According to History: A Very Short Introduction, what role can a historian play in the United States in the twenty-first century?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The role of the historian is a complex one in the modern setting. One aspect of their role is to forge connections between the past and modern times.  The idea here is to trigger in the modern condition an understanding that people in the past endured challenges and struggles along with experiencing joys and passions just like we do now.  Such an idea applies to America and all over the world. Arnold's examination about the historian in the 21st Century does not limit itself in any way.  In "visiting the past," greater understanding is illuminated about our own condition as well as the one in the past. The job of the historian is to straddle the conceptions of historian as fact finder and historian as artist in order to render such a portrait:

To study history is to study ourselves, not because of an elusive ‘human nature’ to be refracted from centuries gone by, but because history throws us into stark relief. Visiting the past is something like visiting a foreign country: they do some things the same and some things differently, but above all else they make us more aware of what we call ‘home’.

With the 21st Century being a condition in which "home" is a unique set of circumstances through the mindset of globalization and advent of technology, the historian's job in this regard becomes even more important.

Another function of the historian is to provide the impetus for change.  In the 21st Century dynamic that is already predisposed towards change, this gains heightened importance.  This is true in America and around the world.  The historian's ability to collect and construct arguments and pose them as an opportunity reflect on the nature of change becomes vital in the modern setting.  Armed with the idea that the historian allows us to "visit a different place" in the past, the historian is able to present to us how we in the modern condition can do things differently and better than what was done in the past.  We study the Inquisition, slavery, and the Holocaust to understand what was done horribly wrong in these settings.  The role of the historian is to provide the context needed to change these conditions in the present and the future.  "History provides us with the tools to dissent" and in this, the role of the historian becomes critically important in the 21st Century world.