Why is it important to examine history from different perspectives/ points of view, knowing that we can't change history?

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Every account of history is from a human perspective. Even history textbooks, which are trying to be objective, show us what the writers value by what they include, what they leave out, and how they frame their historical accounts.

The particular benefit of first-person accounts of history—and the importance of fictional thought experiments like the novel Kindred—is in the subjective human perspective. In primary sources like letters, diaries, and oral histories, there is no pretending that one is capturing the whole story. It is a very specific story. But it is through the combining of many specific stories that we are able to see a clearer whole.

The importance of Kindred as historical fiction is in the way Dana is able to immerse herself in American history (and her history), and the reader's vicarious journey to the past through Dana. Not only does Dana consider the slavery of the antebellum South in the context of her present in the 1970s, we as readers consider both levels of the past in the context of our present. This is important because it shows us the ways society has changed and not changed, and gives us a context for the society we live in now. The racism of our present moment, and the 1970s racism that made Dana's and Kevin's families disapprove of their interracial marriage, are direct descendants of American slavery. Just as Dana can trace her personal roots back to Rufus and Alice's nonconsensual union, we can trace the roots of our 2018 America back to the massive impact of the institution of slavery.

To travel back in time as Dana did, and to form close relationships with both slave-owners and slaves, has the effect of humanizing the people of the past. Unlike the "objective" history books, which paint the people of the past as monoliths and therefore distance us further from them, first-person accounts remind us that people created, supported, allowed, resisted, and fought the institution of slavery. Kindred, as a fictional version of first-person accounts, not only gives us a clearer picture of the pain and humiliation that slaves faced, it also does the difficult work of showing slave-owners as complex and contradictory humans. Often history can dehumanize the "villains" in an attempt to show how far we've come, but it is incredibly important that we make the connection between ourselves and the people who caused or enabled suffering. Humans (flawed, complicated, and afraid as we are) are entirely capable of monstrosities like slavery, especially when it is the status quo, and the majority goes along with it. Studying history, and understanding what we are capable of, is an integral part of changing society for the better, now and in the future.

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If history was only composed of names, dates, and locations, there wouldn't be much need to examine history from multiple perspectives. The date and location of John F. Kennedy's assassination remains the same no matter what; however, history isn't only made up of cold hard facts. More often than not, historical accounts of events are stories that not only give us who, what, where, and when, but they also attempt to give us a why. This is where history can become "tainted" by perspective. Different people will interpret things like historical cause and effect differently. For example, students are taught about the American Civil War, but there are people that still refer to it as the "War of Northern Aggression." There are many parts of this war that are not up for interpretation. The sides that generals fought for and the dates of battles are the same regardless of Northern or Southern support; however, why the war was fought and what the cause of it was are adamantly defended from multiple perspectives; therefore, in order to obtain a full and robust picture of historical events, it's important to examine multiple perspectives. If a person doesn't examine various sides of history, he or she is only getting a partial picture of history. As to the last part of the question, no, we can't change history and the past; however, by studying it in more depth and detail, we can gain much greater knowledge and apply that knowledge to similar present and future events.

Octavia Butler explores this need for history to be examined from multiple perspectives in a very interesting way in the book Kindred. The protagonist of the story is Dana, and she is periodically transported to the antebellum South. The change in time is drastic and jarring for Dana because she is being transported from 1976. While race relations in the 70s were not perfect, the oppressive slave system is not something that she remembers. Her knowledge of the time period is not firsthand. It's more than likely based on what white historians have written about slavery. Even if it was a firsthand account of the slave system, the account could have been written by a plantation owner that believes he is doing right by his laborers. This would be the case if the history of the Weylin plantation was told by Rufus. Because of her time-traveling, Dana winds up with a very different perspective on this time period than what she has grown used to hearing about. She witnesses first-hand the sexism and racism that existed during this time period, and she sees what kind of man Rufus really was.

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That is a very good question. Imagine that you were reading a history of World War II as written by Adolf Hitler and that it is the only text available on the subject. What do you think your opinion of the war might be when you've finished? We need to be aware of all perspectives in order to find the truth of the matter. All sides contain a portion of the truth, but they also throw in their own perspectives, their own prejudices, their own propaganda.

The eNotes critical overview of the book Kindred notes that the author not only emphasizes "the power of those who are oppressed, it also reclaims history from the dominant culture." If all we knew about slavery in the United States came from white writers, we would not know that those slaves were real human beings. We would not know the many influences those African Americans had on society. We would not know ourselves.

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