Reflecting on “Difficult Histories” and Painful Pasts

As I reflect on my posts for this semester, many of them have attempted to grapple with our connection to the past. More specifically, they seek to interrogate individual connections to painful, violent and/or oppressive pasts while the legacies of this past continue to affect lives in the present. For this reason, I found myself particularly drawn to Ruth Sergel’s chapter on “Difficult Memory.” In this chapter, Sergel writes, “even the most cruel and acute loss can never be passed down whole to the next generation (114).” In thinking about this statement, I found myself asking that if this statement is true: what aspects of loss/trauma are passed down to future generations? Furthermore, in what ways are these memories/histories passed down? While, as Sergel argues, we cannot fully understand “how tragedy resonates with others (118),”  reflecting on the questions I’ve posed will bring us closer toward understanding how trauma affects individual lives. It will also, in my opinion, assist scholars interested in Public Humanities work to determine how they can better connect with broader audiences ( I know personally it has for me). In thinking about the effect of these often painful pasts and our connections to them, I think it’s also important to return to another question that Sergel poses in this chapter. Sergel asks: “What should we have the strength to walk away from? (116)” To expand on this point we must ask-what histories do we have the strength to walk away from? And why?

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