As I read your response papers this week, the most popular “usable past” that came up was John Fea’s idea of the past as a source of inspiration (or caution). Three examples of that theme…
SHAWN: I see the past as a useful notion because why else do we have the ability to remember the past. It is useful because we have to past to remember and try not to repeat in the future. We see the past and learn from our mistakes so that when we move on in to the future we make bigger and brighter choices. …[John] Fea shares with us the idea that the past inspires us. Giving an example of how soldiers storming the beach at Normandy to William Wilberforce helping to end the slave trade to many more heroic things. Fea goes on in this section to expand this idea of being inspired and share that as we see these heroic events in the past us as humans get inspired and many times want to be better. While we see the past as a positive and heroic place, there still are negatives that are from the past that we dislike. Fea shares that the past is a useful “cautionary tale”, because it is filled with people and things that we do not want to repeat.This idea of hero is not secluded to someone famous, but to anyone in your life that you deem as a hero.
DUSTIN: [John] Fea talks about how people are able to use the past as a source of inspiration and motivation for present day life. He gives the example of his student Christina and the inspiration she received for her senior art project on Thomas Paine. Christina was able to not only find inspiration from the words of Thomas Paine, but also, it gave her the motivation to do her final art project on something that she was passionate about. History is full of figures and events that we can look to for guidance and also to serve as a reminder to the mistakes we have made in the past, “Whether it is inspiration or warning, we can all draw lessons for the present by studying the past” (Why Study History?, p. 33).
NELSON: …I grew up not knowing much of my family history; because of this I put a great emphasis on knowing the past, remembering it. In that sense the past is useful, it helps one understand how they got there. Perhaps more importantly to me is that the past is a source of motivation for me. Fea describes it as the “Inspirational Past.” Writers like Frederick Douglas inspire me to treat others equally, thinkers like Martin Luther King Jr motivate me to act peacefully, and other men like Hitler serve as a warning of what evils man can do. As Fea puts it, “Whether it is inspiration or warning, we can all draw lessons for the present by studying the past” (p. 33).
Is there a particular individual, group, or event from the past that you find especially inspirational — or cautionary? What problems do you see with the past-as-inspiration? How might McKenzie critique the idea of a “heroic” past? (see ch. 4 of The First Thanksgiving)