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Telling the story of history

By Richard Albert  Posted by Jamaal Bell (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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Years from now, when history strokes its pen to tell the story of the 2008presidential election, how will it capture in words a moment whose fullmeaning can be conveyed only with emotion?

How will historians, whose scholarly norms demand dispassion, give voice tofeeling? How will they paint the portrait of our time, sculpt the stone ofour day, recount a story not even the most imaginative among us couldhave foreseen?

That will be the challenge for tomorrowto speak the pulse ofour hearts, which today beat more spiritedly and expressively than perhapsever before.

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To tell that storythe story of historyis to step inside the very soul of apeople. It is to chronicle the dawn of a new day in the life of a nation, inthe trajectory of the state, and indeed in the fate of the larger globe. Itis to stand both apart from and within an era in which much of what we thought we knew has changed, and continues to change, even as we ourselvesare evolving. It is to remain, at once, tethered to our present, anchored inour past, and oriented to our future.

It is a story whose unfolding began long ago, in lands both far and near.From 1804, on the island of Hispaniola, where women and men broke from theirchains to reclaim for themselves the blessings of freedom, through theAmerican centennial period when a president became a statesman, grew into ashepherd of unity and the builder of a broken nation, and to the modern day liberation of a saintly giant who would lead a troubled country fromapartheid to democracy.

It is a story whose arc curved toward its denouement when a little-knownsenatorial candidate from Illinois, whom the stars had endowed with thepower to touch and inspire, and to lead and assuage, launched the narrativeon a new course with the simple majesty of his spoken words, an entrancingspeech delivered in song at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

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It is a story as improbable as it is cataclysmic, a sequence ofextraordinary events that shook our world and ourselves from our moorings,recasting the impossible into the possible, transforming despair into hope,and filling our hearts with the re-imagined joys of Juneteenth.

Yet it is also a story whose chapters are still being written, the end unknownto us all.

This story, the story of our history, lived in historic times and against our historical backdrop, will surely be told. And it will be told by many. But we cannotknow now whether the story that is told tomorrow will evoke the feelings we feel today, nor whether it will move those who come after us to breathe, as we do, as though we are breathing our first breaths, nor whether it will reveal the world itself anew, as we see it today, unveiled in its renewed splendor. Forthe descriptive abilities and analytical tools of historians cannot expresswhat the story of history means to us, to all of us, citizens of the world.

That is why the story of history must be told not only by historians, whowill bring to bear their facility with details of dates and places andpersons. It must be told by those whose fluency extends beyond thespecificity of facts and reaches into the metaphysical space of our hopes,our fears, our passions, and of the timelessness of the enduring strugglefor peace and justice, for the reconciliatory settlement of women andmen too long divided by difference.

We must look to the poet, to the artist, the songstress and the preacher. Tothe sociologist, to the artisan, the filmmaker and the architect. To thephotographer, to the sculptor, the pianist and the teacher. For in combining their craft and lived experience, theyare theones who will tell the story of our history.

And we, too, will tell the story of history. In the way we live ourlives and the choices we make, we are all storytellers, narrators of the pastand stewards of the present, and makers of the myths that will sustain ustomorrow.

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The story of our history is therefore in our own hands. For only by livingtoday the way we wish to live our future may we shape the stories that aretold about our time.

Richard Albert, a graduate of Yale, Oxford, and Harvard, is an Assistant Professor at Boston College Law School, where he specializes in constitutional law and democratic theory. He writes about constitutional politics, the separation of powers, the role of courts in liberal democracy, and religion in public life.


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