L'Humanité in English
Translation of selective papers from the french daily newspaper l'Humanité
decorHome > Culture > The role of historians is not the validation of social values
 

EditorialWorldPoliticsEconomySocietyCultureScience & TechnologySportInternational Communist and Labor Press"Tribune libre"Comment and OpinionBlogsLinks
About France, read also
decorBudget. Michel Sapin wants to make security rhyme with austerity decorCGT Air France. All the violence dooms them. decorJustice: how the Macron law grants out impunity to bosses decorNo Terrorists, But Lunatics decorAusterity Spoiled Economic Growth Over Last Six Months decorOECD Pits Active Workers Against Retirees decor“We Never…!”: The French Bourgeoisie’s Shameful Collaboration With the Nazis decorSocialist Party Seeks to Close Ranks Behind European Budget Pact decorThe Cult Film and Documentary Maker Chris Marker Has Passed Away decorWorkers’ Rights Notably Absent From the French Government’s Plan For the Car Industry decorThe CGT Calls Mittal’s London Olympic Honors "Obscene" decorPSA’s Restructuring Plan Spells a Social And Political Upheaval
About Colonialism, read also
decorThe Assassination of Maurice Audin, a Crime d’État decorBenin’s Cultural Treasures far from their Native Land decorLimits to the Freedom of the Press: The Case of Charlie Hebdo decorMaurice Audin Was Executed By Order Of Général Massu decorAn Insubordinate Named Francis Jeanson decorWe Are Colonized! decorDelegation of the French Communist Party (PCF) decorGuadeloupe: Union Activist Shot Dead at Barricade decorKossovo, a EU Colony? decorWhat are the Criteria for Helping Africa? decorFiguring out the Mechanisms of Domination decorThe French Dictionary Le Robert too Compliant
About Racism, read also
decorThirty Years Later, A New Call "Against Racism and For Equal Rights" decorAngela Davis: the iconic "Sweet Black Angel" at l’Humanité decorA Black Couple Faces Racism In Mississippi decor"Jew or Not Jew" : a total failure for Apple’s audit process decorNew Accusations against DSK decorRacism in France: Less Violence, But Also Less Tolerance decorMascarade decorDieudonné’s Contempt Towards WWII Nazi Death Camp Deportees Arouses Indignation. decorJean Ziegler: “This World Order is not only murderous: it is absurd.” decorGenes have no race. decorIndictment of Three Anti-Semitic Policemen. decorFollowing the Traces of Racism: “Slavery and the slave trade were midwives to the birth of capitalism.”
Culture

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Link to the original French version

by Open Forum: Claude Mazauric, historian. — Translation by Pedro

The role of historians is not the validation of social values

Translated Sunday 15 January 2006, by Pedro

There is no human community that isn’t organized around unifying symbols and founding values. Revolutions, either generalized or focalized, take place precisely when the system built from these values and symbols ends up rejected by the community that it unified. Communal memory, the recollection of a near past , or the remembrance of a distant, even mythical, past, contribute without a doubt to the moulding of collective identities, to the marking, for those depending on it, of the border between the sacred and the profane, the legal and the illegal, the reprehensible and the acceptable. It is to the representative organisms of these living communities, even more so when these organisms are held to be democratic, that falls the responsibility to shape and give authority to the expression of these values, beliefs or community symbols, and, at the same time, to be accountable before their constituents for any failure.

History, as a means towards knowledge, has no other purpose than to establish the truth of past events by repositioning them in the network in which the historian finds them and to give them at least clarity, if not an explanation. That is why history is, indissolubly, establishment of facts and interpretation of recontextualised movement of which facts, in their singularity, are the materialisation. Among those who make a living of writing and teaching history, there is a consensual minimum on which they agree without too much difficulty: refusing to submit to religious, political or moral precepts, recognizing that the product of their work is identical to neither the practice nor the “duty” of memory, neither to a legal purpose, nor evidently to a naturally intangible dogma. Society and the State, at least in France, seem to share this point of view. Which is a good thing!

However, recognition of this consensual minimum doesn’t exhaust the subject because temptation is too great, in all human communities, numerous as nations or States, less numerous like associations or groupings, to try and turn historians into “experts” whose opinion would allow to be presented as “facts” judgments and interpretations that are biased or useful to unstated ends. Sometimes, historians offer themselves to this work of expertise. Haven’t we already seen some of them improvise themselves “experts” at the request of powerful communities, such as Catholic Church when it faced the damaging consequences of "L’affaire Touvier"? As I see it, the worst possible outcome to the current debates would be that, under the well understandable pretext of having historians or public leaders’ intellectual or “scientific” dominion validated, the idea germinates and becomes official, to form a sort of “historians association” called upon to establish the truths of history - as does the medical association when it decrees on the legality of medical practice.

If public authority, or its political representation, finds it necessary to say where, when, and to what degree a “crime against humanity” begins, thus opening up the possibility of rightful restoration, or defines its criminal apology, let that authority then decide and publicly and politically answer for its decision. As citizens, historians evidently will not escape common law, but, as investigators and teachers, they must be granted simultaneously the liberty to deepen their knowledge of set “facts” and to interpret them. The “Loi Gayssot”, for example, has departed from this obligation no less than did the one related to colonial slavery. This was not the case of the law of the 23rd of February, which not only calls to memory a “fact”, the one of “colonisation”, but abusively imposes a “positive” consideration of the latter, a coercion that in itself precisely reflects a colonialist position.


Follow site activity RSS 2.0 | Site Map | Translators’ zone | SPIP