How does history lack emotional connection?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the question is a profound one.  On the most basic of levels, history can lack a certain emotional connection.  The standard telling of history, such as out of a textbook or in mere facts, does not discuss the emotional intelligence present in the historical narrative.  Rather, there is more of as focus on numbers, data, and overall political purpose.  There is not much in way of emotional connection because historians believe that this biases objectivity.  The traditional narrative of history is one in which subjectivity is sought to be overcome in the name of objectivity and seeking to render a dispassionate perspective of what happened.  In this light, emotions are viewed as agents of bias, coloring what happened into what one thinks or perceives to have happened.  For the historian, this moves into the realm of literature.  This distinct nature of disciplinarity in both content and process is why there is a lack of emotional connection within the historical dialectic.  Consider the writings of Denise Levertov in her approach to Vietnam to represent how vastly different the historian would view Levertov's embrace of emotions in the retelling of an event of history:

So I’ll use my dry burning eyes
to photograph with in me
dark sails of the river boats,
warm slant of afternoon light
apricot on the brown, swift, wide river,
village towers–church and pagoda–on the far shore,
and a boy and small bird both
perched, relaxed, on a quietly grazing

Peace within the
long war.

Levertov wishes to forge an emotional connection between the Vietnam War and her own experience.  The historian would argue that this is poetic, and not historically bound analysis because of its overwhelming presence of emotion that fails to properly understand what history is, but rather seeks to construct what individual perception of it is.  Through this, one can see where the challenge lies between historians and the lack of emotions potentially within it.


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