The "contemporary" aspect of history
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Laviase once said to his students: “We who live intellectually in the past should not forget that the majority of men live in the present and are concerned about the future”. It was as one of the majority, rather than of the minority, that I turned to the subject of this text. I had often wondered about the marked hiatus in history between the end of historical narratives and the present time. Indeed, it seemed that history faded away towards the near end of time and that this phenomenon might, from chronological juxtaposition, be associated with another vague aspect of history, the utilitarian present. To read history was, assuredly, to gain the habit of historical thinking, to acquire a sense of the indivisibility of life, to see one’s self and one’s society from the evolutionary point of view, to learn to discriminate between transitory and perpetual values, to become appraised of the need to exercise curiosity towards institutions and compassion towards men, to embrace the aesthetic pleasure of language in high service and, above all, to incline to deem it wise to court every opinion but to hesitate before espousing any one. But these seeming merits, and others that sprang to mind beside them, appeared as attitudes of the intellect that haunted me in the study but became furtive, coy things in the world of practical affairs. So, curious about the river of history where it went underground and thinking that, maybe, it gushed forth somewhere as a spring of living waters, I seized upon the connotations customary to “contemporary history” as covering, more or less, both ends of an interesting field of enquiry. Surprisingly, I found that discursive literature on contemporary history was not to be found. Only two brief articles touched upon the subject and, for the balance, I had to scan all the tests within my reach for a few fleeting references to the problems connected with narration of the last part of the past. Further, to acquire this negative information, I had to scan each book with some care as, in the matter of this neglected subject, indexes were never helpful. And, in addition, I was unable to find amongst my acquaintances anyone who had considered the contemporary aspect of history or who had much inclination so to do. As a consequence of these things this work has emerged as a discourse on “contemporary” history in subordination to history and concerned as much with the genus as the species. Secondary, with little comparative criticism possible on the primary facet of the subject, and with an elaboration of history necessary such as led on to consideration of the narration of its latest period, footnotes are scanty and personal conceptions plentiful. Thirdly, I have had to be content to trace the subterranean flow of the river of history and to set my period near the spring of living waters.