AHR Forum: Truth and Reconciliation in History

Historians in the News

The forum “Truth and Reconciliation in History” deals with a global experience that both calls history into question and calls upon the participation of historians. Especially since the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in 1995, after the ending of apartheid, several nations and groups have attempted to confront and possibly come to terms with their fractious and traumatic pasts. This forum offers three examples of how historians have played a role in these attempts. Elazar Barkan introduces the forum with his essay, “Historians and Historical Reconciliation,” in which he surveys the role historians have played “to promote reconciliation through collaborative work to produce a shared history.” The following three articles offer case studies of this process at work. The Polish-Jewish experience during World War II is examined by David Engel, in “On Reconciling the Histories of Two Chosen Peoples.” In “Truth in Telling: Reconciling Realities in the Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians,” Ronald Grigor Suny delves into initiatives by Turkish, Armenian and other scholars to reach some common understanding of the ethnic conflicts in the early part of the 20th century. And Charles Ingrao’s “Confronting Yugoslav Controversies: The Scholars Initiative” gives an account of the ongoing efforts of a whole range of scholars, both from the Balkans and outside that region, to fashion a single narrative of the crimes and misdeeds committed in the former Yugoslavia. The comment is by James Campbell whose essay, “Settling Accounts? An Americanist Perspective on Historical Reconciliation,” not only reflects on these three cases but also offers a commentary on the reconciliation process from the perspective of someone with experience in American attempts to deal with its own problematic past. As Barkan notes in his introductory essay, the participation of historians in these kinds of projects is one example of how scholarship, often assumed to be irrelevant to social problems, relegated to the ivory tower, can play a crucial role on the public stage.

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Ruel J. Eskelsen - 11/4/2009

We in the United States need to read and study the historiography of slavery, abolition, and the struggle for justice by women and many other groups who had to fight (and are currently fighting, e.g. GLBT citizens) for their rights. Part of that story is the good news of white males (normally representative of the oppressor group) acting as allies in the fight for justice.

The knowledge is out there in the historical literature, but I feel most in the U.S. do not know about it.

The good the bad and the ugly of history needs to be told to reveal the heroism and the horror that is the history of humanity.