August 31 – meaning of the past

meaning of the past
understanding memory
listen, carefully

Today’s Haiku is cribbed from reporter/author Tony Horwitz in a round about way.

It resonates for me back to college, when I had a class titled, “The Revolution Through the Documents.”

The point of the class was to learn how to use historical 1st person reports and letters to understand historical events.

The class was designed to take advantage of the amazing archives at the William Clements Library on the campus of the University of Michigan.

The class had 7 other students beside me.

The Professor was wonderful.

He introduced this small group of cocky 20-something year olds to the world of historical research.

He had three rules.

  1. Take the reader by the hand. You are the expert. Do not expect the reader to know what you know.
  2. Avoid a sense of present-mindedness. Do not assume that the people in the documents knew what you now know or had access to the information you now have. For example, in 1776 there wasn’t one decent map available that could come close to a throw away map of the eastern United States that you get free at a gas station.
  3. Compassion.

The philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’.

I hesitate to quote someone like George Santayana because I have not read anything by him but this quote.

Churchill changed to the quote to the more remembered, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

Today, it is in fashion to condemn the past in an overwhelming sense of present-mindedness, then to try and learn from it.


Compassion is one of the great words, greater concepts and the greatest personal quality that has been abandoned in this century.

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