After the last class’ discussions there were some really great points to take away. The concept most interesting for me was the idea of how things are remembered. It appears more clearly from the lecture and discussion that history has a very large part in supporting ideas whether or not they be good or correct. Using history as some sort of propaganda will, as was seen, lead to some kind of distortion whether it be generalizations or misinterpreted facts. One example that Dr. Evans brought up was how some German people think about a “German Culture” when, in fact, there were times in German history were this culture was very different and diverse -not how they see it as being today. There are many other examples of this that can come up as well including the concept of “Making America Great Again.” There is more to the discussion than just whether one even thinks America is already great but if it ever was (“again”) or what made it great to begin with? Are the “great” factors of the “old” America exaggerated in the memory of American people?
Another topic that was discussed in our group is the use of words such as “fascism.” Often what is labeled “fascism” is not actually something that can be classified as that but rather populism. Labeling things or putting them “in a box” are not ways of fulling understanding what is happening. If everyone goes around calling people fascist, what do the real fascists become? Again a good critical analysis of history can help with this problem because people can then see the different types of fascist regimes that existed like the classic examples of Germany and Italy and then apply that knowledge.
In today’s session we talked about our perception of the Middle Ages and its place in history. We recognised, through the help of guest speaker Marc Saurette, that the Middle Ages is either romanticised in literature and art, or it is referred to as a Dark Age, during which nothing good managed to occurr. Marc drew up a number of interesting comparative propaganda posters from different totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, each of which used the crusades or medieval times as a beacon of inspiration. This is something that I had not come across previously, so I found it particularly interesting.
In our group discussion, we started by discussing the clear continuity that exists between the Middle Ages and the modern era. This is rarely drawn upon but clearly evident. There existed equal problems of inequality and religious persecution that occur today, which is often overlooked when historians reflect on this period as a whole. However, white supremacy did not mean harmony; there were numerous other problems that destabilised society, unbalancing this idealised perception of the period. From here, we discussed the role of nostalgia in creating this skewed interpretation of the Middle Ages. We concluded that countries try to selectively forget history that portrays them in a negative light in order to see themselves as superior to other troubled countries.
At this point we turned to look at the impact of nationhood and tradition on our society. People forget that tradition and Nation-hood was created only in the 19th century, at a time when most countries consisted a numerous different cultures and even languages. Today, those rejecting immigrants argue that they are disrupting there traditions and culture. However, it is a modern idea to believe that traditions stay the same and one nation should speak the same language. This was not the case in medieval times nor in the early modern period. This highlights how people idealise the past to legitimise the past, often incorrectly.
Lastly, what I found most interesting was our discussion on Federico Finchelstein’s idea, that Populism and Fascism should not be defined or confined to any parameters in the modern age. Parties or people often use both words as a weapon to denounce the opposition, rather to portray any substantiative meaning. One should be more hesitant when using such divisive words, as through such blasphemy we lose the meaning and relevance of phrases that have had a place in history.
The introduction from the textbook From Populism to fascism in History provides an insight into the history of populism and fascism and where the terms come from. One of the arguments that intrigued me most was how people from the media to pundits and to politicians misuse the terms when labeling politicians, they do not agree with. The reading proposes that they do not know the historical context of these words which provides a danger in throwing them around when describing a right-wing politician whose ideological stripe does not align with them. One can find many blogs and articles that describe former Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a fascist. This hyperbole used to describe a democratically elected politician is damaging because it likens him to real fascists such as Mussolini and Hitler. When describing moderate politicians as fascist one downplays the actual atrocities that are committed under ultraviolent regimes. Do pundits really believe far-right politicians are fascists or do they use the terminology for shock and awe to improve their audience base?
The reading from Amy Kaufman titled The Birth of a National Disgrace: Medievalism and the KKK discusses how the myth of medieval times that was constructed of a white male patriarchy affirms the roots of the ideology of the KKK and other white nationalist movements. The myth of medieval chivalry is nothing but a form of blinders similar to those used by race forces to enforce the ideas of weak minded individuals to justify their actions. If the white-nationalists would take a step back from their narrative of protecting white virtue they would realize how far behind their rationales are. These people are trying to turn their America into a utopian Camelot by closing their minds to what is going on around them and not realizing that they are on the wrong side of the coin. The movement of white nationalism reared its head during the Trump campaign but does it have the strength to continue on to 2020?
At the core of the articles assigned this week is an attempt to explain and better understand the current political climate and “rise” of the alt-right and white supremacy. In the article Birth of a Nation by Amy Kaufman, the history of the KKK and the embrace of medievalism allows for insight into the psyche of the modern white supremacist. Current events, such as the election of Trump and the embrace of his campaign “Make America Great Again”, have been labelled as anomalies in American history, but this is simply not true. As demonstrated with the rise – and fall – and rise again of the KKK, progress and racial equality in the United States has not been an “unbroken upward trajectory,” but rather a slippery slope along which small progress has been made.
Political nationalism, as outlined in chapter one of The Myth of Nations by Patrick Geary, has further strained relationships between groups of peoples by stressing their differences instead of their similarities. It has allowed for politicians to take advantage of historical grievances and use them as tools to create solidarity amongst people of a certain geographical area against a common enemy. As we have seen in North Korea, many of the devoted followers to the oppressive regime are united by their distrust of Americans after their role in the Korean War. Another example, though there are many throughout history, would be the Germans who were united under Hitler by their beliefs about Jews and the importance and superiority of the Aryan Race. Despite the hardships they may face underneath the rule of their often-authoritarian leaders, many will suffer through it for the perceived benefits of their people and their nation. Large numbers voted for Trump not necessarily because they liked him, but because they believed he would save their country and right past wrongs (in other words, “Make America Great Again”). The end justifies the means, even if people suffer along the way; the common humanity between groups has been dissolved during this pursuit of greatness.
It could be argued that Trump is a consequence of the Obama administration: just as white supremacists were fearful of not being at the top of the “hierarchal ladder” after the Civil War, white supremacists were currently terrified of losing their dominance after two consecutive terms of an (arguably successful and well-liked) black president. It seems that many alt-right view the Trump-era as a necessity in order to protect their beliefs and to restore “order”. Many cry that there has been an assault on their country through the establishment of programs like Obama-care and the acceptance of refugees from countries that are not predominantly white. Just as there were perceived injustices then, like the supposed rape of white women by freed slaves, there are perceived injustices now. Terrible inaccuracies such as an increase in crime after accepting Syrian refugees and claims that Mexicans and “illegals” are stealing jobs from Americans have allowed fear to grip a large section of the population. This, in my opinion, highly motivates the actions and beliefs of many of these alt-righters and has fostered animosity and hatred, while also allowing those who already had bigoted opinions to feel more lax and comfortable about expressing those opinions. In the United States we have seen the rise of groups such as the Three Percenters, who claim to have their roots in the American Revolution and similar groups in Europe. Yet, even in Canada we have seen our own rise in arguably alt-right groups, like the Sons of Odin – we cannot state that this is simply an American and European phenomenon.
At the root of the issue is the inclination to categorize based on the things that divide us, instead of the things that unite us. This must be addressed before we can see any permanent and substantial changes. The question is how do we go about changing something that is all most people have ever known?
At issue this week, is the discussion of how ideas about the medieval period have been incorporated into popular discourse. There are two main ideas that are relevant from this week’s readings. The first is the borrowing of chivalric values from the middle ages and the problems that lie with this. The second is the idea of the constructed nation, and how the use of texts and ideas from the middle ages help in the construction of these groups.
It is important to consider how ideas of chivalry affected the actions and ideas of groups, such as the KKK, as mentioned in Amy Kaufman’s article. She discusses the idea that these ideas are appropriated in order to make the members of these organizations feel more secure because they are looking back and dreaming of the patriarchal society of the Middle Ages. However, it is important to look at how these ideas have been taken out of context, warped and applied in ways that are not in keeping with historical fact.
This leads to one of the other main themes that I saw in these readings – the construction of groups (as nations, or social groups) based on “facts.” It is clear from what Patrick Geary says in both his article and podcast that these ideas are constructed to suit certain groups, and by extension disadvantage others. If we understand these histories as being constructed we must ask ourselves: who is telling this story, and to what end? It seems to me that the ultimate goal of these narratives is control and to assert that control by creating an identity.
I am an english exchange student from the reading History and Latin at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I arrived at Carleton University in September 2017 to complete one year away from Edinburgh to broaden my intellectual sphere and to do as much travelling as possible.
I am an avid sports player and fan. I came to Canada mainly to snowboard wherever possible.
I am originally from Bath in the south-west of England. This is where I established my love for the Latin language as it is an incredibly beautiful Roman city, built on a hot spring, making it a Roman bathing town. From this, I also developed a love of history, but focussed more on recent history. I particularly enjoy studying 19th and 20th century European history, up to present. There are such a wide array of sources on so many mediums available now that did not exist in earlier centuries. This gives an incredibly broad scope for discussion and analysis, which can become limited and dominated by assumptions. Within this timeframe, my preoccupation has been with political and economic history in Germany and the US. I find the creation of new nations and national identity extremely intriguing.
The element that drew me to this course the most was the analysis of articles from present newspapers and journals. I think it is very important to engage with current affairs in order to understand the discipline of history. This is incredibly interesting time in politics, with Trump as President of the US and the Catalonia dispute, and in history for the future, with current the nuclear crisis. I look forward to discussing these issues with similar like minded people in the class and working together to understand such complex issues.