Getting away with it: why history still matters

I argue here that ‘history’, though vilified by certain theorists, remains a practice of ethical importance. I focus on Anna Bikont’s research of the 1941 massacre of Jews in the Polish village of Jedwabne, but I also look more briefly at other investigations of past injustices, and conclude that there is some (ethical) point in attempting to approach more nearly to a ‘truth’ about those various past events. There may also be an ethical imperative to assess the record of alternative accounts of those events: some versions of the past have been suppressed and effectively forgotten, while others have achieved hegemonic status; and the reasons for that discrepancy require investigation too. ‘History’, then, still matters: it is needed in the interest of justice, not only for victims, but also for perpetrators who might otherwise succeed in ‘getting away with it’.