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Librarians Destroying History

How’s this for an attack on a librarian: “it’s impossible not to rue the irony of a period when librarians take on the duties of literally covering up the past. Perhaps the definition of librarian will gradually morph over the coming decades to ‘one who protects us from the historical record.’”

My goodness, what could prompt such an attack? Are we facing a future where librarians are throwing out books? That’s usually the sort of thing that uninformed people get upset about.

No, it’s just that a committee decided to disarm a puritan in a carving on the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale, and a snowflake pretended to get very upset about it.

The headline at the time of writing indicates that cooler heads prevailed at some point: “Yale’s Disgraceful Whitewashing of History Continues.” The url implies that the original headline had Yale “erasing history” to “appease an activist mob.”

The only problem with that headline is that there wasn’t an activist mob, just the Committee on Art in Public Spaces in conjunction with the university librarian. The author pretending to be offended claimed that the librarian was “a head librarian,” but I checked. It was really “the” head librarian. And nobody was “erasing history.” So much for facts.

Fortunately the delicate flower who is so concerned with history doesn’t have to worry. History is preserved. The problem here is that he doesn’t seem to know what history is. One of the things librarians can do is help preserve it and help people discover what it is, so here we go.

A carving isn’t part of the “historical record,” and anyone who claims that doesn’t know what he’s talking about. History isn’t statues and carvings. The historical record is preserved in, not on, the library.

According to the Wikipedia entry on history, “History (from Greek ἱστορία, historia, meaning ‘inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation’) is the study of the past as it is described in written documents.” That seems narrow, but it’s a good place to start.

We can contrast that with archeology, “the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. The archaeological record consists of artifacts, architecture, biofacts or ecofacts, and cultural landscapes.”

Even if one were to study Yale via carvings on a library, that would be archeology rather than history.

Either way, the carving itself is just a carving. It’s how we interpret it and fit it into a larger narrative about the past that becomes “history.”

With me so far, snowflake?

Events are unfolding at Yale, and indeed at the National Review, that will become history. Yale covered up a puritan’s musket on a statue. A committee recorded the activity, which was reported in the Yale alumni magazine, commented upon by the National Review, and now commented upon yet again by the Annoyed Librarian.

The textual documents that have already been built up around this event are the stuff of history, and more or less guarantee that the event will be available for historical study as long as anyone cares about stuff like this, which will probably be a least half an hour, but probably not longer.

We’re creating the historical record, and much of it will be preserved, and then everyone can read about what happened with this carving. I’m sure it’ll make for an exciting dissertation or two.

Now I don’t think anyone is really upset about stuff like this. It’s like the yahoos challenging textbooks. Nobody really cares if history is changed. They only care if the history tells the story they’re comfortable telling.

Nobody who made a complaint like this really cares about history, only partisan politics, so the arguments don’t make any sense. They’re not supposed to, they’re just supposed to preach to the choir.

For example, our erstwhile snowflake claims that, “Yale’s insistence that all of history be made to conform with current political attitudes is difficult to distinguish from vandalism.”

As I’ve already made clear, Yale hasn’t done anything at all with “history.” To make that claim is just to show how confused one is about what’s really happening.

The same goes with vandalism, which Dictionary.com defines as “1. deliberately mischievous or malicious destruction or damage of property: vandalism of public buildings.”

The carving covering at Yale is an owner of a property making a deliberate change to that property. It’s neither mischievous or malicious.

Another possibly relevant definition: “3. willful or ignorant destruction of artistic or literary treasures.”

Snowflakes imbued with fake concern would probably focus on “willful,” but covering part of a carving in this case is hardly ignorant, or destruction of an artistic or literary treasure.

If you find it “difficult to distinguish vandalism” from an informed and deliberate decision to modify your own property, then you don’t understand the English language very well. One might think writers at the National Review would be supportive of corporations doing whatever they want with their own property.

If other people don’t understand common word usage, that’s okay, because I’m a librarian and helping people find definitions of English words is one of the many things I can do.

So instead of becoming those who “protect us from the historical record,” as earnest snowflakes might presume if they don’t understand concepts like “history,” the “historical record,” or indeed common English words like “vandalism,” librarians can continue to be people who point others to resources that help them understand things like history and language so they can make more informed comments about the world.

It’s what we do. You’re welcome.

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Comments

  1. anonymous coward says:

    I do so dislike it when people use dictionary definitions to prove a point, unless that point is to clarify how someone has used a definition to incorrectly prove a point. Clearly, archaeology is a BRANCH of history.
    (ar·chae·ol·o·gy
    /ˌärkēˈäləjē/
    noun
    1. the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains. )

    It’s cool, because I’m a librarian and helping people find definitions of English words is one of the many things I can do.

    Seriously, I don’t care about this- but it IS a strange and silly thing to do on Yale’s part. I imagine one that, in the future, someone will look back and, when restoring the work to it’s original state, try and fail to understand how that decision won the day.

  2. Also afraid to give my name says:

    I agree with anonymous coward that this article is disappointing and pedantic. I can see no reason for Yale to have covered the gun on the carving. It seems to have been done for no other purpose than whitewashing history and I can see no purpose for doing so, what exactly is being whitewashed? I assumed at the start of the piece that the gun was historically inaccurate or was being brandished in a way that did not make historical sense. But no, it was being pointed at the Native American and that is what we did. A better thing for Yale to do would have been to put the carving in context with a factual sign inside giving details about the behavior of the settlers and the resulting genocide, etc. As in, we did it, don’t do it again. And here is what Yale is doing to contribute to solutions. Also, the use of the term vandalism was clever and not innacurate. Though we could argue that definition as the musket was only covered up, not removed.

    Articles like this one are why the alt right is believed by so many.

  3. Carl Jacobs says:

    Good thing this wasn’t a story about John Ashcroft covering up naked statues in the Justice Department because that would be totally different.

  4. mud fence says:

    It’s ok to censor as long as that censorship meets the current progressive social agenda. Whether white people behaved rightly or wrongly, the fact that they held points of view that we now accept as reprehensible, means it’s ok to wipe out any references (art, writing, STATUES, etc.) to those regretful times. Can anyone say ISIS. I’m sure as ISIS followers were blowing up Palmyra, they felt the same way as today’s progressives. “We are NOT going to have anything around us that comes from a period of apostasy, or ignorance.” That might imply that we agree with what happened in the past, and we’re going to right all wrongs by destroying any and all references to those times. If that isn’t Fu**ing censorship, nothing is.

  5. I agree with anonymous coward here. Archaeology is a branch of history. Thus, altering the artistic structure of the building in the way Yale did, which effectively alters the portrayal of history, is messing with the historical record. If Annoyed Librarian was versed in history, maybe Annoyed would realize that our understanding of history is not conveyed solely through literary means, but also visually through art, architecture, and more recently via audio and visual recordings. Ever hear of art historians? Music historians? Film historians? They study history in its various forms. Ever pay attention to ancient Egypt and how certain dynasties scrubbed all record of previous pharaohs from their buildings to try to change history? It happened. And it altered the historical record. I find the current censorship of the Sterling Library’s facade representation of historical events as disturbing as the ancient Egyptians’ censorship of of their records.

    This article was full of snark and ignorance. It’s not what I expect from my fellow librarians. You can do better, Annoyed Librarian.

    • Classical, Egyptian near Eastern and other specific fields of archaeology are more related to history. Archaeology that covers pre-history is mostly a subfield of Anthropology. While the disciplines frequently borrow from each other, there is a totally different approach at the base of each field.

  6. The Puritan went from holding, poorly, a ray gun from a 1950’s scifi movie to curling a massive boulder.

  7. Raynor prompted me to actually look at the picture.

    Please … just go ahead and Taliban the thing if you’re gonna do that.

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