From the Letters to the Editor column of the September 2012 issue of Perspectives on History
Loving and History
Catherine Allgor, September 2012
Editor's Note: Perspectives on History welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be e-mailed (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives on History, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters' contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.
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.
University of California, Riverside