History isn't pretty


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The Extreme History Project is a non-profit, public history organization which hopes to facilitate social change through community engagement in places of shared history. Social issues like drug abuse, alcoholism, teen suicide and obesity are just some of the negative outcomes from cultural contact between indigenous peoples and European / Americans. By understanding the full story of contact and its legacy in these places of shared history, we hope to create understanding and meaning in order to move forward in peace and tolerance.

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History isn't pretty

  1. 1. History Isnt Pretty... but you wouldn’t know that from most history textbooks. We all learned about the fortitude of George Washington as he courageously crossed the Delaware; the forthrightness of Abraham Lincoln as he so generously freed the southern slaves; the glory of Manifest Destiny and the honor of the Civil War. It sure looks so neat and tidy from this distance, but what we don’t see is what’s missing: the voices of the downtrodden, the suffering of the subjugated, the struggle of the powerless. How has our traditional historical paradigm benefitted our society? Has it empowered us? Has it unified us? Has it dispelled ignorance, instilled tolerance and offered us a collective cultural identity? We answer these questions with a resounding NO! Historical Historical Activism is an idea that grew out of our frustration with the traditional historical paradigm. Through joint experiences and dialogue, we formulated a plan to make history engaging, relevant and actualized as a means for social change. We searched our souls for validation of historical knowledge. Why is history important? How does knowledge of history benefit us? Does history have relevance beyond the academy? Can history be used as a means for social change? Our answer is a resounding YES! After much discussion, we found that there were important and substantial reasons for learning and understanding history and that this knowledge has significant relevance to address real social problems. Through these discussions and ideas, we discovered that we could create a new historical paradigm that would empower, unify and instill tolerance which could lead to a better world for everyone. This was the moment the Extreme History Project was born. Our first project very clearly fit these ideas as we began to explore the reservation period of the Plains Indians and in particular, the Crow People. Immediately we found new challenges which would require new tools to add to our new methods of Activism. Historical Activism The reservation period of the American Indian is a painful and difficult history to uncover. In many ways it’s an ugly history. In order to penetrate it, difficult questions had to be asked; partnerships had to be built and trust had to permeate the process. Traditionally, such subjects have been ignored or blame. denied in order to avoid discomfort and deflect blame Not only have these choices blocked our knowledge of history, it has caused tremendous harm to descendant populations still burdened with the weight of their ancestors’ suffering. Could validation through honest dialogue and collaboration begin to heal the generational cultural trauma? This is the assumption we are bringing to this project which has the potential to offer a valuable tool to work with descendant communities and the general public. Our process couples traditional historical research with oral histories and dialogue around difficult issues, including new language and terminology which
  2. 2. will facilitate dialogue without causing retreat due to feelings of disrespect. Descendantcommunities still feel the raw pain of the suffering of their ancestors and the legacy oftheir history. Seemingly innocuous words and terms used by those viewed asrepresentatives of the harming community can be interpreted as disrespectful by thedescendant community. Use of such terms in a dialogue can cause an immediatestoppage of progress. Are there new words and terms that we can use, empty history,of the baggage of history to keep the discussion moving forward?Our project hopes to create a model for such dialogue.Historical Activism doesn’t shy away from the tough topics andcontroversial issues. It courageously moves into the challenges in order to opena dialogue and move toward a process of healing. It is fearlessfearless,thoughtful and engaging in its inception, process and result. Its goals arechallenging and its standards are high because the results have the potential for nothing change.less than powerful social change It is not our goal, it is ourimperative.imperativeHistory isn’t pretty pretty…but by recognizing and acknowledging its ugliness;its pain; its dirtiness; its shame, we can find a new way of reaching out to each other intolerance,tolerance acceptance and unity unity.