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Responsible History

Responsible History

Antoon De Baets
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Responsible History
    Book Description:

    "I can warmly recommendResponsible Historyto any concerned historian in need of a reliable compass for responsible conduct. I endorse Voltaire's words quoted in this book: 'Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.' Responsible conduct is necessary because irresponsible conduct is dangerous."[From the Foreword.]

    The abuse of history is common and quite possibly once more on the rise. Although this is well documented, there is no general theory that enables historians to identify, prove, explain, and evaluate the many types of abuse of history. In this book, the author, founder of the Network of Concerned Historians, presents such a theory. Reflecting on the responsible use of history, the author identifies the duties that the living has toward the dead and analyzes the rights to memory and history necessary to fulfill these duties. He concludes his powerful argument by proposing a code of ethics as a guide for responsible historians. This work is vital for any historian who wants to oppose and prevent the abuse of history.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-878-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Jürgen Kocka

    The censorship and persecution of historians, as the present book abundantly illustrates, have been frequent in the past. They continue to be a problem of the present. Given the importance of history and the conditions that govern its political instrumentalization in many parts of the world, they will not go away in the foreseeable future.

    Campaigns, petitions, and other interventions by fellow historians can be useful when dealing with urgent cases of persecution that have become known. A systematic analysis of the phenomena of censorship and persecution can be helpful in preparing adequate reactions in the future. To both, Antoon...

  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Antoon De Baets
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    With an almost incurable passion of more than a quarter of a century, I have collected and analyzed data on the censorship of history. The fruits of this labor resulted in many essays and in the bookCensorship of Historical Thought: A World Guide, 1945–2000.¹ In the process, two areas of interest emerged at the opposite end of censorship of history: the responsible use of history and the ethics of historians. My thoughts about these complementary topics matured in stages. From the pristine days of research, questions about the censorship of history obviously raised questions about the rights and...

  7. Part I Irresponsible History

    • 1 A Theory of the Abuse of History
      (pp. 9-48)

      The abuse of history is frequently dangerous. It is common under dictatorships and in periods of gross human rights violations. It played a major role during the genocide in Rwanda (1994) and the wars in the former Yugoslavia (1991–95). Although the natural habitat of the abuses of history is a nondemocratic environment, its persistent traces are also present in many democracies. Not so long ago, religious tensions in India (1998–2004), for example, were partly incited by divergent and distorted views of the past. How can we delineate, with some certainty, the boundaries of this problem? This is possible...

    • 2 The Dictator’s Secret Archives
      (pp. 49-71)

      In December 1992, a judicial team raided a police station on the outskirts of Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. It was the first of a series of raids during which five tons of sensitive documentation were discovered and confiscated. This mass of files (700,000) was soon called thearchivo del terror,as it appeared to belong to the nerve center from which the repression under General Alfredo Stroessner’s 35-year dictatorship (1954–89) was organized. The archive contained two types of documents. One group concerned materials confiscated or stolen by the security forces: identity documents, personal correspondence, subversive political literature, or...

    • 3 Defamation Cases against Historians
      (pp. 72-108)

      More than may be expected, historians land in the dock.¹ Among the charges leveled at them, those involving defamation constitute a separate category. Some persons think that their reputation is tarnished because they are critically portrayed in works of history and they may seek redress in court. Often, prominent people—in many countries even incumbent heads of state—are among the complainants.² For the scholar who wants to study the use and abuse of defamation laws against historians from a comparative perspective, collecting the scattered and incomplete relevant information is not easy. In this chapter, a worldwide survey of the...

  8. Part II Responsible History

    • 4 Duties of the Living to the Dead
      (pp. 111-143)

      In a recent essay, demographer Carl Haub “guesstimates” that the total number of people who have ever been born since the dawn of the human race is 106 billion. Of these, six billion are alive and 100 billion are dead.² This chapter is about these two very large and very unequal groups: the living and the dead. Members of both groups are actual or potential subjects of historical study. Therightsof the subjects studied by historians dominate the latter’s professional ethics, as is the case in any profession.³ Consequently, knowledge of the rights of the living and the dead...

    • 5 The Rights to Memory and History
      (pp. 144-172)

      The duties to the dead discussed in Chapter 4 can be discharged on two conditions only. The first is that the living have a right to “pay their last respects”: a right to mourn, to bury and cremate, and to commemorate. The second is that they have a right to know the truth about the past, most notably the painful events of that past—the human rights abuses that occurred. I refer to these consequential rights as a right to memory and a right to history, respectively. They are consequential in the sense that without them the living would not...

    • 6 A Code of Ethics for Historians
      (pp. 173-196)

      Before the 1990s, historians often kept questions of professional ethics at the back of their minds, but seldom on the tips of their tongues. Traditionally, moral awareness within the profession has been rather high but also rather invisible. Questions of historical truth and method have been central to the professional training of history students for two centuries. At the same time, many historians were reluctant to talk about “big principles” and some even believed that values and ethics were not a legitimate part of historical writing. As an additional factor, many of the most problematic moral questions did not arise...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 197-198)

    Most persons are more inclined to the future than to the past. In some situations, however, a bias toward the past may be inevitable. In particular, I am thinking of all of those who experienced past sufferings compared to which any future happiness and suffering are perceived as bleak, if not trivial, as is the case with survivors of gross violations of human rights. For that reason, they speak of a past that does not go away. Here is one such view, expressed by Imre Kertész: “Memories are like stray dogs. They surround you, stare at you while they gasp,...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 199-240)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-258)
  12. Index
    (pp. 259-274)