From the Letters to the Editor column of the September 2012 issue of Perspectives on History

Loving and History

Catherine Allgor, September 2012

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To the Editor:

It is not often that one sees the word "love" in a Perspectives article. William Cronon's discussion of love and history did not disappoint. Just to add to his suggestion that there are "two... competing orientations" we can use with our students when we approach history, I would like to share my dynamic when talking about people of the past. To students or biographers, I hazard that the historian must hold two diametrically opposite ideas. The first is that our subjects are in some way fundamentally like us, essentially human. Following John Demos, I suggest that the realm of emotions forms that common ground. The second is that they are like aliens from outer space, on some level, completely unknowable. This second notion, I find, is important in American history, especially the history of the founders, when our subjects are only generations away and we can visit their houses and see their possessions. The trick, of course, is to hold these two ideas at the same time.

—Catherine Allgor
University of California, Riverside