For Those Who Came Before Us
“We must learn from history and those who came before us in order to understand and transform our present.”
We spent July 6 remembering the generations who came before us.
It was the first day of the bi-annual conference of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), which coincided with the birthday of IPRA co-founder and peace pioneer Elise Boulding. Boulding passed away on June 24 at the age of 89, the day after fellow IPRA co-founder John Burton, 95, died in Sydney.
I had read of both their deaths before leaving San Diego for Sydney, which gave me a long plane ride to reflect on their work, particularly that of Boulding. As a graduate student at Portland State University (PSU), I was introduced to her work The Underside of History: A View of Women through Time, an influential book in the field of women’s and peace studies―and in my own career development. I left PSU to become a peace writer in the Women PeaceMakers Program at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, wanting to capture the voices of women overlooked or ignored by history, media and society, much like those Boulding documented.
After hearing moving tributes to Burton and Boulding, the conference audience also listened to others who had generations in mind. Alex Gusmao, founder of Timor Aid in East Timor, gave thanks to those who came before us “3 years ago, 30 years ago, 30,000 years ago.” Aboriginal lawyer Larissa Behrendt acknowledged that we were on the land of the Kamilarroi (an aboriginal tribe), and called upon the tribe elders for their wisdom and guidance throughout the conference.
As I returned to the conference venue from lunch, I was welcomed by a cheerful voice: “Well look at that, there are three generations of us here!” My thesis advisor and professor from PSU, Dr. Barbara Tint, was strolling along with her dissertation advisor from the University of Melbourne, Dr. Di Bretherton. There we were in Sydney: three generations of peace advocates―one advisor who had inspired and encouraged another, who then motivated yet another. I felt paths and influences in this field of peace studies coming full circle.
Dr. Tint’s statement from her biography at PSU―“Current times, more than ever, demand new ways of engaging in the world and with each other. We are each responsible for making our own spheres of influence healthier and more peaceful domains”―reminded me then of a similar one by Boulding: “There is no time left for anything but to make peacework a dimension of our every waking activity.” Both statements quickened my passion and commitment to this work.
So even as we commemorated previous generations and reflected on the history of the field―exercises that some portray as burdensome, stagnating or even stifling―there was an urgency to our gathering of peace researchers and practitioners. In the dedications to Boulding and Burton and throughout the sessions at the conference, the pressing need was clear: We must learn from history and those who came before us in order to understand and transform our present.
A high school student from the Youth Peace Initiative at the University of Sydney caught the mood well when she implored the audience to no longer ignore voices of the marginalized, the “underside of history.” She urges us all: “We need to remember history―and how it will bleed into our present.”
Emiko Noma is Editor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice and the Women PeaceMakers Program.