Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Globe

My first reaction to receiving an email announcement about Historians Against Slavery was a resounding duh. Who isn't? On closer inspection, it would seem a more accurate announcement would have been "Historians who are against slavery to the extent that they would do something about its current global manifestation, even if just to the extent of clicking a link to put their names to the cause publicly to emulate the abolitionists of old." But no doubt the one they went with is pithier, and in its "say what?" evocation it does catch the attention.

I may have alluded in a previous post to my ambivalence about the general (though not universal) academic disdain for presentism. This sort of campaign--HAS--highlights some interesting facets of that debate. If it is inappropriate for 21st century commenters to impose 21st century mores in our evaluation of 18th and 19th century racist prevailing attitudes (attitudes held by those who prevailed at the time) is it more or less appropriate to import the standards of those in the counter current who saw prevailing attitudes as wrong, whether racist, sexist, xenophoblic, homophobic or anti-environmentalist--and did something about it. And prevailed or are prevailing (I hope) in the long run. Or, to put it another way, what will the presentist historians of the 22nd century say about us?

So I signed up. Least I could do. And you should too. My quibble: despite purporting to be transnational, a lot of this is pretty American-centric and educator-centric. You shouldn't have to teach about Lincoln to be concerned about global slavery. Though maybe it helps.
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