With this week’s readings focused on China, part of my country profile topic, it was hard not to respond solely to that subject. However, I had an unanticipated encounter today with a stranger that inspired me to write about something entirely different. (and possibly more domestically centered?) Anyways, I was walking down Wisconsin Ave, when I spot this guy:No one else seemed to notice or stop and ask him what he was doing, thus being the kind of individual I am, I approached him. After I was unable to identify what army he belonged to he informed me he was dressed as Hessian soldier and had been visiting schools to teach children about the Revolutionary War. Why a Hessian? and not an American solider? He specifically wanted to “undo the ‘scary/sleepy hollow’ image of the Hessians’ and show the positive aspects and contributions in the role this particular military group played in our nation’s history so long ago. I said to him that this reminded me a lot about what we had learned in class about cultural diplomacy, but perhaps on a very small and isolated scale. He agreed entirely, stating that it was important to reintroduce the history of a culture through different lenses in order to see the true spirit of a nation. He made this argument using the example of how the Holocaust has, does, and will continue to impact the overall national image of Germany, usually overriding all the other major contributions of German scientists, philosophers, etc. throughout history.
This chance meeting inspired me to consider further the role national history plays in culture and the perception of a nation and its people by foreign powers. I rarely think of how non-Americans interpret our national history and the characteristics they assign to us because of our past. We’ve spoken in class of cultural diplomacy, which I feel has present and future time-oriented contest and goal, although based on longstanding traditions and values. I loved this idea, of taking back history in a way that allows outsiders and insiders both to rethink historical events, past organizations, and social groups. I’m not saying it’s the best idea to send a bunch of dressed up Abraham Lincolns abroad to roam the streets and schools…but I appreciate the sentiment that various perceptions of a nation’s history do exist, and if addressed properly through cultural diplomacy, could be effective in enriching a national reputation.