Tell Me a (Hi)story

ram·ble
/ˈrambəl/
Middle Dutch
verb
  1. walk for pleasure, typically without a definite route.
  2. talk or write at length, typically in a confused or inconsequential way.

Hi! My name is Serena, and I’m the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Mindful Rambler. I started this blog to explore questions of interpretation and the ways we communicate in the public sphere. As the definitions above suggest, there will be confusing moments during these “rambles” when we don’t know exactly where we’re going – but they’ll help us learn! To celebrate our official launch, I’d like to introduce you to one of our four key themes: History.

centraalstationamsterdam
History is all around us, with new additions embracing (or sometimes overpowering) the old. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

History is all around us. The present is influenced by our past and the way we remember it. History isn’t just “the past”, though – it’s not as objective as that. Rather, history represents the way we interpret and understand the past using material evidence.

Such evidence can come in the form of documents, photographs, artwork, audio, or even commonplace objects. We construct history from this evidence; it’s not always easy to process or understand, especially when we’re trying to synthesize multiple (sometimes conflicting) pieces of evidence into a coherent story.

What types of evidence are privileged? Which voices do we value? In placing emphasis on some forms of evidence over others, which perspectives do we identify as “more important” in the greater scheme of things?

sir winston churchill, churchill war rooms, london, WWII, history
Serena stands with Yousuf Karsh’s 1941 portrait of Sir Winston Churchill at the Churchill War Rooms, London, UK. We can interpret photographs like this one as historical evidence of a period in time. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

In this column, “On History“, we’ll delve deeper into these questions using specific case studies. It’s crucial to understand how we remember our past and why we remember it that way. By consciously exploring our interpretative processes, we can understand the methods we use to create bridges between the past, present, and future.

The name “The Mindful Rambler” is a tribute to Dr. Samuel Johnson, the 18th century scholar and writer of the first English Dictionary. Published between 1750 and 1752, Johnson’s periodical The Rambler discussed contemporary societal issues such as politics, religion, morality, and literature. In coming up with a title for this blog, I enjoyed the idea of “rambling” like Dr. Johnson, but the connotations seemed a little more lackadaisical than the goal of this blog – hence the addition of mindfulness to our title.

samuel johnson, dr. johnson, stained glass, literature, england, london
Stained glass window commemorating Samuel Johnson’s life, located at Dr. Johnson’s House Museum in Gough Square, London, UK. Photo: Serena Ypelaar

We should definitely let our ideas unfold so we can learn new things from one another, but being mindful of how we interpret and communicate will ensure the ethical sharing of knowledge. Johnson had similar beliefs:

Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. — Samuel Johnson

From reflecting on lessons learned, to contemplating ongoing mysteries, to questioning privileged knowledge structures, we owe it to our future to acknowledge and preserve our past – and to inform how we treat history going forward. It’s my hope that when considering issues of interpretation and communication, we always tread mindfully – and think before we ramble.

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