Professor Jeremy Popkin spoke about the Haitian Revolution, something I had never heard about before this talk. Throughout my schooling, I have studied the American Revolution at different times and at varying intensities. I have studied the French Revolution, though in less detail. I find history to be intriguing, but I left this talk with a feeling of uncertainty and an intense curiosity. If I had been sheltered throughout my education, being it 12 years since I entered 1st grade, and only now hearing about a successful, important revolution. If I had not heard about the largest slave rebellion in world history, a 12-year revolution in which the underdogs came out on top, then what else have I not been introduced to? I am not well-versed in history, but I left this talk not only feeling like I haven’t learned enough, but also questioning if what I had learned about anything was the whole story.
Deeper than this idea of how history is taught through a Eurocentric and white lens in American schools, Popkin also hit on the idea that the writers of history are the ones who frame it for all generations to come. This is a frightening reality. The thought that any historical fact could have been altered by the person who documented it is hard to grasp. Primary sources have been translated time and time again. Something as simple as a different interpretation could affect how significant an event was in a given context, and also how that event impacts ideologies of today. A large-scale game of telephone can have interesting and potentially devastating effects on the future. Some events are set in stone and well-documented, but any historical account must be analyzed through many different lenses. Even after looking at all of the facts; biographical information about the writer, historical context and cultural context, etc. there is still a great deal of assumptions. Who really knows what mindset of the writer was on that day or what their personal views are? How can one tell how willing the writer was to impose their interpretation on the facts? These are important questions and favor a holistic and detailed approach to studying history. I’m sure many others feel this way, but this is the first time that I’ve really spent time reflecting on my personal history of studying history. I felt a certain passion that I hadn’t before.
So, if Professor Popkin’s exigence in delivering this talk was to inspire listeners to question history and look deeper than what is being spoon-fed, then he succeeded. Any time that I have to analyze a historical event, I will make sure to approach it from unique and varied angles. I will look into sources that counter each other and investigate why they might be in opposition. And just as the Haitian Revolution was not spoon-fed to me, I want to learn more about the history that hasn’t directly impacted my peaceful life in America. I want to learn about the failures, noting where civilizations have failed, but also about the successes and the positive parts of human history. Why not spend time looking at how people worked together and fought for what was right and succeeded? I hope to improve my knowledge of history, I hope to attain a more holistic and unfiltered knowledge.