On enjoying history, opposed to what happens around me

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 09/15/2010 - 18:24
Portadas de los discos de Diana Uribe I have always liked learning and understanding history. Since I discovered him, for a couple of years already I always try to catch Javier Garciadiego's program Conversaciones sobre historia, Saturday 9AM in the Horizonte 108 radio station (can be listened to online). This program started by going over the events just before the beginning of the 1910 revolution in Mexico - and along slightly over five years, one hour per week and following different threads, the program has reached the end of the Cristiada, in the early 1930s. Garciadiego has a very nice, followable, amenable way of telling history, and I have recommended his program to many friends.

This last June, I spent some days in Guatemala City, for DrupalCamp Centroamérica. I stayed with my good Colombian friend, Dilson, and at his house he had framed a poster of the History of the Civilizations. Of course, I got my nose close to it, guessing as many faces as possible in the lot. And he showed me his last Christmas present: Two books, each of them with 6 CDs. One is Historia de las Civilizaciones, the second one is Historia de las independencias. They are made by Colombia's very well known and well regarded historian Diana Uribe.

I copied the CDs in order to listen to them later – And wow, was I impressed! Diana Uribe makes a great narrative about topics that to some people would seem boring and dry. As I said, I have always found passion in understanding the human processes that have shaped civilization and brought us all the way to where we stand now. Well, Diana Uribe manages to bring more "normal" people to this passion. While looking for information on her to share in this blog post, I found so many places offering download of her disks, with apparently young people talking about how she has got them all so excited and interested in history... That's, I think, the best "thank you" any academician can get: having non-specialists say how her work has opened up the passion of one of the world's least sexy professions to them. And yes – there are so many "thank you" and "I want" commentaries, so much of what I would call "fan mail", that it took me a bit to find an online library carrying both works. And yes, at ~US$50 each, I do intend to buy them.

Now, why am I writing this today? Well, yes, because I finished listening to the series today, but besides – During this year, most of Latin American countries conmemorate their 200 years of existence. Most of the independentist struggles in the continent started in 1809-1810. And today is the "partying" day in Mexico – Says the legend that in the night between September 15 and 16, 1810, a priest who is always painted as old and charismatic called on his small town urging the people to rise and fight for independence, and as a result of that, only 11 years later Mexico was a fully independent country, spanning from Costa Rica to California, and... well, a nice and very idealized myth.

A century later, in 1910, after a very long stability and growth period (attained mostly through repression, the same abstract thing named as "the people" rose against the dictator Porfirio Díaz, who had been Mexico's president for 30 years. The revolution deeply changed the social face of the country, but politically... After ~15 years of fighting, the result was that a 30 year long dictatorship was replaced by a 70 year long one... And our political system still has not evolved beyond that model.

Now, comparing what has not improved nor even stayed the same but went backwards... A century ago, the festivities of the hundred years of independence were a time for showing pride, for showing to the guests from more "civilized" countries how ours was by then a modern, thriving country worth believing in, worth investing in: Besides the important, majestic and well built monuments that were erected and still stand today (i.e. the Column of the Independence or Hemiciclo a Juárez, many institutions that would socially shape the next century –even after Díaz's death, even after he had been declared not the role model we wanted after all– were born: The National University (nowadays the most important university in Latin America), the National School for Professors, the Railroad Technical School and many others (see Javier Aranda's note for some more details)... The celebration was well-thought and planned. Of course, it didn't go into some darker corners, the country was as uneven and unfair as it can be for the poorer indigenous population (which back then was a majority), and what not.

But this year? Well, we are expecting an impressive show tonight (which I won't see, even though I'd like to, as I no longer have a TV and even if I had wanted to go downtown for the celebration, different government branches are insisting we should just sit and watch it by TV at home as it can be too crowded... so not even that was well thought out – Of course not every Mexican can go to the same square and see the same de-facto president do the ritual, but some more redundancy could be thought, spreading acts through all of the city instead of concentrating the festivities all along Reforma.

But anyway – Leaving aside our current de-facto ruler's inabilities to do anything worthy, which are already well known and documented... I took this opportunity to listen to a great work, and am most happy to do it, and to be able to share it with you.

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