Why is it important to study history? The German film ‘The Nasty Girl’ offers insights into the study of history and its implications to the personal and social life of an individual. Although the film was fictional, the plot is quite realistic knowing that the Nazi party and the crimes associated with the organization was real and did happen in the history of Germany. There are some people who refuse or have no interest in studying history because of several reasons. Some, for instance, argue that they did not wish to dwell in the past and so they let bygones be bygones. These people focus on the present situation alone and are somehow afraid or uninterested of their past. There are those, however, who wish to understand their society. These people are not only contented with knowing their present condition, but is also interested in the reasons why they are in a certain condition and perhaps predict what the future will bring. People who love history are those who asks the ‘why’s’ and they are also the most knowledgeable and has deeper insights. The film ‘Nasty Girl’ justifies the importance of studying history, but it also showcases the dangers and frustrations that accompany it. Nevertheless, the information gained from the study of history as well as the satisfaction it gives to a curious individual has its merits.
What is History and Why is it Important?
History is the study of the chronology of things, ideas or events; tracing them back to their origins and their development over time. The term itself came from the Greek word ‘istoria,’ which means ‘knowledge of the past’ (Nasson, 3). There is a consensus among scholars that studying history is important primarily because they help people “understand the meaning and dynamics of the relationship between cause and effect in the overall development of human societies” (Nasson 3). History has an essential role in understanding various field of social sciences such as government and politics and is also extensively used in the study of physical sciences and technology (Standler 1). In most instances, circumstances and events repeats themselves. People encounter similar problems and the knowledge about how such problems were resolved before can be invaluable. In this context, history is useful as a predictive tool (Standler 2). With knowledge about history, people do not have to necessarily experience things in order to determine its consequences; they only have to look in other people’s past experiences. History also provides inspiration by studying the lives of notable individuals and their contributions. Most significantly, history is a “continuous and connected process,” which means that knowledge of the past is “directly connected not only to the present, but also to the future” (Nasson 3).
Digging the Past is Not Easy
Most people would think that studying history, as a special interest or profession, is less challenging. But digging past events is not always easy. As depicted in the movie, ‘Nasty Girl,’ historians can also face personal and social consequences for their actions. The protagonist, Sonja, for instance, experienced much ridicule and persecution when she expressed her interest in digging up the Nazi history of her local community. According to observers, Sonja’s character was inspired by a real girl named Anja Rosmus who once set out to investigate her town’s Nazi experience. It turns out that Rosmus’s town, Passau, was once a dwelling place of Adolf Hitler and is also the town where Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who was held responsible for the murder of the Jews, once lived. Rosmus’s town had deeper Nazi involvement than she expected and most of its residents want to keep their town’s dark past as well as their personal involvement in the Nazi’s war crimes a secret. Because she was always poking around and because of her persistent personality, Sonja was tagged as being nasty by the locals, which is also why the film was titled as such. Although the movie was a satire, in reality, the events that took place while Sonja was pursuing her investigation were not funny at all. Aside from being deliberately obstructed by the townsfolk and the local librarian during her research, she was also harassed to the point that her life was placed in grave danger. She was, for instance, subjected to emotional and physical harassments. Many called her over the phone to insult her while pro-Nazis dropped some bombs into her bedroom in an attempt to threaten and intimidate her from pursuing her investigation. Sonja’s personal life was also ruined because of her propensity to gather historical facts. Her relationship with her husband, for instance, gradually collapsed as the persecution and harassment towards her and her family heats up.
Historians are Often Regarded as Nasty
The study of history can be nasty, especially for people who wish to keep their dark pasts a secret. True to its title, the film indeed projects that historians can sometimes be viewed as a nuisance. People in Sonja’s town, Pfilzing, for instance, seemed to be simple folks, but their true personalities emerged when they learned that Sonja was planning to investigate the town’s past for her proposed essay entitled, “My Hometown During the Third Reich”. Little did Sonja know that most of the town people, especially the town’s most prominent families, have links to the Nazis in their past, which is also the major reason why most of them are very much upset about Sonja’s prying. For many years, the town folks kept their silence about their Nazi involvement and were not willing to reveal it either. Perhaps they were hoping that their secrets would eventually become lost as time passes by. Unfortunately for them, though, Sonja was determined to uncover the town’s secrets. Just like most historians, Sonja’s spirited and persistent personality prevailed over her. Even after missing the deadline for her second essay because her queries and investigations often reach a dead end and even after she married and bore children, her passion in examining the past did not wane.
On Truth and Memory
One of the primary moral lessons that can be derived from the film is that truth and memories can sometimes be muddled by prejudices. It was a common belief that the town Pfilzing did not collaborate with the Nazis. Most of the town people choose to believe this folklore as the truth except for Sonja. Nevertheless, the truth could not be hidden forever because, one way or another, it would come out for those who earnestly seek it. While trying to interview the widow of the town’s mayor during the time of the Nazis, for instance, the lady became infuriated and asked why Sonja was trying to “rake up all those old lies” wherein Sonja replied that she was “not interested in lies, but facts”. These dialogues between Sonja and the old lady implies that people already have prejudices when it comes to storytelling. Unfortunately, prejudices could not be avoided because individuals have unique opinions and perspective towards certain things and situations. For the same reason, a person who seeks the truth should be always skeptical when conducting personal interviews primarily because there could be biases as people are telling events in their own perspective. This is why historians do not rely on narratives alone. Most often, they gather evidence by investigating events using the available literature and other historical resources and try to recreate the actual scenario during the time that the event happened. It is necessary for historians to leave their prejudices behind and approach a particular topic as if he does not have any previous idea about the topic at all. One of the proponents of this approach was the renowned philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes. In investigating things and ideas, Descartes argued that it is necessary for him to “raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations” . For Descartes, if anyone wishes to establish anything with a lasting impression, then he would have to start from scratch. Just like Descartes, historians often view information with suspicion and most conduct their own investigation before validating the information at hand.
The Study of History as Depicted in the Film
The study of history is featured in the film as a painstaking process that involves dedication and hard work. It provides a notion that every information written in history books found its way there through a rigorous process of investigation and verification. Aside from that, the film also implies that history can alter the lives of individuals and societies and so, it should not be taken lightly. Just like what happened in the town of Pfilzing wherein the whole town overreacted while some become murderously pissed because a girl choose an unpopular topic for her historical essay. The film also depicts history as recurring or enduring. Despite the fact that most people in Pfilzing choose to feign ignorance regarding their Nazi involvement, the historical facts points out in the opposite direction. In a sense, it provides assurance that history will always reveal the truth, no matter how people and society tries to hide it. Just like many historical movies, the ‘Nasty Girl’ does not only offer entertainment, but also a chance to reflect upon the actual events that inspired the making of the film. After all, the film was based on real life scenarios wherein the real person was indeed persecuted because of her efforts to uncover her town’s past.
How one should View his Own History Based on the Film
Some people are like the town folks of Pfilzing who chooses to forget their past, hoping that they would be able to move on with their lives. Others, however, are like Sonja, who is not afraid of confronting the past whatever the consequences it may bring. People may keep secrets, but that does not necessarily mean that their history is already lost in time. The film only proves that history is an important aspect of an individual’s life. No matter how hard one tries to conceal his or her past, there is always a chance that it would be revealed. Based on the movie, it is quite desirable to embrace one’s history and make amends with one’s past, so that one can live without remorse in the present as well as in the future.
The film ‘Nasty Girl’ provides awareness about the importance of history and the great lengths that some people go through in pursuing it. While some people choose to avoid their history, others pursue it extensively hoping that the truth would set them free. Indeed, scholars agree that history provides the necessary knowledge about the past that can help individuals and societies cope with their present and their future. History is not only about ‘knowing the past,’ but rather it is an ongoing process of learning and applying. The film was essentially successful in implying that the study of history is important not only for academic reasons, but also for personal fulfillment and gratification. The study of history, for instance, satisfies one’s curiosity and answers questions that most people believe are better left forgotten. Historians are nothing less than resilient detectives who would do anything and would stop at nothing in order to gather information and learn the truth. The inquisitive mind, apparently, does not settle for word of mouth or hearsay. Just like what happened to the protagonist in the film, most often, in the quest for truth, one encounters difficulties. However, a curious and inquisitive mind could not rest until it determines the truth of the matter.
Das schreckliche Mädchen (The Nasty Girl). Dir. M. Verhoeven. 1990.
Descartes, R. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. n.d. January 2016 <http://www.american-buddha.com/discourse.part.1.htm#Note on the Translation:>.
Ebert, R. The Nasty Girl. 1991. January 2016 <http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-nasty-girl-1991>.
Nasson, B. HIstory: The Meaning and Role of History in Human Development. n.d. January 2016 <http://www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/c04/e6-22-00-00.pdf>.
Standler, R. What is History and Why is it Important? 2013. January 2016 <http://www.rbs0.com/wh.pdf>.