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Horrors of which we have not even a traditional knowledge
Reading: "Fighting over History", a review, by Keith Thomas, in the New York Review of Books, 3 December 2009, of What Was History?: The Art of History in Early Modern Europe, by Anthony Grafton.

I am not, of course, competent to write about writing about writing about writing history, but in this, as in all discussion of reasons for writing & reading history, I miss the one that seems most salient to me: to broaden my naive notions of the kind of thing that can happen. Orwell, in The Road to Wigan Pier, says "Presently there may be coming God knows what horrors---horrors of which, in this sheltered island, we have not even a traditional knowledge". That last clause always makes me catch my breath. We all live in islands that are sheltered from one thing or another. Wondering how & why we have been so lucky is probably the best antidote against dread, and seeing how much human beings have gone thru & gotten over may be helpful too.

Unfortunately, the advice to count our blessings is habitual among conservatives and is therefore in bad odor on the left. That is another reason to get out of the left--right box as much as we can.


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