Picturing our past
June 28, a day that I’m sure will be remembered with another clever Google doodle, is fast approaching. But why does it matter? On the 28th of June we remember the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Countess Sophie Chotek, an action that set in motion the horrifying and tragic events of the next four years; those of the Great War.
In recognition of the coming centenary Alan Taylor from The Atlantic has put together a 10-part series of photo essays titled “World War 1 in Photos.” Each week a new section of the series is published with photos and captions focusing on a unique aspect of the war.
I have found myself coming back to the series each week to spend a few moments scrolling through the images of the newest section. These few moments have repeatedly stopped me in my tracks as I see the faces of the young men, many my age or younger, who gave up so much for my freedom.
Many of us still hold an image of historians as the stereotypical wrinkly old professors with a monotone voice and large, dense books full of dust and cobwebs—with the subject itself perceived as a boring list of dates and funny names. Alan’s frozen snapshots of the past are a remedy to this image, bringing the stories of our ancestors to life, and I find they continue to remind me of the importance of history.
While I’m not trying to tell all chemists to retrain as historians, I do love that when history breaks into our everyday lives like this we are forced to stop and remember the events that have occurred that form the foundation of how we live today. The thing is, we need to do more than just “remember” the past, i.e., turning up at ANZAC and Waitangi services to show that for those few days in the year that we haven’t forgotten. For history to be worthwhile we need to do more than not forget. We must remember and reflect, and learn. We need to take the time to reflect on events like the World Wars and revolutions, and use what happened before us to inform what we do and how we act today.
Take a moment to look at these images; stop and reflect on what has gone before, and use those reflections to inform your actions – even if that action is only something small like how we interact with those in our local communities. Through our actions we can show that we haven’t forgotten the past.
Danielle is currently on an internship placement with Maxim Institute.