The Lens of History

Here's a pretty cool interview with one of my favorite historians, Drew Gilpin Faust. Here she talks about her approach to her craft:

What has always interested me most about history is trying to understand how people see their own world. And how they create the structures of meaning and understanding that serve as the lens through which they view what is around them and the events that confront them. 

And that led me, after I finished my PhD, with a yearlong grant from the Social Science Research Council, to study anthropology and to explore what anthropologists call "worldview." That reinforced my interest in the notion that if you can understand how someone sees the world differently from you, then you learn something about your own world too. 

In doing so, you see that you have created a set of lenses for yourself or you have appropriated a set of lenses for yourself. There is always a sense, which comes from this kind of inquiry, of the contingency of things and how they could be otherwise.

That's perhaps the biggest lesson of taken from Faust's work. It's really easy to tee of on some of these guys. Harder, and for me more interesting, is imagining how you could be them. In short, I love trying on the costume, looking in the mirror, and then seeing something of myself in the mask. I always had an interest in that approach, but I really learned how to think in that way, how to write in that way, from reading Faust

Faust, of course, is also the president of Harvard. Here she talks about citizenship, the military, and the return of ROTC to the campus:

I feel very strongly about the importance of inclusiveness in the military. I think back to the Emancipation Proclamation and how it welcomed black soldiers into the military. Citizenship and military service have been very closely tied in our history. 

In the seventies, the women's movement made military service a big focus of the struggle for women's equality. So, I cared a lot about the overturn of "Don't ask, don't tell," as another step in the nation's progression towards inclusiveness. I also believe that it is important for the military to be a part of American life and not isolated from the mainstream. 

Just today, I was talking to a couple of people in my office who had helped work on the return of ROTC. And we realized that all of us had parents who served in World War II. This was the norm when we were growing up. The army and the military services were integrated into American life in a way they no longer are. 

Only 1 percent of Americans now serve in the military. I felt that Harvard and Harvard students should have connections that would promote this kind of integration of the military with civilian forces and civilian realities. I felt our students would learn a lot, and I felt that it was important for the military as well. 

I also am very conscious of what General David Petraeus articulated here in a commissioning ceremony for the ROTC cadets a couple of years ago, which is that a soldier's most important weapon is ideas. And it seems to me very important that the education that Harvard has to offer be something that individuals in the military are able to experience and are encouraged to experience. That was a significant driver in this decision as well.