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A public historian for the television age – Thinking Port

A public historian for the television age

Credit to Author: MICHAEL “XIAO” CHUA| Date: Fri, 17 May 2019 18:03:32 +0000


PUBLIC history, or the bringing of history closer to the people through the technology and means of a certain time, is being developed for inclusion in the graduate programs of the DLSU history department under its chairman, Dr. Ma. Florina Orillos-Juan. In one of the discussions on the different areas of public history, our colleague Dr. Fernando Santiago noted that I had done work in all those areas. His remark made me happy that someone had even noticed. It is really hard work to do academic research alone. That is why it is not often that a historian engages in media, consultancy, training and organization; and heritage work, all at the same time.

But I would humbly say that before me, there was a professional historian who had done so much work in public history decades before it was fashionable to call it such here. It is said that during the Philippine Centennial of 1998, one was fortunate to be a historian as there were lots of opportunities. But of all the historians during that time, it was Dr. Jaime Balcos Veneracion who may have done the preliminary work in preparing the Filipino people to celebrate the 100th birthday of the nation.

People may not know it but Veneracion, aside from being the author of the influential history textbook Agos ng Dugong Kayumanggi, was also the historical consultant of “Bayani,” that ABS-CBN television series that ran every Saturday morning from 1995 to 2001, which featured the lives of many Filipino heroes and was watched by most of us of the generation that came of age after the 1986 People Power Revolution. Many of us even remember the opening song, “Ikaw ang unang nagbuo ng bayang Pilipino, ikaw ang unang lumaban sa pananakop ng dayuhan…”

I was so fortunate that Veneracion was one of my very first graduate professors when I began my masteral studies at the UP Department of History in 2005 for the subject “Philippine Revolution.” I was taking a class under him when the then RPN-9 reporter Kiko Dagohoy asked to interview him on Imelda Marcos. He told Kiko that he should interview me instead because the topic of my BA thesis was Imelda. That was my first press interview as a young historian. In all honesty, among the senior historians, he was the first one who made me feel that he genuinely believed in my potential as a historian and public speaker.

Recently, I had a discussion with my first history professor, the anthropologist Carlos Tatel Jr. and we realized that Veneracion was actually the most active of the professional historians in engaging the media in the 1980s and 1990s, which was the era of television. It was thrilling to realize that he was the one who actually recommended me to my first television interview as a historian in 2005.

When I asked Veneracion about him being the public historian for the television age, he told me: “Just like everyone, we are products of our times. Yes, I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time when freedom was recovered through People Power. People were asking questions that must be answered [and] that led to the “Public Forum” of Randy David, for example, Winnie Monsod and others… The new regime did not have the professionals that could help them sort things out.”

When I was a young faculty member at the UP history department, it was rare for historians to consent to be interviewed by the media. That’s the niche that I filled early on and my impression was that historians were “camera-shy.” Veneracion shared his first encounter with television to me when a New York-trained TV director interviewed him for two hours. He saw the script and gave suggestions. “It was about the Flag Law — which I thought was a turning point in the American Colonial Project (and its relation with the Filipino intellectual elite). To my dismay, none of the clips taken were shown and instead my whole concept/words were put in the [mouth] of the host,” he said.

When he mentioned the incident to the faculty, a senior colleague Dr. Isagani Medina told him that he “would never ever allow himself to be interviewed.” Others said that historians should demand honorarium for professional services. “That was what happened,” Veneracion told me.

Being taken out of context is one risk a public historian faces all the time. Said Veneracion: “The work and the risk are similar to regular journalists. The only difference is the relatively safe distance by which historians discuss issues. Of course, the mode of transmission is very vulnerable to plagiarism — but if you are not too sensitive and concerned about this, then there is the [personal] satisfaction that you have contributed to nation-building.”

Such is the selflessness of public historians in sharing knowledge.

More on Veneracion of public history next week.

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