HARVEY J. KAYE.
Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Social Change and Development
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, USA
RE: ROUNDTABLE SESSION
E.. The Historian and Power
However confident ruling classes may appear, they remain anxious about the political and social orders over which they preside. Because relations of Inequality, alienation, exploitation and oppression will forever continue to engender tensions and antagonisms, it remains imperative to persuade the ruled that the way things are is the way they ought to be, or, at least, the way they have to be.
Thus, ruling classes recruit and authorize intellectuals elites to control, shape or at least limit historical memory, consciousness and imagination. The Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci directed out, attention to such endeavors and their consequences in his theory of hegemony and consciousness.
Democratic historians - citizen-scholars - do not defer to the powerful and their priorities. They do not accept that the way things are is the way they ought to be, or the only way they can be. While they grasp the tragic and ironic character of human history, they do not believe that history has come to an end and that we have achieved the highest possible forms of liberty, equality and democracy.
Democratic historians subscribe to the scholarly ideals of the historical profession no less than any historian. Indeed, recognizing the ambitions of ruling classes, democratic historians commit themselves all the more to critical objectivity In favor of keeping the record straight against those who seek to suppress, obfuscate and/or manipulate the past. At the same time, they appreciate that critical objectivity does not demand neutrality, but rather - In order not to be taken in by the claims of the powerful - it regularly demands seeing things "from the bottom up".
Furthermore, though democratic historians do not aspire to power, they do seek to wield the "powers of the past: perspective, critique, consciousness, remembrance and imagination". They seek to cultivate the sense of history called for by "an historical, dialectical conception of the world which understands movement and change, which appreciates the sum of effort and sacrifice which the present has cost
the past and which the future is costing the present, and which conceives the contemporary world as a synthesis of the past, of all past generations which projects itself into the Future"