That Imaginary Place

I just finished reading Margaret MacMillan’s excellent The Uses and Abuses of History. This book is concerned with the ways in which politicians and others try to wield history to serve their own ends. It’s a relatively quick read, but that’s one of its strengths. It operates almost as a manifesto calling professional historians to engage the public, lest ideologues be the ones to create the past. A sample:

“Yet when [historians] produce work that challenges deeply held beliefs and myths about the past, they are often accused of being elitist, nihilistic, or simply out of touch with that imaginary place, ‘the real world.'”

MacMillan tackles the usual suspects (despotic regimes of every stripe as well as those who see everything as Munich, 1938 ) as well as mild-mannered Canada. In particular she mentions the veterans’ groups are relentless in attempting to countering any assertion that the actions of Bomber Command and Sir Arthur Harris were tantamount to war crimes. If you’re interested in history (and really history, not nationalist mythmaking) then I’d recommend this book.