Historia Inmediata

Ataque a EE.UU

Dear Colleagues
It has been an excellent introduction to the way in which my Hispanic and Portuguese-speaking colleagues view recent events in the USA and now in the Middle East to read your comments on a daily basis and to compare them both to what appears in the American media and, of course, what is said locally here in New Zealand.  A South American perspective is most useful, especially to see how it works through perspectrives of its own history and that of a very different European colonial experience than the British one spoke of here.
I think that what is needed--and what will be very difficult to achieve on an institutional basis--are wholly new ways of seeing, evaluating and teaching history from now on because, what has happened in the last few weeks, as we all reel in horror and shock at the massiveness of the terrorist attacks and the enormity of the USA and US-led coalition's response to those attacks, is the real settling in of the changes that became apparent for the first time with the collapse of the old Soviet Empire, and that is, the end of the nation-state in the sense that it came into being during the 18th century.

For those of us who grew up virtually our whole lives within the ideological schemes of the Cold War, whether we agreed with its distribution of praise and blame, the end of the Cold War in 1989/90 seemed to suddenly throw us allback to the conditions of 1848 or even 1821, when the main lines of power distirbution in Europe and then the colonial division of the "new worlds" was formalized; but now it seems the big dichotomies between East and West are not to be replaced by something as simple as North and South, but something else.  There are efforts being made--on both sides in this current crisis--to make it seem a violent tension between Civilized/Terrorist states or Christian/Muslim civilizations.

I feel it is our task as historians to avoid simplistic categorizations, at the same time as we prepare to examine critically the way in which these new divisions are being constructed for political and religious/cultural reasons.  If we can  take the opportunity to climb up out of nineteenth-century historiography's racial and national (often confused with linguistic and "spiritual") divisions, we may start to understand better how the whole relatively brief period of national state conflicts arose--and by seeing what they came into being to replace, we may look into the other, mostly unnoticved forces that have developed out of that earlier reorientation of ideologies.  We not only have to see that colonialism was more than what one side imposed on another but what happened to everyone because of these new power relationships; we also have to see how ideas, institutions, and much more intimate relationships look like.  That means, I think, both a wider, deeper, virtually species-focused examination of our human history, and a new series of intense micro-histories of groups and areas too long masked by arbitrary lines drawn over the maps of the world.  This may be the time too when psychohistory, with its concern for the history of infant and domestic experiences, comes into its own, along with the history of mentalities--not just a history of intellectual ideas, iconography and institutionalized belief systems, but of deeper, more amorphous, and usually unconscious influences inside and between us all.

In other words, we need a real "paradigm shift", a serious effort to "think outside of the squares we were born into", a cooperative abnd cumulative effort to to study history, not a competitive race for honours and prestige for ourselves or our home institutions.  Instead of history coming to an end in 1989 with the destruction of the Berlin Wall, perhaps we may see that the crumbling of the World Trade Centre twin-towers has exposed acres and acres of territory we had all but forgotten existed.
But at the same time, I recognize that  my own anomalous position--with now three proclaimed reasons why millions of people want to kill me and my family, because I am an American, a Jew and an Israeli--as a longtime non-citizen resident of New Zealand, and without any British roots, let alone Maori connections, what  I am saying may be simply self-defensive and irrelvant to my colleagues who live and work "where they belong".

Norman Simms
University of Waikato
Hamilton, New Zealand
[email protected]