Professional historians aim to produce reliable knowledge of the past. Since the object of history (the “past”) is no longer before us, however, historical research requires that we study it through the traces that have been left behind. This can be both frustrating and exhilarating, but it certainly makes history different from any other branch of academic study. Because the enterprise is so vast, historians typically narrow their focus temporally, geographically, and thematically. No one of us can know it all. This means that we depend on one another for encouragement, help, and mutual criticism. Historical studies is, at its best, a shared endeavor, a community of knowledge.
Whether constructing narratives of events or interpreting the meaning of those events, historians sensitize us to humanity’s unfolding in time. Though study of the past is sometimes accused of being irrelevant in a fast-moving present, history is foundational to the construction of individual and group identity. Precisely because it serves these interests, history is often more assumed than understood. By testing and, at times, challenging these assumptions, historians serve a critical function in the public sphere. It is crucial therefore that historians undertake responsible research, both in the careful evaluation of their sources, but also in the larger awareness that to them falls the task of a recuperative understanding: what humanity has done, what it has failed to do, and what remains for it in the future.
Questions, Comments, Suggestions?
For more information about the history program at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact
Gary Kroll, Chair
Office: Champlain Valley Hall 323
Phone: (518) 564-2738
Fax: (518) 564-2212