Wednesday, June 21, 2006

History Made Personal...

Peace, one and all...
As I explained in the opening post of this blog, one of my key aims here is to explore what you might call the more 'personal' aspects of family history. That is, I intend to use this space to reflect on how exploring the history of my own family makes me feel.
In many ways, family history seems to stand at the crossroads of the academic study of history and the personal search for 'roots'. My family's chequered history is academically interesting (insofar as it reveals one strand of British social history through the last 200 years).
It is also a deeply personal affair, because I have a connection with these individuals. Although I am greater than the sum of my parts, I am also very a creation of my peculiar circumstances and backgrounds. Their experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, failures and successes have all in some way helped make me the man I am today (ah! so it's their fault! Just kidding!).
Tracing them is thus, in a real sense, tracing myself; understanding their mistakes is to try and avoid them in my own life. Ya Allah! It really is history made personal.
However, in a strange way, I am also disconnected from my forebears. Their desires and actions were their own ('No soul shall bear the burden of another'). Does this distance make me any more or less 'objective'? Is such a term even applicable here? To take a concrete example, the origins of my surname are shrouded in some obscurity; I don't know the name of my paternal grandfather's father. Given what I know and given what I also know of the period, this could possibly indicate a bit of ''ow's your father?' (as we say in London). The very fact that there is obscurity seems important: there seems to have been a need to keep things rather quiet. But, although I feel for my grandfather, and his probable early homelife, I feel no shame regarding this. I'm here by the will of Allah, the means of my arrival feels unimportant.
Given my interests and inclinations, I do feel under an obligation to explore my family history. I have a duty to my children to give them a full and honest account of their heritage, so that they themselves can also find their places in the world (and then, by the will of Allah, learn to transcend it). Position is of great importance (see The Corner for my religious position; Education Matters also contains an essay on Perspective in Education)
In some ways, this feels very different from my former historical studies (for which, see Matters Academic). This is about me in a direct sense, rather than about the history of the world in which I find myself.
Wa akhiru da'wana an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen.
Ma'as salama,
Abdur Rahman

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