There is an often-used quote that suggests: “History’s like a story in a way: it depends on who’s telling it.” This quote came to mind as I listened to a story on NPR’s Weekend Edition about the 100th anniversary of the “rediscovery” of Machu Picchu.
The story begins: “On July 24, 1911, Machu Picchu was found by an American historian, and this weekend many are celebrating the centennial of the “discovery” of the cloud city high in the Andes — one of the most remarkable archeological sites on the planet. Now, of course, Peruvians say that the city was not discovered a century ago today, because they never lost it.”
You can read or listen to the story here. Listening to the story prompted me to think for a moment about the role of history. What does marking a centennial event teach us? I remember from my travels there that much of what we know — or think we know — about the Inca society that called Machu Picchu home, often mixes fact with myth. The same seems to be true about how history is used to frame modern understandings in our own country. Just look at the rhetoric used in the recent debate over raising the nation’s debt limit and you’ll see that many in Congress base their arguments (both pro and con) on a mythical, rather than factual, recall of our nation’s history.
British historian John Tosh has said “Our human awareness is enhanced by the comtemplation of vanished eras”. What do you think? What lessons can we learn from either ancient or recent history?