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Michael Daniel

Botelho lecture, Unit D


3-23-2007

On March nineteenth, Dr. Botelho presented a lecture describing the study of

history and its uses. She illustrated that history is dangerous, that it is the basis of

identity, that it teaches us useful skills, and she warned us that it can be misused. She

ended the lecture with a call to arms when she said that we should all, “become

dangerous,” by using the tools of the historian. In other words, the purpose of the lecture

was to persuade us to study history.

Dr. Botelho began the lecture by telling us that historians have been persecuted in

the past by people who wanted to twist history for their own ends. She gave the example

of a historian named Block who was killed by the Gestapo in Nazi Germany because he

was more interested in the truth than he was in supporting Nazi propaganda.

Historiography is the study of history. History is what has come before you,

informs you and shapes your future. If a person has memories then they have history.

The goal of history is to admit what you don’t know and to act on what you do know.

Dr. Botelho said that history can be used to shape the future, but not to predict it.

This idea was echoed in Gaddises work, “The Landscape of History.” Since history

repeats itself, we can learn from those who have come before us. Dr. Botelho illustrated

this by telling us that Macheavelli warned us that if we face an enemy we should either

annihilate them or leave them with some dignity. If we leave them injured then the

enemy will eventually rise against us. At the end of World War I Europe left Germany

humiliated and as a result they rose again and caused World War II. That could have been
avoided if Europe had heeded Macheavellis warning. Gaddis also used this exact same

example in “The Landscape of History.”

Dr. Botelho said that our identities are formed from history. We define ourselves

as Americans, for example, through an understanding of our national history. Further, we

define ourselves through an understanding of our individual histories. This can be

described as history on the micro level.

History is useful to us because it teaches us to analyze information, find the

arguments and the thesis. When we study history we make judgments and learn how to

present them persuasively. This is useful for corporate management, for example.

Another example is Dr. Wang-Chi, the head of the history department at IUP, who is

partly responsible for writing a new constitution for China.

History can be misused in order to give people a false sense of identity.

McCarthy misused it to persecute political rivals when he ran the House Unamerican

Committee. Jerry Fallwell misused it to blame minorities and secularization for the

events of 9/11. Ann Coulter misuses it today when she attacks Democrats by making ad

hominem attacks on 9/11 widows.

Dr. Botelho’s conclusion was in the form of an answer to the traditional Honors

College question, “Therefore, what should we do?” She said that we should all, “become

dangerous by using the tools of the historian.” In other words, we should analyze

arguments and pursue truth in order to learn from the past. This will make us dangerous

because we will not be easily swayed by the powers that be when they try to bend history

to their own ends.

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