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When History betrays its founders: the conception of History in the new Law of Education


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La Razón

Javier Andreu Pintado

Senior Associate Professor of Ancient History and Director of the Diploma of Archaeology of the University of Navarra.

A few days ago, at the School of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Navarra, we celebrated the early celebration of our patron saint. In the final part of the academic act, the student who received the extraordinary award in the Degree of History and Journalism denounced in his turn to speak the "presentism" with which History is taught today, topic current now that the committee of Ministers has just approve the Celaá Law with a singular conception of History.

A purpose de la subject de Historia de España the Wert law underlined the essential role of History "for the knowledge and understanding of our past and the present world", insisted on "its formative character as it develops abstract thinking skills (...) such as critical sense" and that it "contributes to the training of responsible citizens". The project of the Royal Decree to be approved states that the "analysis of the past (...) constitutes an essential reference letter to understand today's world". source It states that Spanish History "forms a rich bequest that should be appreciated, preserved and transmitted as a collective report of generations (...) and as a learning tool for those who will come after us", insisting that History "makes us aware of the factors that condition human action" and that it is based on a "dynamic conception conditioned by subjects that arouse the interest of the academic community and that society considers relevant".

For the current law, History is "knowledge and understanding", for the new one it is only "analysis". For the former, History was useful to understand "not only our past but also the present world". Now it is simply "to understand today's world". For the current law, History has a "formative character" linked to the criticism of sources. Although the already approved law proposal stresses "historical methodology" and its "scientific rigour", History is reduced to a "collectivereport of generations" without the "critical attitude towards sources" or the "evaluation of cultural and historical heritage" - which are mentioned as competences to be acquired by the student - seeming to play any role. There is an insistence on a "dynamic conception" of History that should only deal with those issues that "society considers relevant", downgrading the value of historical objects to anything that is not socially interesting and putting the "collectivereport " and the "story" before the real scientific exercise. The Celaá Law's vision of History is that of a History at the service of what, it is claimed, have been the great driving forces of History, "identities, beliefs, ideas and emotions". Where these realities are palpable in the sources, there is History or a History that has a social income. Where these subjects are, because of our scarcity of testimonies, more difficult to explore, History does not seem to be worthwhile. When it is stated that what is sought with the study of the History of Spain is that the student can "exercise the set of civic values framed by the Constitution" and that its learning should be endowed with a practical sense "related to the real environment of the student body", it is asserting that a large part of the episodes of the History of Spain -all those prior to 1812- are old, outdated, useless stories.

This conception of history betrays the sense that its Greek and Roman founders had of it, which we are now interested in cancelling. For Herodotus, History was to "prevent human deeds from being forgotten" because it was nuntia uetustatis, "proclamation of ancient deeds", as Cicero wrote. The account and knowledge of history was for Thucydides a "good for all time" if it was aimed at "an exact understanding of the facts of the past and of those which, in the future, will be the same", not of those facts of the past which are admired by the present. Lucian of Samosata claimed that "to write History with your eyes on the present so that contemporaries may praise you" was to practise an "unjust History" because History, according to Polybius, was "to elucidate the general and total structure of the events that occurred" on the basis of his "knowledge", a wisdom such that there was "no other clearer".

If we look at the classics and their conception of history, from which the historicists of the 19th century drew, it is clear that history must study the whole of the past, not just part of it. We cannot rob our young people - especially in the course of their training as responsible, free, university-educated citizens - of part of that past for the sake of an ideological criterion. If it is the responsibility of historians to remember what society wants to forget, it is our duty to denounce what they do not want our young people to learn so that they cannot pass it on as a heritage of identity to the society to come.