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May 21, 1961 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1961-05-21
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The Teaching of History:



HISTORY as currently ,con-
Bceived by many is the last
refuge of stupidity. One does not
need mathematics, biology, chemn-
istry, or even weak aesthetic sen-
sibilities to learn that a medieval
king died of acute indigestion.
Having learned it, one is in pos-
session of a historical fact--and
quite ready to forget it.
At least our great-grandfathers
dignified this procedure with the
belief that we had a faculty of
memory which could be trained
with miscellaneous historical lum-
ber relating to dates, battles, and
deaths of prominent persons. Oc-
casionally the lumber was berib-
boned with feminine garters so
that an anguished and fact-be-
devilled freshman could write:
"Louis XV had one queen and fif-
teen mattresses."
sAlas, the faculty of memory has
declined and fallen along with the
Roman Empire. No longer can a
stern professor exhort a suffering
student to memorize battle dates
in order to remember telephone
numbers, unless he chooses to tor-
ture him with mnemonic devices
that have the blessings of contem-
porary psychologists, and which
had best be left to the same psy-
HISTORY in our Michigan High
schools Is frequently assigned
to the athletic coaches, presum-
ably upon the hypothesis that
there is some casual relationship
between muscularity and the dis-
mal past.
To this low state has fallen
the study exalted by Cicero as the
master discipline for inculcating
the civic virtues from which the
grandeur of Rome derived. And
let us not smile too condescend-


Yet the communists appear -to
feel the necessity of aiding the
historically ineluctable in un-
Marxian ways. Their policies, not-
ably in their agricultural crisis,
do not Impose strategies derived
from the Commandments that
bring the Earthly Paradise.
PAST experience, then, examined
purposively to delineate, at
least, the possibilities and proba-
bilities .of relationships between
economic, social, political, mili-
fto, econtributesanto h succes
of human enterprise that must be
guided by aplicy
This, it seems, must remain true
until that great gittin'-up morn-
ing when the neurologists tell the
social psychologists what they may
predict. Until this glorious and
dtatevent an ability toeau
needs must remain an irksome
necessity, lacking, unfortunately,'
the exhilirating precision of the
mthe beudle ncomplexities ofbhu-
man conflict.
THE CHEMIST may protest,
"And what, pray, is the speci-
tic gravity of Napoleon? Please,
please, put Waterloo in a test-
tuand make It go all over
again." Can, indeed, the ability to
scrutinize the past be systema-
tized, can it really be trained to
distinguish significantly between
possibilities and degrees of prob-
Necessity forces the attempt,
even though the historian may not
aspire to the white-coated canon-
ization of the chemist in the ciga-
rette adds. Europe, Asia, South
America, Africa, the whole reel-
ing globe, must be watched and
evaluated to determine necessary
courses of action flowing from the
past, sometimes, as in legal and
religious problems, from the re-
mote past.
Such historical analysis requires
aid from many another discipline;
it always has. But now the tradi-
tional philology, palaeography,
and diplomacy are not enough. A
wide variety of social sciences,
mathematics, logics, and, indeed,
any field of knowledge may be
called upon to contribute to the
tormenting problems stemming
professor of history who tests
his proposed teaching method
in se ve r al un de rg r adu a te
courses each year.

from a tormented past. The varies
ties of history proliferate with the
varieties of problems.
WHAT CAN these specialists In
European, African, Asian, and
American affairs, called upon by
both government and business,
give to the undergraduate student?
Can the undergraduiate acquire
enough critical ability to be of
use in his personal,- business, and
civic affairs?
And to what degree do they con-
tribute to good citizenship? How
low we must bow to Cicero de-
pends upon the student's ability
to transfer any skill he may have
acquired in discriminating the
complex interplay of many varia-
Whatever survives the fires of
the final blue book seems to de-
pend in part upon how clearly the
student sees the possibility and
the need of the transfer of the
skill he has demonstrated for his
professor in historical analysis.
He will cheerfully, even enthusi-
astically reorganize past experi--
ence, thereby making it his own,
if he has a purpose in doing so.*
TT IS NOT easy to give him his
purpose. He comes all crusted
over with the stupidities of history
as a memory marathon. History is
not a way of thinking, of analyz-
ing, of relating, for him; it is one
dratted fact after another dratted
fact taken upon authority of The
Something happened to some-
body or other somewhere or other
at some time or other and this
Odd Ball is going to pester him
for this inconsequential informa-
tion about the thoroughly dead.
This is a stalwart attitude which
may withstand all assault. Yet
may begin by shaking the under-
graduate's faith in the authority
of The Book and even old Odd
Ball himself.
The process of the demolition
of the crust may be expedited by
a study of a historical controversy.
TOSEE the learned pull one an-
other's long grey beards is a
source of gleeful surprise which
may deepen to a purposeful inter-
est if the controversy can be dem-
onstrated to have some bearing
upon the future or upon some
ability needed in the future.
It is doubly helpful because the -
selection and evaluation of the
evidence upon which the points of
controversy play are made evident.
Continued on Page Fifteen

Its effectiveness as propaganda
does not in these days need to be
belabored. The inevitability of the
communistic victory is cogently
demonstrated from Historical
Laws, with terrifying missiles as
the catalytic agent.
It does appear that some slight
grasp of the historical process
might be of value in this over-
arching conflict, in which history
belongs as much to the arsenal as
nuclear physics.

ingly upon poor old time-battered AND CAN history justify democ-
Cicero, whose opinion cannot be racy? Even a cursory survey
sustained by Kierkegaard, beha- of old propaganda reveals a re-
viorism, or current genetics. crigbtl ewe eptsn
The Communists have revived crigbtlbewndspim
history as a master discipline not decorated with many gaudy meta-
only for inculcating whatever may physical hues and shifting con-
be necessary for the state, above cepts of liberty, with admirable
all blind and trusting loyalty, but eloquence on both sides.
have raised it to the soaring dig- Is history then just an eternal
nity of a Scientific LAW. store house of propaganda, a lie
agreed upon for some political ex-
TO IMPEDE the Law of History pedience? Or can its skillful use
as interpreted by the current emancipate from old error to pre-
Bureaucratic Canon is to get shot. vent the repetition of torture, an
The grandiosity of this resurrec- undisputed regularity of the past?
tion is due to Marxian metaphys- Can it guide the possibilities of
ics wonderfully rejuvenated by choice that make for the freedom
large injections of nuclear phys- that is a basis of human dignity?9
ics and Lysenkian biology. Does it deserve its place in the

freeing disciplines, the ancient lib-
eral arts?
O NE THING Is certain, The past
is constantly scrutinized for
clues to the .future. Whether for
government policy, business policy,
or the prediction of the probabili-
ties of success of a young man or
woman, the past is used for a
foundation for opinion.
How well it is used depends upon
an ability to select the significant
aspects that help establish a trend
or a continuity. This ability de-
rives from many disciplines and
may be used in many disciplines,
to say nothing of the pressing af-
fairs of government and business.
Yet its training is proper to
history, committed to tracing
change in time, If continuities are
determined by an eternal Marxian
law, historical training consists of
interpreting this majestic force
according to the latest decree of
Those Who Know.
IT WOULD BE heartening if the
communists really did rely upon
their pseudo-scientific, determinis-
tic ideology for the making of
their plans; the margin of error
would be a comforting factor.

Cite New
tamning their leaders and then
suggests that the way to remedy
the situation is to keep the White
House empty for another four
years. We know that this is not
the answer, and Sahl never really
presumes to have an answer. But
he formulates specific. questions
which we can add to the growing
MLEHRER, whose popularity
hsdiminished somewhat lately
because he sem to whave runobuty
the originator of the satirical-
intellectual dramatic form. He
sings vicious songs in a warmi
folksy style devastating some of
the most cherished myths of
American culture. .
Echoing the traditional Ameri-
can love for the wieen spae
raw, he sings yearningly of the
wild west "where the scenery's
attractive and the air is radio-
active." We understand what he
Iensthe guise of a homesick
southerner languishing in the cold
northern clime, he sings plain-
tively of his old home, crying, "I
wanna talk with Southern gentle-
men and put my white sheet on
again. I ain't seen one good lynch-
ing in years."
He formulates the questions for
us, and leaves them to be an-
BUT THE LYRICS don't have
to be set to music to convey
their meaning. The demand for
poetry readings now is greater
than it has been in the last few
decades, and poetry is as much
a part of the questioning process
as comedy or theater.
Audiences listen in murkey cof-
fee houses to the lamenit of the
Beats that life under the threat
of the hydrogen bomb has be-
come unbearable. The Beats offer
a solution-a tragic-hedonistic ap-
proach-we need not accept their
answer, but we too are faced with
the problem.
e. e. cummings capsules the very
core of our dilemma when he tells
pity this busy monster, manun-
not Progress is a comfortable dis-
ease: your victim death and life
safely beyond
plays with the bigness of his little-
--electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange: lenses ex-
linwish through curving where-
return on it unself.
A world of made
Is not a world of born-pity poor
and trees, poor stars and stones,
but never this fine specimen of
ultraomnipotence. We doctors
a hopeless case if-listen: there's
a hell
of a good universe next door; let's
OF COURSE we can't go-yet.
So his answer is no more ac-
ceptable than is the Beat's. But
the question strikes home, and we
ourselves, if only we had known
humrste singer an h oet,
ant entertainment or even wan-
dering philosophy.
His task is to be a social critic
and disciple of the Socratic
method. And he is well on the way

to perfecting his skill, for what-
ever good- it may do us.
a night editor on The Daily,
a sophomore in the literary
college, and a prospective
English major.'

MOVIES are better than ever;
movies are worse than ever.
Movies are superficial and flat;
movies are philosophical and deep.
The film industry's main concern
is money; the film industry's main
concern is art. Film writers are
hacks; film writers are accom-
plished artists. -
All of these things have been
said. Each in a limited sense is
true. Each reflects one aspect of
the evolution occuring in movie-
going tastes.
Movies have lost their place as
the number one means of escap-
ism. Television has usurped its
position as chief purveyor of
banality. People need no longer
leave their living rooms to view
Andy Hardy films or any one of
the long and indistinguishable
chain of sweetness and light melo-
dramas that were for so long
the standard fare of popular
NOT ONLY do the three major
networks show these constant-.
ly, but the f~ypical television show
is little more than a shortened
remake of Little Annie Rooney
tear jerkers or John Ford west-
Television has censored itself
into idiocy. It exists in the out-
dated repressions and prudishness
of Puritan tradition. Nothing
shown can be allowed to offend
anybody, anywhere, anytime. With
the exception of an occasionally
incisive drama or revealing docu-
mentary, utter blandness is the
In short, television offers a
maximum quantity of mediocre
entertainment with a minimum
of effort for the viewer. Why
should these addicts of the con-
ventional venture from their
M VIE producers were at first
shocked by their new compet-
itor. As attendance dropped and
theatres went bankrupt, the movie
industry decided that its only
hope was t0 make films with
which television could not com-
pete. Little by little, they began
code.iSpecam to prmnnc on
the screen as Hollywood finally
admitted its existence by means
oth ther tan nasty interference
This foray into tabooed ground
has met definite resistance; the
Puritan spirit still has great fol-
lowing. People in America cannot
~to a sex movie for the sake of
seeing a sex movie; they feel
guilt about it.
Hollywood has cleverly coun-
tered these inhibitions. Recent
movies, like "The Apartment,"
combine sociological elements with
the sex. People talk glibly about
its social implications, regardless
of their motives in attending.
They go to be intrigued by sin

but they give it an educational
I T IS NOT only in the "forbid-
den" area of sex that Holly-
wood Is beginning to explore;
American film producers add a
host of pseudo - psychological
touches to their products.
It is no longer enough to pro-
duce a movie in which the villain
rants and raves at grandmother
while holding her overdue mort-
gage in his hand; he must be
driven to such actions by an un-
resolved Oedipus complex at the
very least. The new cowboy must
love some female as much as his
T 1typically, tese movies are re-
actions to television. They provide
certain elements that the net-
works purposely delete. New sub-
jects are not the only means
H LY ODis also trying to
overwhelm by sheer size.
Films running three hours or
longer, with ridiculously over-
priced seats and undistinguished
vulgarizations as p 10o t s have
reached immense popularity.,
Rumor has it that in one of
them, depicting a battle between
the Athenians and Spartans,
there were more extras on the set'
than there were soldiers in the en-
tire Spartan and Athenian armies
Biblical subjects, like "The Ten
Commandments," have little re.-
semblance to the Bible, Travel-
ogues, like "Around the World in
Eighty Days" or the cinerama ase-
ries say nothing.
They pass through beautiful
country on the barest thread of
a plot and project all this onto a
huge screen, using some special
process. The most memorable out-
come of the interminable epic is
usually the box office receipts.
THE whole American approach
to films still leaves many un-
fulfilled needs. Its superficial at-
tractions aim to entertain those
who are unable to entertain them-
selves and at the same time are
faced with increasing free time.
But there are people looking for
something more than an escape,
who, in the past ten years, with
growing spare time, have come to
demand cinema as an art form.,
Dissatisfied with domestic pro-
ductions, it is this group which
has been backing the growing in-
flux of imported films. They have
found a fresh and creative ap-
proach to the movies.
THIS QUALITY has manifested
Itsel in diverse forms; it rang-
es from the philosophic work of
Bergman to the magnificently
contrived comedies of Alec Gun-
ness. Some of them have eyen
been complete tripe like the Brig-
itte Bardot .movies. 'But however
good or bad they may be, they fill
a gap left by American films; at

Movies must compete wi
to teleVISi4

worst, they outdo domestic pro-
ducers in immorality; at best, they
provide intellectual stimulation on
an extremely high plane.
The worst among these have
fallen by the wayside. People may
enjoy and still want to see Bardot
romping around in a towel; but
this is in direct conflict with the
image of foreign films as art.
At first, the American audien-
ces tried to justify their interest
in Brigitte's anatomy by equating
all foreign films with art. After a
while it became apparent that
there were at least two levels of
foreign films, and Brigitte, towel
and all, has fallen from the exten-
sive popular favor she once en-
"idStrawberries" and "The
Virgin Spring" are attracting
crowds With unusual subject mat-
ter, superb direction and excel-
lent performers, they fulfill the
potential of cinema as an art form
to a greater degree than any
American ever has. Good foreign
films form ar tistic wholes. Unlike
most American movies, they do
not attempt to combine naive so-
ciology with escapist flights.
T HEIR audiences are not con-
fined to one group either. If
only the intellectuals went, there
would be little growth in their
popularity. But the dozen art the-
atres of 1950 have increased in
number to over 500.
Obviously, the pseudo-intellec-
tuals are augmenting the attend-
ance of the informed. By educa-
tion and social position, these
people feel they know what is
good but art has no real meaning

a wa
the I

THE MOVIES: Imported and lb
As Local Producers Compete wit
Foreign Films Gain A rt Market

N . ...
e, >
*t I ',
-Fo erts eEegni iga aiae oetaMnc
Thepoplarty f hstoy s acouse f sudyha flctuteaove th cntuies ou uwbasc nteestlui neer wd

a n

The movie box office-Wild Stawerries or Midnight Lace


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