[EAS]History's Ups and Downs

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Feb 24 16:15:18 EST 2003

Subject:   History's Ups and Downs

(from NewsScan Daily, 24 February 2003)

      In her book "Practicing History," the historian Barbara
Tuchman wrote:
      "Ours is not a time of self-esteem or self-confidence -- as
was, for  instance, the nineteenth century, when self-esteem may be
seen oozing from  its portraits. Victorians, especially the men,
pictured themselves as  erect, noble and splendidly handsome. Our
self-image looks more like Woody  Allen or a character from Samuel
Beckett. Amid a mass of worldwide troubles  and a poor record for
the twentieth century, we see our species -- with  cause -- as
functioning very badly, as blunderers when not knaves, as  violent,
ignoble, corrupt, inept, incapable of mastering the forces that 
threaten us, weakly subject to our worst instincts; in short,
      "The catalogue is familiar and valid, but it is growing
tiresome. A  study of history reminds one that mankind has its ups
and downs and during  the ups has accomplished many brave and
beautiful things, exerted  stupendous endeavors, explored and
conquered oceans and wilderness,  achieved marvels of beauty in the
creative arts and marvels of science and  social progress; has loved
liberty with a passion that throughout history  has led men to fight
and die for it over and over again; has pursued  knowledge,
exercised reason, enjoyed laughter and pleasures, played games  with
zest, shown courage, heroism, altruism, honor, and decency; 
experienced love; known comfort, contentment, and occasionally
happiness.  All these qualities have been part of human experience,
and if they have  not had as important notice as the negatives nor
exerted as wide and  persistent as influence as the evils as we do,
they nevertheless deserve  attention, for they are currently all but
See http://shorl.com/jelepryprifotre for Barbara Tuchman's "Practicing 
History: Selected Essays" (Ballantine, 1991, ISBN 0345303636) -- or look 
for in your favorite library. (We donate all revenue from our book 
recommendations to literacy action programs.)

Indeed, our catalog of heroes is strangely decimated these days, and
Woody Allen-esque diffidence seems a common survival trait. From
such times it may be hard to resurrect a sense of heroism and honor
without concomitant hubris, because values like courage with humility
have atrophied.  --PJK

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