"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Inventing a Russian Past

The great historian Robert Taft, in many places, has talked about the uses and abuses of the past, noting that few people read the past on its own terms, but instead plunder it for present felt purposes--or invent a past that never was, again for present purposes. (As he's said, he's often tempted to write a book "Inventing Eastern Orthodoxy," one chapter of which would be "inventing Eastern liturgy." See, inter alia, his "Eastern Presuppositions and Western Liturgical Renewal" in Antiphon 5 [2000].) The past is very convenient to justify a new course of action in the present on which one has already decided, and history is therefore often subject to all kinds of tendentious abuse today--the Crusades being a prime example of this. Margaret Macmillan has recently denounced these abuses of history and historiography in her Dangerous Games: the Uses and Abuses of History (Modern Library, 2010), 208pp. 

Brill has just alerted me to a new book they are publishing on these themes:

Cynthia Hyla Whittaker, Visualizing Russia: Fedor Solntsev and Crafting a National Past (Brill, 2010), 184pp.

This approach to history is increasingly common today. The Wolff book on Galicia, noted yesterday, is one species. I have seen many others about Armenian, Turkish, Ukrainian, and other histories.

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