Mark Malvasi on the task of the historian

By its very nature the study of history is frequently an antidote to nationalism and a threat to the politics of national identity. Historians seek to learn as much of the truth about the past as the evidence will disclose and support. Alternately, as John Lukacs has suggested, they aspire at least to eliminate as many untruths as possible. Nationalism and its variants, on the contrary, are predicated on omissions, distortions, anachronisms, myths, and, in extreme instances, lies. The distinction between truth and falsehood, however, is not ideological. Exposing, criticizing, and discrediting historical fictions and misrepresentations has always been one of the most important ways in which historian fulfilled their obligations to the rest of society, independent of their own passions, sympathies, and convictions.

Historians must be especially vigilant in the performance of this duty, for the interpretation of history is itself susceptible to ideological abuse. There are today numerous peoples throughout the world who contort the past in an effort to define themselves, to legitimate the policies or territorial ambitions of their governments, or to justify the killing of their enemies. Historians, though, did not come into the world to provide ammunition or solace to Americans or Russians, Serbs or Croats, Arabs or Jews, any more than they did to comfort whites, blacks, workers, women, or homosexuals. The task of historians is to quest after the truth, not only about ideas they hate and peoples they despise but about ideas they cherish and peoples they love.

–Mark Malvasi, ‘Crisis & Decline: The Twentieth Century

As an historian (a rather unaccomplished one, to be sure) in the sensitive and volatile Middle East, I thought this quote was excellent.

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Author: duanemiller

I was born in Montana and grew up in Colorado and Puebla (in Mexico). I completed a BA in philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and then an MA in theology at St Mary's University (also in San Antonio). Later life took me to Jordan where my wife and I studied Arabic, to Israel where I helped found a seminary, and to Scotland for doctoral work, among other places. I live in Madrid now where I teach and minister. I'm highly interested in the interactions of Islam, Christianity and secularism in modern contexts. My main areas of research for my PhD in divinity were religious conversion from Islam to Christianity, contextual theology, and the shari'a's treatment of apostates. I've also published research on global Anglicanism and the history of Anglican mission in the Ottoman Empire. I've had the pleasure of teaching in many places over the years: from Costa Rica to Turkey, and Kenya to Tunisia. I am at-large lecturer and researcher in Muslim-Christian relations at The Christian Institute of Islamic Studies (www.tciis.org), and deacon at the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer in Madrid, Spain. Visit my blog (duanemiller.wordpress.com) or academia.edu page for more information or to have me speak at your church, university or seminary.

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