Monday, January 9, 2012

History or Political Correctness?

Let me state up-front that I'm not a fan of PC--rather, I believe in mutual courtesy and respect between all human beings. That said, an article in the local paper caught my eye this morning:


Here is a link to the article in another paper I found online. Credit for the article goes to the author Mary Foster of the Associated Press. I'm glad to see the information getting a public forum. 

History is made up of facts which should be checked and rechecked closely for verification. We've all seen errors in books and articles--and we've seen writers insert their own political slant into history. It's a slippery slope. Several people quoted in this article seem to allude to a feeling that southern Civil War museums are viewed by many as inherently racist and that the displays and information provided should be more diverse.

I'm not opposed to as much information as I can get--on every facet of the war which threatened to end this country as it was established after the American Revolution. There will always be differing views on the real reason it was fought, the motivation behind the atrocities on both sides, and what it did or did not accomplish. 

Expanding exhibits to include information on everything and everyone involved in this great conflict can only be a good thing. But, I repeat, it's a slippery slope  As Joe Friday used to say in Dragnet, "Just the facts, ma'am." Historians can go too far and basically reinterpret history until it is unrecognizable. Each time I view a documentary or read a (non-ficition) book, I get a new look at old ideas. It's food for thought. Tunnel vision is dangerous--the big picture is what counts. 

I have an M.A. in history, so when I write books with a historical/vintage setting, I work hard to get the facts right. Maybe no one will notice an error, but then again, maybe they will. I'll know it's there. Obviously, an author's feelings are projected onto her characters; if said characters are believable, okay, but one has to be careful.

I remember my aunt calling the books of one of my favorite authors when I was growing up "too sweety-sweet". That's how she saw them. I see many things today as "too darned PC". (And btw, I'm a southern girl, Texas born and bred, but I'm probably as critical of the South's responsibility for the conflict as of the North's responsibility for it.)

Joe Friday had the right idea--"Just the facts, ma'am."


Here's an additional resource for any of you out there who write about the Civil War era--a terrific 3-disc documentary "Civil Warriors" from National Geographic.


Kathy Otten said...

Loved your perspective on this issue. In some respects it's easier for me to get the facts straight than it is to present a story that expresses the mind-set of the people of that era while appealing to a modern audience.

Judy said...

Yes, our characters don't always think factually--so striking a balance is difficult. I often struggle with that problem.

K9friend said...

Good points, Judy. We do need to be true to the era, unless, I suppose it's one of those "alternate universe" type stories!

Critter Alley

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Judy,
I hate seeing history "sanitised" Tell it as it was is my motto. There is no way to compare the attitudes etc of people living a hundred years ago to how people of today perceive things.I don't think we should even try. Personally speaking, these days, many museums have tried to please everyone, tried to be politically correct, and in doing so have alienated visitors and to put it bluntly have ruined their museum. Besides who wants to go to three different museusm and find virtually the same stuff in each one? They do it here in Australia too.



Judy said...

Thanks for your insight, Margaret! Yes, the article I linked to seemed to indicate that changes were being made to "satisfy" everyone and get rid of "racist" perceptions. Nothing can ever bring everyone's perceptions in line with "political correctness"--and, as you said, it sanitizes history. Adding more factual information, on the other hand, can only be good.

Lelani Black said...

Oh my gosh, this is so fascinating. I got into a bit of a kerfluffle with someone online about the Japanese war/invasion of the Phillippines/pacific. She said "You can't re-write history." I stated, "Not everything (and certainly not always the truth) can be found in history books." Anyhoo, I cited information gleaned from my mother's experiences as a young girl in the PI, from my experiences living around Pearl Harbor and having talked to survivors of the period, as well as one elderly gentleman who was there when the Japanese planes flew in individuals to sign the instrument of surrender. History books are often written by the winners, or using facts that have been groomed, "sanitized" as Margaret notes. Many works of fiction reflect the tone, political correctness and/or generation it was written. I keep an open mind on new theories that emerge, or what someone may be trying to present to me as a fact. Can be very tricky--some individuals can charm and convince others to believe anything. That much I do know is true, lol. Good blog post :)

Judy said...

Thanks SO much for sharing your first-person experience, Lelani! My daughter-in-law's maternal g-mother was from the Philippines and was there during the war.