Use of History
“The use of history” is not a common phrase, but in many ways and by many different practitioners history is being used. It is used, most obviously, by archaeologists and historians, but much more intensely and publicly by politicians, marketing specialists, communication experts and people who want to prove something using historical examples. Even in international politics, history is used (or better: abused) to support claims on land, on wealth, on power and hierarchical positions.
Apart from this clear abuse, another form of un-historical use is noticeable. A common approach is to focus on extremes: the oldest, the first, the largest, the biggest, the smallest, the best, or the most expensive. But that is hardly ever a distinctive feature and never part of a contextual explanation–at least it shouldn’t be. Above all, it does not help to understand the essence of historical meaning.
A regional Limburg example may offer some insight: some years ago, local journalists and politicians argued whether Roman Heerlen was younger or older than Roman Maastricht. Both towns are separated some 20 kilometers from each other and differ in age for a decade or so. Being the oldest would mean … well, what would it mean? And who cares? Much more interesting is to try to explain the way in which these two towns were interrelated in Roman times. To describe their interdependency and their complementarity. Knowing that Maastricht functioned as the harbor for both Tongeren in the west and Heerlen in the east, teaches us more about how Maastricht was positioned in the Euregio, why it became what it was, and how euregional society functioned in Roman times. It tells us more about what were the distinctive features for Maastricht and the Euregio and how other historical features should be understood and interpreted. Therefore, the use of history should be considered carefully. For the Municipality of Maastricht, its contribution to the PURE3D project, means that useful data on Maastricht’s historical past should be combined carefully with known information and existing ideas.