History shows us that there is no one true history. No matter who researches it, there is an unavoidable bias in every investigatory effort because no one can truly capture the entirety of a historical event with the written word. History can be improved however. With every return to a historical era, there are new perspectives added. The most basic form of history we can as is that which tells the story of the transition of nationalities and state boundaries, wars and treaties. This is often supplemented with background information of the political leaders and revolutionaries that inspire these events. This is not the complete picture. History must account for the experiences of the common men, women and children through a certain time in history. We can learn just as much from the politicians as we can from the behavior of the masses.
This brings us to one issue discussed in our Tuesday night revolutionaries talk: the separation of memory from history. Memory is obviously a major constituent of our historical understanding of human civilization, but there are some cases where memory has blurred the true events. For Americans and Europeans, we are lucky to have well documented histories of our revolutions, giving us first hand accounts of the Battle of Lexington, or the Oath of Tennis Court, or the Storming of the Bastille. In the case of the Haitian Revolution, we have a nearly entirely undocumented revolution that was led by black slaves against their white owners. Since many of the revolutionaries were illiterate, there are more emotionally charged accounts of the Haitian Revolution and key events such as Bois Caiman in 1791 rather than less emotionally written documents. For this reason the origin of the slave uprising is obscure. All we know is that we have falsely linked the Haitian Revolution with the French and American Revolutions, bundling them all together as the “Age of Revolutions”.
This exemplifies another problem with history. Not only do we fail to find the proper balance between memory and history, but we are too quick to draw conclusions or neglect a piece of history that is significant to many. In an increasingly multi-cultural world, there is greater need to approach history from a broader perspective. History should be somewhat of a source of identity for people. In this sense, how can we understand each other and ourselves in a multicultural society if people are not taught about the origins of their own people? While the Haitian Revolution is one mere example, there are countless shortcomings of the American schools’ history curriculum that limits our society’s understanding of racial, cultural and national identity. At the end of the day, there is only so much you can teach a young student and there is only so much time you have to teach history on top of other significant courses to a child’s development. The fact that the majority of people do not have an understanding of the true nature of the Haitian Revolution leads me to believe that we need to take another look at our nation’s history curriculum.