This was made quite clear to me in a lengthy discussion a few weeks back with the son of one of my colleagues, called Luke. Luke was discussing British history in depth, making arguments about English nationalism, colonialism, and monarchical rule. I couldn't challenge any of his arguments, because I hardly knew any of the history he was covering. Luke is 10 years old.
Thus, it frustrates me even more – and would lead me to rant in detail if I knew any details too rant about – that there seems to be such shockingly little regard for history in the world around me of late. Two banal cases should suffice to capture my rather vexed state:
- The AP article from this morning's 'newspaper' (local Vancouver press), describing the proposal in Congress to do away with 'Birth Citizenship' for illegal immigrants. In true 'objective' fasion, the article tried to present 'both sides' to this issue, but failed to mention in any place that coming to America so that your kids will be American is nothing new but rather has a long and interesting history. Some might even argue that knowledge of that history shows us that this practice is quintessentially American - part of the very fibre and fabric of the country.
- The vast commentary on Brokeback Mountain. Almost no one among the cacophony of voices seems to understand that the movie is set in the early 1960s, in Wyoming. Stonewall is 1969 folks! These guys aren't gay, because 'gay identity' does not yet exist in the world. They cannot act and talk and think and make choices the way we might wish them to in 2005 (that is, if 'we' live in so-called blue states), because there simply is no subject position available to them in which they might express a so-called gay identity. And that's not the same as saying their 'true nature' is closeted, repressed, or whatever else, because in the time and place and context that these two grew up, they had no gay identity to express. This isn't medieval European history, it's just a few decades ago, but it's history nonetheless.