Thursday, 12 April 2012

Respect the Past?

I'm going to very unfairly pick up on a single word used in an interesting blog over on Active History about the need for remembering the past.  In the post (see it here) about the currently popular themes of rememberance (Titanic, Vimy Ridge) Laura Piticco comments several times on the need to 'respect' the past, and of showing 'respect' for the past.

[Sorry for what follows Laura. You don't deserve to have me riffing on your wording, but here goes...]

What a common, and what an odd idea: this perceived need to respect the past. Why does the past deserve our respect?  And why respect and not indignation, or anger, or fascination?

When people start talking about respecting the past, it makes me start to yawn, to think of official moments of silence, of history as it is meant to be - no discussion, sit down and finish your dinner, eat your vegetables, this is good for you, you'll thank me for this one day, etc, etc, etc, kind of history.

Some things in the past deserve respect. Others deserve indifference or irreverence. And deciding which is which is ultimately both about finding out what happened and then attaching meaning to it. In other words, it's about politics. And we're going to disagree. That's as it should be.

The only thing we really owe the past - and we owe it this in spades - is our curiosity.


  1. Owing history our curiosity, only, (at least at first) is a great point, Chris. Once we’re in the mode of learning, we will soon know if we feel pride about Confederation, Vimy Ridge, the Charter of Rights, or any number of things from our past.

    Whether it is politics, emotion, or reasoning, we will shape what we have learned through our own life lens. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I agree the past really does deserve our curiosity.

    Respect shouldn't necessarily be paid to the "past" but the people of the past; those who died at Vimy Ridge or who died as a result of the Titanic; and indeed those people who survived and had to deal with the horrific memories left to them by witnessing and experiencing those events. I think that's the sort of respect which should be given-- an empathy for those people whom the event affected. That's what I personally do during official moments of silence; reflect on the fallout of the historical event.

  3. I agree with the anon above, especially when it comes to Titanic. Recently, there's obviously been a lot of attention paid to it. The problem I find is that it's romanticized too far. Sure there were the first class people with their gorgeous rooms and posh lifestyles; but there were also those who were locked down in the flooding parts of the ships to die. People tend to conveniently 'forget' or suspend their sense of reality for the sake of entertainment when it comes to Titanic, and it often leads to a lack of respect for those who died. For instance, I watched the "Titanic" mini-series online via Global recently and found it in poor taste that the last two episodes or more were sponsored almost exclusively by "Survivor" and contained multiple advertisements for it.