It takes a moment for me to explain why I like history, because it’s something that I’ve liked for so long I don’t even pause to think about it. It’s like trying to explain why I like dessert or being outside or Chopin. I just like it.
But when I look at it, I think my love of history is very much tied to my love of language. I love reading, and I love how substantive history writing can be. I love the the big picture, the little people, the controversy, the details, the irony, the mundane. I love those writers who can capture the the details and the broad strokes to bring me to another time and place.
I love the big, and history is big. It’s all-encompassing. It examines every motive, perspective, and bias, and it also rationalizes what look like irrational motives, perspectives, and biases. When we put what seems shocking into historical context, it suddenly becomes very — not shocking. Covid 19, the political climate, the capital insurrection, and some current events, are perhaps to some, ‘unprecedented’, but in a historical context, these things are all extremely precedented. History repeats and perspectives conflict and clash. So many beliefs and ‘normal’ behaviors in history are inane by today’s standards; that is also somewhat relieving to me. History continues to confirm my personal long-held belief that being normal is stupid, and a waste of time.
History is complex, substantive, rich, but it’s also, in my opinion, amoral. Although in learning history, a student can always ask, was this right? Was this good?, history is not really about right and wrong, good or bad. It’s simply about what happened, actions, motives, bias, corroboration, conflicting accounts, what was said, what wasn’t said, who had the power to write, and who didn’t have the power to write. Right and wrong, in my opinion, don’t play a part. I personally can be a bit sanctimonious and holy sometimes (understatement), and history is a place where I consciously leave moral judgment at the door to objectively learn about events, stories, and patterns. The history student always continues searching, rather than arriving at any permanent judgment.
History leaves me thinking — Who was telling the truth? Why did this person’s narrative win? What narratives are missing?
My favorite part of history is definitely reading it. The hardest part, in my opinion, is finding the right words to explain it truthfully, but a great historian does just that. As soon as I have a little more time on my hands I can’t wait to read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. He is an exceptional writer, a genius, and an enchantress, much more talented than any film director. He always finds the right words. Reading it, I am transported. I’m sitting in a glorious movie that is infinitely better than any movie.
Those are the reasons why I like history. What about you? Do you like it? Is there a certain part you like?
Hope you’re having a great weekend and enjoying this splendid weather.