Tuesday, March 12, 2013
And Your Eyes Glaze Over: Why I Write About History.
The 3 regular readers of my blog know I post a lot about the Constitution and legal statutes, American and world history, the evolution of scientific understanding and other geeky stuff that bores a lot of people. I eat that shit up, and have ever since I can remember.
My late mother called me "the family historian" because I was the one who always paid attention to the Old Timers' stories, so I knew where we'd come from and became sort of the repository for family lore. I collected coins (past tense because I still have my collection, much of which came from my paternal grandfather, but I no longer actively engage in numismatic-related program activities). I made NToddsPa take me to historic sites in Philly and Boston, even though he hates urban driving.
I obviously haven't grown out of it. In between anti-war actions in DC, I visited the Holocaust Museum, the National Archives, the Smithsonian, etc. I dragged my pregnant partner up Little Round Top and love researching local boys who served in the Civil War. I pore over the Annals of Congress for my "daddy time".
Usually when I write about this stuff, people don't comment and I'm sure skip over the excruciating detail I sometimes get into. On more than one occasion somebody has told me how their eyes roll back into their head, or they glaze over, or something. That's cool. I write because I like it, and am thrilled in the rare instances when somebody wants to discuss something.
There's more to it than that, though. Philosophically, I think knowing history is important for understanding our present and anticipating our future. And at the very least, you need to appreciate it as you try to interpret anachronistic law that remains with us as we deal with modern policy issues.
What usually gets a bug up my ass is when people try to appropriate history to claim a monopoly on it. Fundamentally I don't really give a shit what James Madison thought, but I can't abide his being used as a cudgel by people. So I fight fire with fire because it usually shows how specious their claims are and how shallow their understanding is.
And I just like it.
So it should come as no surprise to people who know me that I might spend a lot of time reading source documents and arguing to the last about something trivial like Vermont's pre-statehood status as a republic. It's not just about trying to prove I'm right--obviously that's a part of it since I have an oversized ego and hate to be wrong--but I'm like a moth to the flame if I see a burning controversy or even a lukewarm difference in perspective. And I always learn something new.
F'rinstance, I didn't realize just how prominent one of Fletcher's original grantees was (though I shoulda done the math because, you know, who gets free land from the Governor?). Jonas Fay pretty much wrote Vermont's declaration of independence, was a member of the Green Mountain Boys, and was on the State Supreme Court. Now I want to look more into his life.
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Eyes glazing over in 3, 2, 1...
March 12, 2013 | Permalink
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Someone whose name I can't remember just now, once said history was a rehearsal for the future. So the accurate knowledge of history is extremely important. But it's even more than that, it provides the greatest and most valuable evidence of human activity we have, in the real world, the natural environment. Its lessons entirely overtake in value the pathetic attempts to study human beings in psych labs, under fMRI and by other "scientific" means. Though since history deals with a range of real phenomena which are too large, too varied, too unmeasurable and, most of all, irreducible to be dealt with by science. Since science is currently considered the one and only way to now about reality, the one and only and infallible oracle, history and its lessons are irrationally and most unscientifically discounted.
People finding history "boring" is an interesting phenomenon. It's like people saying they don't like poetry or vocal music as they consume huge amounts of pop music that consist of little else but poetry (often rather bad poetry) and singing(likewise). Not to mention the huge traffic in costume dramatizations of fictionalized history and historical novels. I would guess that if you gave people real, documented, accurate history in that form they'd lap it up like they do the 17th knock-off of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy.
Agree with you about the dangerous founders fetish, a cult begun by segregationists and other right wing crooks. They're long dead, there is no reason we have to be restrained by their long dead fingers. You might want to read this article by Mary Frances Berry.
Maybe even my posts from last week dealing with the enormous value to be gotten from history.
Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | Mar 12, 2013 9:40:49 AM
I'm one of your three readers, a longtime reader, at that. One of the reasons I enjoy dohiyimir so much is because of the histories you delve into, and your putting those histories square onto shit that's happening as we speak. And you don't yell and make up crap, either.
But then, I've always been a lover of history, pre-history even more so. Actually made a career of the latter. I always had an extremely hard time reading fiction, including the "classics" required in high school and college, and usually couldn't complete any of those books. Dickens, ugh. And I still can't and don't read fiction. Well-researched and -written non-fictions (histories, geology, biographies, whathaveyou) are like dark chocolate to me! Dohiyimir is a (almost) daily truffle. And I thank you!
Posted by: lea-p | Mar 12, 2013 12:45:31 PM
Thanks, you two! Now where'd that 3rd reader go? Prolly hates history...
Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Mar 12, 2013 4:58:33 PM
No - LOVES history and becomes fascinated with your essays and research. Just don't comment much. Thank you for the insight you provide and the slightly quirky things you dig up. Please don't stop.
Posted by: Green | Mar 13, 2013 9:01:54 AM
Ahem: FOUR regular readers, if you please. I like reading your posts, but I am another that doesn't feel the need to comment much.
Posted by: Nancy in Detroit | Mar 13, 2013 12:26:49 PM