Once upon a Time

By Todd, Mary | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Once upon a Time


Todd, Mary, Phi Kappa Phi Forum


"All human beings are practicing historians. As we go through life we present ourselves to others through our life story; as we grow and mature we change that story through different interpretations and different emphasis. We stress different events as having been decisive at different times in our life history and, as we do so, we give those events new meanings. People do not think of this as 'doing history'; they engage in it often without special awareness. We live our lives; we tell our stories.... Our self representation, the way we define who we are, also takes the shape of the life story we tell. What we remember, what we stress as significant, and what we omit of our past defines our present.... This personal history affects our future."

In these opening words from her essay "Why History Matters," in her masterful book of the same name, noted historian Gerda Lerner speaks directly not only to the work of her profession but also to the work of each of us. At the same time she connects the theme of this issue of the Forum--stories--to that of the previous issue--identity.

Consider how much of your daily conversation involves relating personal stories, how the local or national news consists of retelling stories--as I write, of massive flooding in the Carolinas, of local and national politics, of the weekend's football victories and defeats. Think, too, of how you maintain your family's story, through photographs in scrapbooks or albums or on your phone. …

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