Year Two: ‘Thus, History!’ Had a Birthday

Candles spelling out Happy Birthday

Here’s a meta-post not about history, but about the blog which I use to share some of my thoughts on it. Thus, History!, the place where you are reading these very lines, quietly turned one year old on March 1, 2017. There was no birthday cake.

The blog grew out of a need to share thoughts and comments on historical and current events – and the connections between them – without the delays or restraints that editors or deadlines impose. Academics, like other writers, have a love-hate relationship with deadlines. Science-fiction icon Douglas Adams had this to say about them:

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

Adams is most certainly not alone in having conflicted feelings about deadlines. Personal blogs have no deadlines. This was the appeal of having one. They respond to only what the author wants, when the author wants it. Initially, I had set myself the task to put together longer-form posts here. One per month, typically toward the middle. A self-imposed deadline. It didn’t last long. The blog did not want to be planned. I am proud of some of these early posts. But they were not all this blog could, or wanted to be.

By the middle of the year, the blog became more and more what it is likely going to continue to be: a place where I can put thoughts that grow out of my research but that often relate to current events. Quite a lot has happened this past year to which I wanted to, needed to respond. There was the shock of Brexit. There was the death of Alvin Toffler, who figures prominently in my current research project. There was the election of Donald Trump.

As a European historian with training in American Studies, these things had an effect on me. I therefore had things to say about them. Sometimes, the needs of the present moment became painfully obvious. A few of the articles I wrote were outdated only hours or days later. Facts had changed around them. History that is farther in the depths of the past tends not to be so short-lived. I am used to writing such history. The blog is a reminder, however, that history is always happening around us, and sometimes at a dizzying clip.

Future generations will be able to contextualize the events of today and relate them to decades ago and decades on. We are, as historians and as humans, always standortgebunden, tied to our own time and place. We do not yet have the wherewithal to be able to say much about very recent events because context in the form of sources and in the form of others’ work on the period will only emerge in the future. Likewise, we cannot know the future that these recent events will help create.

What’s in store for the future of this project is also unknowable. I do have some plans and hopes, however. In general, I want to keep this site like it is. I aim to update it more frequently, perhaps writing shorter pieces. I also want to collaborate with others. I would like to have other historians, social scientists, and others interested in the nexus of the past, the present, and the future write here. But, and that’s an important caveat, only if the material fits. If it is a point of view perhaps not represented on this site but still touching on issues I discuss here. I will not force this. It may or may not happen soon, or at all. Either way, I would like to leave open the possibility.

I am looking forward to another year, and hopefully many more after that. And I am looking forward to being able to look backward at some point, to see what this became. Happy Birthday, ‘Thus, History!’

Photo credit: Annie Spratt (CC0)

Torsten Kathke
Torsten Kathke is a historian specializing in the United States and Germany during the 19th and 20th centuries. His book "Wires That Bind: Nation, Region, and Technology in the Southwestern United States, 1854–1920" is available from Transcript publishers in Europe, and from Columbia University Press elsewhere. Torsten earned his doctorate in American Cultural History from Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany in 2013. He subsequently worked at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC and at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. He is a lecturer in American Studies at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz.

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