Ds Scholarship

[OPINION] On the lack of public historians and intellectual spaces

“The importance of magazines or any intellectual space, whether online or in print, is critical to the development of historical learning outside the classroom for young Filipinos”

Days ago, a tweet by singer and actress Nadine Luster sparked controversy over the state of history teaching in the Philippines. How topics about Philippine history are repeated at grade levels, how this is counterproductive, and how it is a “waste of time”. Educator Michael Angelo Taboyan has discussed this issue and how teaching history was doomed to this kind of adversity. But what I want to highlight here is a further reinforcement of Tabuyan’s ideas.

While his discussion centered on curricula and classroom teaching, I also find skeptical about the state of historical discourse in the public sphere. Outside the classroom, conversations on topics on Philippine history can also be enjoyed through the Public History initiative. Unlike traditional academic history, public history conveys historical knowledge beyond the walls of the academy and is intended for the general public. The National and Local Museums of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Museum are a resource for general history. What the Philippines lacks, however, is writing spaces for academic and public historians: intellectual spaces for historians – both in print and online – where they can express their new research that may spark debate and spark curiosity.

There is nothing wrong with discussing historical facts and opinions, it is a common practice to develop critical thinking skills and instill advanced historical awareness in readers. Filipino historians have been fond of this. In the 1960s to 1980s, these intellectual exchanges between historians were called the “Wars of History”. Nowadays, historians are either ridiculed or slandered.

Speaking of intellectual writing spaces, in the West, they have great platforms that spread historical and cultural ideas for all ages. For example, in the United States, they have Atlantic OceanAnd Jacobin, And New Yorker. In Europe, they have two popular progressive magazines like London Review of Books and the New review on the left. Aside from printing issues, they have already adapted online publishing. The Philippines, from the 1960s through the 1980s, also enjoyed these types of spaces. Filipino students and writers have benefited from F. Sionil José’s . book symbiosis, Manila Times Advance, the weekly drawing, and much more. These journals, monographs, and journals carried historical and critical articles that stimulated debate, discussion, and intellectual exchange. These studies also provided weekly reviews of the newly published monthly books on Filipiniana.

Historian Lisandro Claudio tried to get this kind of space when he founded Manila review in 2012. It had a large readership of students (including myself, and I was a college student in history), junior and senior scholars, and some overseas Filipino scholars. Issues include essays from leading historians and writers discussing Philippine history, culture, society, and politics such as Resel Mujaris, Patricio Abenales, Clinton Palanca, Caroline Howe, Nicole Conjing Aboitez, Vicente Rafael, and Nicole Corato, among others. Unfortunately, the Manila review I stopped printing after six issues.

Articles of historical thought are rare nowadays and are limited only to opinion columns and one-off feature articles in a blue moon.

The problem is that the Philippines also lacks general historians. While traditional academic historians focus on research and dissemination of history in demanding journals, general historians are the bridge to convey the academic historian’s “high-tech” ideas and concepts to the general public, and especially to students. Historians Ambeth Ocampo and Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua have been carrying the brunt of public history for more than a decade. Now, we have young historians trying podcasts using PODKAS. Another obstacle is the many self-proclaimed historians, questionable historians with no proper training in dating, who have plagued many social media platforms, from Facebook to YouTube. Unfortunately, they are sometimes more caring than our true public historians.

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Aside from proposed curricular reforms and drastic changes in the educational system in the Philippines, the importance of magazines or any intellectual space, whether online or print, is critical in the development of historical learning outside the classroom for young Filipinos. These spaces will not only shape public debate, but will also raise the bar for discourse.

I do not believe the idea that Filipinos are not readers. We just lack spaces in which historians can communicate with the public, and the public doesn’t know where to access easy-to-read historical information. The new year can be a good start for creating these spaces for history. This initiative will benefit academics and analysts alike, and most importantly, the future generation. – Rappler.com

Luis Zuriel P. Domingo teaches history at the University of the Philippines Baguio. His research interests include the history of nationalism in Southeast Asia and Philippine historiography. He is also on Twitter @sundayzuuriel.

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