07 May, 2021

History As Entertainment

The most interesting country in the world has produced historians who are earnest, historians who are studious, historians who are dull. Let's get beyond their petty battles, to present history not as ideology, but as fun.

Raghu Rai/Magnum
History As Entertainment

To study the past as it was is also to speculate about the past as it might have been. What if Hitler had successfully invaded Britain in 1940? Would German now have been the language of international commerce? What if Lenin had died on the train that took him back to his homeland in 1917? Would Russia now be a constitutional monarchy on the British model? And, closer home, consider these intriguing questions: what if Mohammed Ali Jinnah had died in 1958 instead of 1948? Would Pakistan then be as solidly established a democracy as India? And what if General Yahya Khan had allowed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to take office as prime minister of Pakistan in 1970, to honour the popular mandate in his favour? Would there yet have been a Bangladesh?

For generations, professional historians were trained to rigorously eschew questions such as these. The founder of modern historiography, the 19th-century German scholar Leopold von Ranke, dismissed the idea that history "ought to judge the past and instruct the contemporary world as to the future". The historian’s job was...

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