Eric Foner: “The best antidote to bad history is good history”

Historians in the News
tags: Eric Foner



Related Link An interview with Eric Foner in The Nation 

Journalist and author John Green interviews U.S. historian Eric Foner,  for Morning Star. Foner is Professor of History at Columbia University.

JG: Would you be happy to be described as a “Marxist historian” or is there a more accurate term for historians like you, Howard Zinn and others?

EF: I tend to eschew labels. Marx is believed to have said: “I am not a Marxist.” In other words: “I don’t want to be assigned to a single school of interpretation.”

But no-one can understand history who does not have at least some familiarity with the writings of Marx.

I have been powerfully influenced by Marxist insights, especially those of the last generation of British Marxist scholars such as Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and others.

But I have also been influenced by black radical scholars like WEB Du Bois, who himself was influenced by Marxism and also by other radical traditions and by feminist scholars.

JG: You’ve argued that the past needs to be “usable.” What exactly do you understand by that term?

EF: The idea of a “usable” past is often misunderstood. It certainly does not mean distorting history for political ends, nor ignoring less than appealing features of past movements with which one is sympathetic.

I do believe that for those trying to change society today, an understanding of where our current situation comes from is essential and knowledge of past social movements very desirable.

A usable past is a body of historical knowledge that inspires people to try to make this a better world and that cuts through much of the historical mythology with which we are surrounded. ...





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