This week’s article “Historical Stories Inspire Change” is a guest column by Arlene Westcott who offered to provide it as I was packing to head to the 2023 Historical Novel Society conference. It was a huge help to have it waiting for me when I returned from several days of discussing the power of historical stories to inspire change. That was my hope when I wrote Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures and Mary Brewster’s Love Life. We of European descent have badly abused those who descend from people who lived on this continent for centuries before Christopher Columbus and others “discovered it.” We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and do better going forward. Thank you Arlene for your reminder of that.
Historical Stories Inspire Change
By Arlene Westcott
Stories Entertain, Educate, and Communicate
Storytelling has always been a fundamental component of our cultural fabric. Stories have been used for entertainment, education, and communication, from ancient cave paintings to oral traditions passed down through generations. Stories can also motivate change. Historical writings can shape our shared awareness, challenge cultural standards, and ignite developments for progress. You can use your words to facilitate change.
Stories are a unique and powerful way of connecting people emotionally, transcending space and time, and instilling a sense of identity. We become invested in the characters and their experiences when we hear or read a compelling story. Even though they lived in different times, we identify with their struggles, hopes, and achievements. Historical narratives bridge the gap between the past and present, bringing history to life and making it relevant.
Stories Spark Social Justice Changes
For example, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s illustrates the power of historical narratives to motivate change. Stories of African Americans fighting for equality and justice played a crucial role in influencing public opinion and challenging the status quo. The nonviolent Selma, Alabama protests, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus all became part of a powerful narrative that sparked support for civil rights reform. The tales of these and other gallant people came to symbolize a more significant battle to obtain opportunity and equality. Their stories roused incalculable others to join the cause.
Similarly, Nelson Mandela’s story in the South African anti-apartheid movement exemplifies the potency of historical narratives. Mandela’s long-term detainment, followed by his ascent to become the nation’s most memorable and black president captured creative minds all over the planet. His story served as a symbol for the fight against racial injustice and motivated many people to resist oppressive regimes. We are constantly reminded of the transformative power of forgiveness, reconciliation, and the pursuit of equality by hearing Mandela’s story.
Historical Narrative Intensifies Change
Historical narratives motivate not only personal change but also societal change. We gain perspective and empathy when we learn about the struggles and achievements of historical figures. Their accounts give us significant illustrations and experiences to apply to our lives. For example, Malala Yousafzai’s story has touched the hearts of millions around the globe. This young Pakistani speaks out vehemently for educating girls and is a compelling example of personal change. Malala stood up for her right to an education and became a global advocate for girls’ education despite threats and violence. Her story encourages individuals to overcome adversity and work toward positive change in their communities by highlighting the significance of courage, resilience, and the pursuit of knowledge.
In addition, historical narratives can reshape our understanding of the past and challenge established narratives. History is frequently written by those who won, ignoring the specific experiences and voices of others. Storytelling sheds new light on past events, providing alternative viewpoints. For instance, the accounts of the colonization of native peoples have generally been told through the colonizer’s point of view. Today we are beginning to hear the stories of resiliency, resistance, and cultural preservation from the perspective of the colonized through indigenous storytelling and the resurgence of indigenous voices. These narratives question the dominant historical narrative. This shift in perspective encourages a more profound comprehension and appreciation of indigenous cultures and their struggles today.
Telling a More Complete History
In an undeniably interconnected world, verifiable stories rise above boundaries to cultivate a feeling of worldwide citizenship. As we learn out more about the experiences and encounters of various societies, we foster a more nuanced comprehension of the world and our place in it. Empathy, appreciation for culture, and awareness of our humanity as a species are all cultivated through historical narratives. Such stories remind us that our histories are intertwined. The trials and tribulations of historical individuals can have a significant impact on our present and future.
Historical narratives can instill a sense of pride and cultural identity. People develop a stronger sense of belonging and a deeper connection to their heritage when they learn about the achievements and contributions of their ancestors. Communities can be empowered to reclaim their narratives, challenge stereotypes, and celebrate their rich history with this sense of cultural identity.
Empowering Resistance and Change
Historical narratives can empower resistance for marginalized and underrepresented communities. These narratives inspire current generations to continue the struggle for justice and equality by highlighting the stories of those who fought against injustice and for equality. Today we are seeing advancements in the fight against discrimination and the pursuit of LGBTQ+ rights, due in part to stories of LGBTQ+ activists who fought for equality in rights and recognition.
Verifiable stories shape public character by creating a nation’s collective memory and fostering a sense of shared history, values, and purpose. As people grasp an understanding of their country’s verifiable history, they come to consider both the qualities and shortcomings of their past and work towards an impartial future.
Learning from History
Telling accurate history verifiable accounts of it can motivate change. They help people reconsider how we more honestly interpret the past. The stories from social equality activists, political dissidents, and social trailblazers can move people to pursue a more equitable world. These stories transform societies, becoming a force for positive change.
Historical stories have an astounding ability to motivate change in individuals, cultures, and societies. They empower communities, provide cautionary warnings, challenge dominant narratives, and foster empathy. We can harness their potential to drive positive change, promote social justice, and shape a more compassionate and equitable world as we tell and share these stories. Storytelling piques the imagination, elicits thought, and compels action.
Shabnam Yaseen, aka Arlene Westcott, describes herself as an avid reader and writer who strives to create informative and accessible content for her readers. As a Muslim writer, she brings a unique perspective to her work. With a strong understanding of modern technology, she leverages its power to effectively convey her message to a wider audience.
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Mary Brewster’s Love Life and Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures: available wherever books are sold. Bookshop.org/Mayflower; Mary Brewster
Amazon.com/Mary Brewster’s Love Life
Autographed copies are available on my website.