Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Nation"-alized History

I don't know if this is appropriate for a group blog like this, but I would like to share my personal view and concern regarding history (or historical narratives) here. Since I am not a historian at this point, it might sound naive or just banal. Simply put, my concern is "why do nations have a monopoly on (authentic) history?" We learn 'national' history at school (even now we study "korean" history) but especially considering the fact that national identities were born quite recently in human history, the narrative chosen to be taught is not only far from 'natural' or 'authentic', but rather has strong and specific political implications. For states, there are hundreds of obvious reasons to teach 'nation'-alized history, but I feel very awkward when people see it as "the way it should be." Any history museum in any country has its own bias and narrative, and as in school education, national museums usually have nation-based political goals. Often the case when we see them, we consider the political conflict over history is going on between nations (such as among Koreans vs Japanese vs Chinese). Although they are fascinating in a sense, it is not entirely appropriate that we frame conflicts only in national terms. What about other identities? Gender? Class? Region? To me, the way we talk about history seems to be 'successfully' monopolized by national identities, which makes me feel very uncomfortable. (Ok, I have to admit that in political science I align myself with critical theorists, but I think I have the same tendency (or even stronger one) in history.)

Two books that I recently read and made me think about this issue more:
Ueno Chizuko, Naitonalism and Gender: She is a famous Japanese sociologist and feminist thinker. A big chunk of the book is dedicated to analyzing historiography of the "Comfort Women" issue and shows how national identities have been overriding gender identities.
Oguma Eiji, The Myth of the Homogeneous Nation (Japanese): A massive volume on Japan's modern intellectual history on the origin and changes of the "homogeneous nation" discourse. It shows how arbitrarily and easily nation-alized history is created and modified.

1 comment:

Sean said...

I think you make a valid point in that states are certainly the dominant players in writing history. However, I disagree that states possess a monopoly in this field - mainly for the sake of argument.

For example, in the U.S., there are portions of the nation that still refuse to call the war between 1861 and 1865 as the Civil War, but rather, the war of northern aggression, or something of that sort.

In the Korean context, regional bias in history seems quite strong. I never attended school in Korea, but it seems to me that residents of the Cheolla region seem to have a slightly different interpretation of history than residents of, say, the Kyeongi region.