Blogging from the Patio

This morning I began reading a collection of essays published 25 years ago – back list history for sure! I am not an historian, nor the daughter of historians, but I enjoy reading history. I also write about history professionally, though none of my academic degrees is in history. If you look over at my books page, you’ll see that all the published works with my name on them have to do with the intersection of history and biblical interpretation.
All that to say that I am reading Gertrude Himmelfarb’s book, The New History and the Old with interest. By Himmelfarb’s definition, old history is history from above, and new history is history from below. Canadian examples of old history would be books about confederation, and new history would be the CBC TV series “Canada: A People’s History.” I do new history, history concerned with biblical interpretation by women, not biblical interpretation done by recognized scholars or exegetes. Some of the women gained recognition for their work, but many did not. From Himmelfarb’s classification of old vs new history, it seems that any work which recovers lost ideas might be classified as new history. I could be mis-hearing her on this point, but it seems that history from above would be the history already remembered, and history from below would be more likely to be forgotten.
In the first pages of the first essay in this book, Himmelfarb described a project that a young scholar worked on – a social history of a small town in New England at the end of the eighteenth century. She asked him about the rather large event that occurred in the USA in the late eighteenth century. Apparently from his data, he couldn’t “get to” the American revolution. Himmelfarb thought that this might indicate a deficient methodology. Instead, I think it is legitimate to ask why this data does not allow one to “get to” the Revolutionary War. Does it mean that somehow in this particular town in New England the war had little impact? Does it mean that at the time people had no sense of the import of the events of the moment? Were the town leaders sympathetic to the British? Just because we now see the American revolution as an event of some significance does not mean it was so regarded at the time by everyone.
I am fewer than five pages in and already writing long responses, this book might take a while. Oh well, it is summer.

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