I was not a fan of history as a kid. I’d say it was probably one of my least favorites due to its dryness and inability to catch our less-than-focused attention.
Frankly we just weren’t that excited by The Phoenicians, The Greeks, The Romans. We could respect what they’d achieved… all those centuries ago, but it just felt that it had nothing to do with us. (Self-centeredness being a core value of our demo at the time).
In hindsight, I can’t quite understand why they didn't begin with a ‘more recent’ century, or even the one we actually resided in. World War II would have been fascinating to me.
Knowing my grandfather fought in it (well, truth be told, apparently he was primarily ‘relaxing’ in the officers’ mess in North Africa for most of it, by all accounts), WWII seemed a tactile, common experience for us, living in Wales, with our grandparents’ generation having all been impacted in some way.
But no, it was the ‘Classic Grecian, Roman eras’ or nothing, so we were force-fed history from Africa and the Middle East as opposed to anything relatable to us. It would not have been a drier experience had I added sand to my lunch.
That’s not to say I had no interest in places further afield, but would have loved some stronger resonance and identification to have got the class inspired for more.
Fast forward 30 years, and I’m fascinated by the subject that I once couldn’t tolerate. Maybe it’s because I now have my ‘own’ history, or as I’ve learned more in life, I see the commonalities, the thread which ties it all together.
I also love the randomness of some of it. The ‘What if’s’ had certain events gone differently.
Example: I Came across an incident called the ‘Zimmerman Note’, something I had no knowledge of before this week. And it just caught my attention, sparked off those receptors, and had me musing on it for a moment.
Zimmerman’s Note was in fact a telegram sent during WWI, before the US had committed to entering the war. This telegram was intercepted by the US on its way from an Arthur Zimmerman at the German Foreign Office to the Mexican government suggesting an alliance to distract the US from Europe by Mexico siding and being financed, by Germany.
Apparently Mexican President Venustiano Carranza had an assessment done to see the viability of siding with Germany with the understanding and hope of regaining their lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
So it very much seems that the Mexicans gave this proposition some serious consideration. I’m smiling as I type because it all sounds ridiculous now, but at the time Mexico were relatively pro-German and certainly Anti-American in its views.
So let’s just imagine…
A simple email goes awry, or someone hacks our inbox, and the weighty impact such an action would possibly have. Maybe not World War implications, but we can all relate.
This is just one minuscule example of History that we can look at and see the consequences. It informs me that all actions have consequences, some small, some huge, and sometimes we have little idea which one will precipitate a massive response.
Now at my age, I can look at distant history and see the strands between their existence and ours. How societies even in Neanderthal times had some form of structure.
And jumping forward to the Roman era, such planning on a municipal level that cities were efficient, clean, and organized in a way that was hundreds of years more advanced that the remainder of Western Europe.
Were the equivalent of these forward-thinking planners amongst us today, they’d no doubt have inspiring last names such as Musk, Jobs etc. In fact, Musk may be the better example as he’s undoubtedly planning for a hundred years hence, or further, with his vision for mankind.
Admittedly, the science students in the audience will be pulling their hair out at such dubious and loose aspersions, but I’m a generalist and work with themes and concepts more than particulars.
And I’m fascinated by mankind and the patterns that we recognize. Its leaders, and either their arrogance, obsessions, vanity, blindness being their undoing.
But also others’ acts of courage, kindness, tolerance and benevolence that can be found across the centuries and inspire us all individually to greater heights.
We can think of history as the ‘Ted Talks’ of history, informing us, if we choose to look.
Ultimately I love history for how I can relate it to today and the way we can all live and learn from their stories.