UArizona Historian Tackles the History of Nothing

Feb. 2, 2021

 

Susan Crane, an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Arizona, studies collective memory, historical consciousness, and historical photography. In her newest book Nothing Happened: A History (Stanford University Press, 2020), she explores how the word “nothing” is used when talking about the past.

‘I had to stop thinking about the word nothing with a small ‘n’ and start thinking of it as a capital N – every time I met my kind of Nothing,” Crane said.

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Susan Crane
Susan Crane

Crane examines what people really mean when they say "Nothing happened," or "Nothing is the way it was," or "Nothing has changed." She says by examining these uses of Nothing, “we can recover histories that were there all along.”

“I’m the kind of historian who’s always been more interested in how people remember the past than in just a particular place, time, or event,” Crane said during a book discussion with historian Peter Fritzsche. “I knew I wanted to look at how Nothing could be an expression of historical consciousness.”

“When Nothing has changed but we think that it should have, we might call that injustice; when Nothing has happened over a long, slow period of time, we might call that boring,” notes Stanford University Press in the book description. “Justice and boredom have histories. So too does being relieved or disappointed when Nothing happens – for instance, when a forecasted end of the world does not occur.”

"Nothing Happened is a delightful romp through what is really meant when nothing is invoked to describe something. This is a remarkably original book that transforms how we see history. It is clever and funny and serious and illuminating. You won't want to put it down," said Marita Sturken, professor of media, culture, and communication at NYU and author of Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero.

“One of my purposes in writing this book was I was thinking about people who don’t care about history – and I have them in class and in my family – and I thought maybe talking about Nothing is a way to get them to realize, ‘Oh, I’ve been thinking about history all along and I didn’t know it,’” Crane said.

Susan Crane will be appearing at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 6 at 9AM, discussing "Who Makes History?"