger people at work. I said something about what a revolution in rock music their first album was and how we all learned their songs right away. I realized they were all looking at me oddly and one of them said with near-incredulous surprise in his voice, "You remember when the first Led Zeppelin album came out"???

And of course, the younger generations don't remember when the internet didn't exist.

I was fortunate enough to have three living great-great grandmothers when I was a kid but old enough to realize how unusual that was. We heard stories from the last part of the 19th century, heard all about when automobiles came into being, electricity, telephones, etc. They all made it into their late 90s or 100s with their minds as sharp as ever, and memories intact.

As for the original question, I'm with those for whom living memory means the extent of the lives of those who heard first-hand accounts. I could, however, make a persuasive case for it ending with the lives of the people who witnessed the events.

08 Apr 12 - 12:22 AM (#3335232)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: EBarnacle

As one who is watching the Holocaust deniers attacking the fact that it occurred, I am strongly of the belief that living history ends when the last person who witnessed a fact is no longer around to refute the liars.

08 Apr 12 - 01:38 AM (#3335244)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Gurney

Perhaps the definition needs changing. Living history, as a definition, obviously (to me) ends when no-one who experienced it continues to live and as EBarnacle says, is able to refute the rewriters. As the last participant in WWI has passed, it is history. It was 'living history' 40years ago, because my Grandad told me his side of it, 'stripped his sleeve and showed his scars.'
Perhaps we need some statistical definitions, like Single Account History, Multiple Account History, Popular Account History, Removed History. (Accounts from people who didn't experience it.)
Suspicious History? Massaged History? Government Sanctioned History? Fox History?

08 Apr 12 - 05:49 AM (#3335284)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: SPB-Cooperator

When I was referring to media, it was in a musch looser context, not the popular media butr media such as:

Field recordings
personal photo albums, home movies
Eye witness accounts.

08 Apr 12 - 07:53 AM (#3335313)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: doc.tom

I think Barnacle has got it about right.

But we tend to forget how close history is - as witnessed by some of the observations above. When we were researching John Short, the Watchet shantyman, we talked with one man who could remember, from when he was a boy, seeing and talking to John Short. That's one person between us and someone who was sailing ships during the American Civil War!

08 Apr 12 - 05:19 PM (#3335485)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Little Hawk

Holocaust denial is foolish, and easily disproven. There's massive evidence that it happened, and it happened not just to Jews, but also to Communists, socialists, pacifists, homosexuals, Gypsies, and a large variety of other European victims....all of whom were arrested, imprisoned, and killed en masse by the Nazi regime in Germany. To deny that it happened would be ridiculous. To suggest that its memory is being used to justify present very harmful political attitudes toward a new set of victims, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

Denying the more recent holocaust that has been inflicted upon innocent Palestinians in the last 60 or so years by the political cause called Zionism is equally foolish, and is also easily disproven, and that holocaust is still happening right now.

I think it far more vital that we focus on a holocaust that is happening NOW than one that ended in 1945. We can't save the people who perished in the Nazi holocaust, because it's over. We CAN save the Palestinians from the persecution and oppression they are presently having inflicted upon them, and we CAN see that they are given full compensation for what has been done to them.

Until we do help save the Palestinians and restore their nationhood in a viable nation state, we are tacitly supporting a 2nd terrible Holocaust, one that is being perpetrated by the vengeful survivors of the previous one (and by their children).

Palestinians and Arabs are not responsible for what Germans did to Jews (and many others) in 1933-45. They should not have to pay for it.

08 Apr 12 - 05:36 PM (#3335489)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

I'm sure historians must have these concepts defined. I just had a quick look at wikipedia, and it defines contemporary history as:

1) (broad) that part of history still in living memory, which they approximate as about 80 years.

2) (narrow) that part of history remembered by most adults living, which they characterise as about one generation or about 30 years.

This seems in line with several of the suggestions above and has a reasonable feel as a definition.


09 Apr 12 - 02:51 AM (#3335578)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?

You've missed a couple holocausts, Little Hawk--in Cambodia,in Rwanda, Biafra, Ethiopia, and Kosovo--all since the "Big One"--we don't seem to have learned anything, except maybe how easy it is to commit genocide...

09 Apr 12 - 03:17 AM (#3335585)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: glueman

One of the problems with history is professional historians. Unlike say, scientists, who have institutional inertia towards the conclusions of previous scientists and heretical banishment for anyone who differs even slightly from their conclusions, historians are obliged to re-write history as soon as they adopt academic status. There are no career prospects in saying, 'I agree with everything else that's been written' so they must problematise every detail to make their professional mark, even if it means distortion and misrepresentation in doing so.

It's one of the reasons I mistrust scientists and historians.

09 Apr 12 - 05:10 AM (#3335608)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Will Fly

scientists, who have institutional inertia towards the conclusions of previous scientists and heretical banishment for anyone who differs even slightly from their conclusions

Evidence please. Any scientist worth a damn knows that scientific knowledge is a long, slow road from no-knowledge to some-knowledge, fraught with false turnings and dead ends. 'Institutional inertia' and 'heretical banishment' are, IMO, the wrong words to describe the arguments, differences of opinion and honest disputes surrounding research and discovery. Many scientists - including Stephen Hawking - have admitted that theories they had previously held had been wrong. Fred Hoyle was a particularly disputatious chap when discussing the 'Big Bang' theory and argued vociferously in support of his views.

Of course there are mistakes and wrong conclusions in science, as there are in all disciplines, but if you really mistrust science and scientists, don't ever get treated by a doctor, don't ever drive a car, don't ever live in a house, don't ever go on public transport or in lifts, don't ever use electricity or gas or watch TV or make a telephone call - all 'science' in its different aspects.

And you can also mistrust historians - but how will you learn anything of our past history without reading something about it? And where will you read it if historians of some sort or another don't write about it? All you can do to combat bias or individual opinion is to read widely and compare and contrast historians' views.

A nihilistic approach to knowledge is all very well, but it doesn't get you very far.

09 Apr 12 - 05:26 AM (#3335612)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: GUEST,Suibhne Astray

According to the Mayan long-count calendar it ends on the 21st December this year, so no time to waste debating it. So little to do, so much time...

09 Apr 12 - 09:37 AM (#3335684)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: glueman

"A nihilistic approach to knowledge is all very well, but it doesn't get you very far" - Will Fly

How you deduce nihilism from a succinct summary of the facts eludes me. Perhaps this will help?

Here you go

09 Apr 12 - 10:03 AM (#3335698)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: Little Hawk

You're quite right about those other Holocausts, Guest. The one in Cambodia, for instance, was utterly extraordinary. They managed to kill about 1/3 of the entire populace...and they didn't restrict it to any one ethnic was right across the board.

The thing that stands out about the ongoing Middle Eastern Holocaust, though, is that the perpetrators of it are still being treated as if they were the victims and the "good guys" in the situation, and they are being supported by the Western media, and they are being assisted in their empire-building efforts by the entire western alliance, which has occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and has assisted in toppling a number of governments in Muslim nations such as Iran (in the 1950s), Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Lybia...and they're presently trying hard to in Syria...and they appear to be planning another and even larger war on Iran, based on the usual spurious accusation of an imaginary threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the very same excuse that was used to attack Iraq.

(No other excuse will serve to scare the American public enough to get their that is the one excuse that gets trotted out every time...)

I do not think the eventual judgement of history will be kind to this western alliance. It is fighting imperial wars of corporate occupation, and justifying them with outright lies. It pretends to defend, but its entire modus operandi is to attack.

10 Apr 12 - 06:24 AM (#3336159)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: glueman

I'd be interested to know what Will Fly made of the link.

10 Apr 12 - 06:57 AM (#3336177)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: doc.tom

Lot of thread drift - considering the original question.

10 Apr 12 - 07:19 AM (#3336190)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: GUEST,Eliza

As our society is changing exponentially, every decade is history to the next. In my last years of teaching, my pupils (aged 12) were astounded and horrified to hear that we had no TV, telephone, mobile phone, washing machine, microwave, computer, central heating, car, carpets (yes, bare lino throughout) etc etc. I think they thought I must have been some sort of refugee. I often wish older people would record on video their experiences for the next generation. We've got some of our oldsters (some in their nineties) in the village to bring artefacts etc to our Jubilee Celebrations. Once we're dead and gone you won't hear from us any more! ("and a good thing too!" I hear you mutter!)

10 Apr 12 - 08:09 AM (#3336207)
Subject: RE: When does living history end?
From: stallion

We have the V & A in London, The Castle Museum in York, the latter shocked me when some of the exhibits looked like the interiors I grew up in and yes there were more than one, i swear my wife still has some of the dresses on display there in her wardrobe, including a Mary Quant paper dress! As touched on before history of a society, is observations of a living organism and is evolving all the time, and one can observe the continuities and the changes and so the boundary of Living history is ever shifting i.e. from the horses mouth increases with longevity and advances in media storage facilities. A memory from a brain comes with all sorts of spin on it, like the directors cut in a film or TV programme and who is to judge it's legitimacy truly objectively? All views on history or past events are subjective of the here and now. Hegel said "What Man learns from History is that Man learns nothing from History". What I say is quite opposite "What Man has learned from History is that men and women can be downtrodden and subjected and bullied into submission by the materially and physically powerful and that it is better to be on the winning side than the losing side, and, the only way to have more is to ensure that others make do with a lot less. So The many regime changes in the UK, Brits, Romans, Angles & Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Tudors, Stuarts, House of Orange, Et Al all had their pograms but were paled into insignificance by Stalin Hitler Kosovo Sierra Leone Libya Syria, Rwanda South Africa, sick of making a list. What I am trying to say is that what Man has learned from history is that MIGHT IS RIGHT that is why North Korea and Iran want missiles and A bombs the twisted logic is that it is a form of Freedom from the countries with big sticks. I believe that the vast majority of people in the world are good and require a quiet if not prosperous life for themselves and their progeny, can't remember who said it but someone said "All that is required for tyranny to succeed is for good men (or women) to do nothing" I would add to that or let the Bullies smear the organisations like socialism and unions to remove the brakes of unbridled exploitation and subjacation.