Friday, 28 February 2014

Re-thinking History - Keith Jenkins

This book was recommended to me by my tutor in his feedback for assignment 4 - the critical essay. It has been a fascinating read. The author reminds us that 'the past' and 'history' are different things. He wants the reader to see history:

"as a 'Field of Force'; a series of ways of organising the past by and for interested parties which always comes from somewhere and for some purpose and which, in their direction, would like to carry you with them." Jenkins, (1991).

In other words history is just an interpretation of the past by someone (usually historians) who, despite their attempts to remain objective, will be unable to set aside all sorts of political, cultural, and emotional baggage. This baggage will affect the way that they review and interpret facts about the past. Ultimately there is no one 'true' objective history - just lots of people/cultures constructing their own histories for their own reasons at different times. In most cultures there is also usually one 'dominant history' that interested parties attempt to place as the 'natural' history of a people/society and one that will squash all other attempts to assert smaller, more 'marginalised histories'. The reasons for this are usually political and in an attempt to retain power.

I'm reminded of that saying by Winston Churchill, 'History is written by the Victors.' I'm also reminded how easily our nation forgets that before WWII there was a significant anti-Jewish sentiment in the country and that national newspapers like the Daily Mail openly advocated Fascism. Now that we are on the other side of the war those unpalatable views are subsumed into the national consciousness and forgotten about. I wonder how the interested parties at that time went about using history to legitimise their own views.

From a more current perspective the book is very relevant to my essay on gender representation. My essay deals with the attempt by women photographers to write their own feminist history and assert themselves in a patriarchal society. I've made quite a few notes from this book to make some changes to my essay.


Jenkins, K. (2003) Re-Thinking History. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge Classics. 

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