OpinionWriting local history

Writing local history


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Dumaguete is not only known as the City of Gentle People but also a University Town.

A multitude of students flock to this small, if developing, City every semester (around June to August) for the pursuit of knowledge and excellence in education. The City is also known for its rich history due to the presence of at least five colleges and universities.

Because of its profound closeness to its roots, two universities here in the Province offer the Master of Arts in History program: the Negros Oriental State University and Silliman University.

As a relatively new program, NORSU has produced a number of graduates, and continues to progress steadily. Silliman has produced many many more graduates from different parts of the country, and from abroad. The program is both universities requires a thesis (historical research) .

History professors from both institutions have always required their students to write about local history which historian F.A. Gealogo from Ateneo de Manila University defines as the field which “limits the locus of the study to the history of the region, province, town, or locality”.

Thus, both schools have tried to look into several ways of writing local history. For NORSU, it has been mostly about social and institutional history. While in Silliman, the dominant theme in writing is political history as the graduate students are encouraged to write about the various records and accounts of the towns and cities of Negros Oriental, and outside the Province.

As a graduate of the MA History program of Silliman University, I have noted how my professors have always dreamt of – and invariably pushed for – completing the political histories of various towns and cities of Negros Oriental; so far, I suppose, there are only a few municipalities and cities left to write about: San Jose, Tanjay, Manjuyod, Bindoy, Ayungon, Tayasan, Jimalalud, La Libertad, Bacong, Valencia, Bayawan, and Basay.

There is still a lot of work to be done to have a complete political history of Negros Oriental, but I suppose it is very doable.

Other works of local history from Silliman University would include local biographies [my thesis was a local biography on Gov. Mariano F. Perdices], institutional histories, and socio-cultural histories.

Suffice it to say, there are still a lot of things to be written about in terms of local history in Negros Oriental. Perhaps the definitive book on Negros Oriental’s local history is the four-volume history of Negros Oriental written by the late Prof. Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez.

There is no doubt that other historians have since developed their respective works from readings of Professor Rodriguez’ seminal work.

In my case, I have written my dissertation on wartime collaboration during the Japanese Occupation of Negros Oriental as a way of filling the lacuna in the book of Professor Rodriguez – as not much has been written about the collaboration cases in Negros Oriental during WW2.

In fact, it all started with some questions about Gov. Guillermo Villanueva, wartime chief executive of Negros Oriental.

When I read Professor Rodriguez’ book, I was curious as to why Governor Villanueva was killed by the Japanese forces in the hinterlands of Zamboanguita a few days before their surrender? And why many of the guerrillas were reported to have abhorred him.

Asking these questions led me to the topic on wartime collaboration and its intricate nature. One cannot just see it as ‘black and white’ — as I argued in my dissertation — which will only lead the historian to create unwarranted judgments of the past.

Also, I presumed that the issue on collaboration has not been more incisively written about due to its sensitive nature – unlike the topic on the resistance movement wherein the guerrillas were mostly considered as heroes.

Thus, my curiosity on the case of Governor Villanueva pushed me to write a full-blown historical narrative on the issue of political collaboration in Negros Oriental which included discussions not only about him, but also on other political collaborators like Mayor Mariano Perdices, (wartime mayor of Dumaguete), Rep. Jose E. Romero, Teodorico Lajato (head of the Public Opinion Office), Board Member Jose “Pepe” Martinez, and others.

I also made comparisons and connections between the national collaborators [the likes of Jose P. Laurel or Claro M. Recto] and local collaborators of Negros Oriental.

Since then, I have focused much of my time writing about World War II in Negros Oriental, which would include the internecine strife in Negros guerrilla command during  World War II, wartime food shortage here [published in Philippine Studies: Historiographic and Ethnographic Viewpoints of Ateneo de Manila University, September 2023], and Japanese wartime atrocities in Dumaguete.

Other researches that I have published include local biographical works like that on Governor Perdices, Rep. Jose E. Romero, and Governor Villanueva – mostly focusing on their collaboration cases.

As a guide for other researchers, it would be interesting to look into other aspects that have rarely been written, including local biographical works on Negros Oriental politicians like Rep. Lamberto Macias, Gov. Emilio Macias, Gov. Agustin Perdices, and Gov. William “Billy” Villegas.

Topics like the Martial Law Years in Negros Oriental, and social histories of various towns and cities in the Province are also rarely written about.

In the end, it is undoubtedly up to the historian to find what he is really interested to write about. For in writing local history, one has to consider his interest so that the research process and the writing will be less tedious. All I can do is suggest the gaps that must be filled.

By and large, I concur with historian Theodore Zeldin who explained that the writing of history cannot simply be taught in the classroom: “I have no wish to urge anyone to write history in any particular way. I believe the history you write is the expression of your individuality.”

I’ve been teaching historiography in graduate school for years now, and this is my first year teaching it to undergraduate students [since the BA History program started last year], and I have encountered the same problem  over and over again: how to teach my students to write history.

I suppose it’s not something that can easily be taught, and I would agree with Professor Zeldin – just like how he agrees with historian Theodor Mommsen — that it is “next to impossible” to teach students to write history. So I ascribe to his viewpoint that “much more can be gained by encouraging young historians to develop their own personality, their own vision, their own eccentricities than setting them examples to follow.”

Moreover, Zeldin asseverated that “original history is the reflection of an original mind, and there is no prescription which will produce that.”

It is then up to the historian to find his own niche either by asking more questions, looking into the multitude of gaps in Negros Oriental local history, or by looking into suggestions made by other historians.

I hope that soon enough, there will be more written works on Negros Oriental’s local history for there is still so much left to be done, and so many gaps to be filled.


Author’s email: JJAbulado@norsu.edu.ph



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