Book Review On “Who Owns History?” By Eric Foner
The book titled “Who Owns History?: Rethinking the Past in a Changing World” written by one of the renowned historians Eric Foner describes the impact of the interpretation of historical events on the observer. The author divided the book into three sections, namely “The Politics of History and Historians”, “Rethinking History in a Changing World” and “The Enduring Civil War” . He gives an account of his experiences as a child, as a student and as an instructor at Columbia. In the book, Eric explains how studying history has transformed his reflections on the subject. He also mentions about the history of globalization and emphasizes on the effect of global events on the consciousness of history. Eric also gives an account on the notion of American freedom and how the concept has seen several transformations through the years. He explains about how the Russians reshaped his thoughts on history while Eric was working in the Soviet Union as a historian.
The book gives details on the apartheid of South Africa and Eric’s retrospective look on his work with Richard Hofstadter, who was a premiere historian. The author elaborates on the significance of developing the common sense of the past in order to build the future of a country. He also discusses about the failure of socialism in the United States . Eric gives a brief account of the successful series of Civil War, which is a documentary presented by Ken Burns. He also critiques the director for the fatal errors presented in the documentary. He briefs about the mistreatment of blacks by both the Constitution of the United States as well as the Supreme Court in offering judgment to various cases . In the final section, the author emphasizes on the concept of American citizenship and its beginnings.
The book critically assesses the intersection of American history and the historians. The author also mentions about the speech, which he gave as the President of the American Historical Association. In the speech, Eric mentions that he urged his colleagues for examining the history of America in a global context . According to Eric, American history is a never-ending story, which should gain a wide recognition and become a common conversation across the world. The author’s views in the book encourage the readers to debunk the idea that history is a subject of irrelevance in the twenty-first century. The history of Russia and South Africa are thought-provoking, but at the same time feel a bit dated. There are various readers who find the books of history boring and uninteresting; however, this particular book never lets the readers feel bored about the content or context due to the efforts put in by the author.
After reading the book, I feel that the title of the book should have been “Why Don't we own the History anymore?” rather than “Who Owns History?” . For a greater part of the paper, Eric criticizes the Americans for showing no interest in history. In the book, Eric seems to argue about those who have interest in retaking the responsibility of history. He mentions that the prime objective of such historians should focus on social progress of the country instead of retreating the past. The author focuses on the decision of Supreme Court to withdraw support from minorities in cases related to employment discrimination. In the book, all the examples quoted by Eric seem to reveal the truth of the philosophy followed by the opponents. Eric considers the failure of communism, liberalism and socialism in the United States as the failure of the government in creating and sustaining a healthy economy in the country.
Since Eric has written the book in a clear prose, it is easy and understandable to everyone. Both academics as well as non-academics would find the book useful as it contains a great detail of knowledge. It helps the readers to distinguish from their past experiences of history as to how much was hype and how much was history. The author is clearly aware of his struggles and interests as narrow, which the readers do not show interest in sharing unless he uses jargons. The author’s account on why socialism is absent in America gives great details on the hard work Eric has done on the subject. One of the best parts of the book is that it creates new questions for the readers instead of answering the old questions. In the book, Eric questions on the future of socialism in Europe . The book falls in the category of books, which need a brief discussion after reading. Eric concludes by reminding the Reconstruction Period, and the events that took place after the Civil War, such as equality before law and the issues concerned with race. One of the major drawbacks of the book is that the author overcriticizes the historians for taking the responsibility of rewriting the history in various situations.
Eric Foner Remarks on History and Fiction. (2009). C-Span .
Foner, E. (2003). Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Grondahl, P. (2002, May 02). Books in Brief: 'Who Owns History?'. Retrieved Apr 10, 2015, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/05/books/review/_0505br-foner.html
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