Khmelevskaya Ju. Yu. Historians and the «Usable Past»: on disciplinary limitations and disciplining functions of history in contemporary society (.pdf)


Since history was institutionalized as a scholarly and educational discipline, one of its assignments, along with the research and development of secular knowledge, has been production and promotion of the officially approved narrative of the past that could be used for various «practical» needs – justifying political and military ambitions, legitimizing regimes and providing “a feeling of belonging” to a symbolic entity (a nation, a people, or a certain group). Having started in the era of the emergence of national states in XIX century, the presentist constructions of the narratives of the past that could serve a reservoir of symbols “useful” to the current have become even more important in the late XX – early XXI century when, with dilution of conventional structures of identities, the notions of «memory» and «common past» replaced the notion of “ideology” prevalent in previous years and were incorporated into a state politics of the past. In Russia, the “turn to the past” ended up with the state’s appropriation of the past as a political and symbolical resource and, at the same time, with the growing determent of professionally trained historians from historical politics as such by the means of various administrative, legal, financial and political regulations. After a survey of how the «service-based» role of historical community has changed from the Soviet to post-Soviet time, the author contemplates on possible ways of the rehabilitation of historical profession, emphasizing the prospects of public history as an interdisciplinary alternative to the politically engaged version of the past imposed from above.


Key words: «usable past», memory, history, historical politics, consuming history, public history, past as political resource, invention of tradition, mnemonic patriotism.


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