Book Review: Partisan Histories

Book Review: Partisan Histories

“Partisan Histories. The Past in Contemporary Global Politics”, edited by Marx Paul Friedman and Padraic Kenney, is a book I had to read for my Honours course. Now before I hear anyone say “booorrring,” this is not like the books you read in High School where because you had to study them, it spoiled them. This book has some very insightful examples of how the history of a country is not just fact. Rather, it is often a tool used by those in power for political purposes.

It’s not my bad camera abilities –
 the blurred “Histories” is a symbol of the book’s premise
 that history is not always as clear as we think it is.

The book contains a collection of essays focusing on critical, “turning-point” moments from a wide range of countries, including Armenia, Chile, France, Germany, India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, Nigeria and the USA. Due to this range, I found it really broadened my horizons – I had previously not read much about the histories of some of these countries: one of those, “the more you know, the more you realise how much you don’t know”-type moments.

It also makes you question the knowledge that you take for granted. For example, the history you learned in school – is it really accurate, or is it only showing one side of the picture? It is especially evident when you compare two different countries’ versions of the same event. It puts a spotlight on how people can construct history; slanting different motivations or pieces of evidence can change how you see an event and therefore its implications for your country/circumstances. And it is not just limited to countries with controlling dictatorships – democracies are just as guilty of doing this.

It was also a revelation to me about how passionate people can be about their version of history. It can even be to the point of very aggressive, extreme nationalism – something that we don’t often experience in Australia (although we definitely have our own examples of re-writing history to suit the dominant group). But it is partly the reason why it can be such a powerful force in politics.

One important suggestion I want to impart is not to assume you will have a completely objective worldview after reading this book, and can therefore lecture anyone who takes sides in the examples in the books. It is one thing to read and research these events, but for those who experienced them first hand, it is very real and you won’t win any friends by arguing with them.

This post is a bit on the serious side, but really, assuming a culture’s history isn’t constructed can have deadly consequences, even in the present. I hope that it will be an eye-opener for you too, but rather than being depressed, try and take the opportunity to broaden your knowledge. As I often say on this site, understanding is the first step to working together in a positive way to create productive collaborative bridges….maybe even healing?


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