Phoebe owes me a proper date after this one. That means a full meal, in the evening, and a proper goodnight kiss. I promise only to press the advantage to 2nd base. I am a gentleman after all.
I had this conversation not too long ago with a “muggle” friend of mine. I was wittering on about some cave paintings recently discovered that are about 45,000 (okay, 42,000 but what is one or two millennium between friends?) years old and saw that her eyes were glazed over as she was holding her hands in front of her like she was trying NOT to grab her phone and play Candy Crush. I gave her my charmingest grin (and it is a very charming grin, believe you me) and asked if I was boring her.
She said no, that the SUBJECT was boring not the delivery. “I always just found history to be very dull,” she admitted. Now admittedly, I have a lot of younger friends and a lot of them share this sentiment. I don’t know nor do I claim that it is a millennial thing but when you see a trend…. Anyway.
I sat down and I asked her what she likes to do. I mean, I knew the answer, cuz she’s my friend, but I was making a point. She said going to movies. She is a huge fan of the recent run of Marvel superhero movies. I said… GREAT! Lots of good stuff coming out of Marvel. But then I asked her what she thought she might do if she didn’t have access to movies. Either through lack of technology or just lived so off the grid that it wasn’t an option. She considered and said she would probably read books or the comic books (don’t tell me they are graphic novels, they have only been graphic novels since the mid-90’s. COMIC. BOOKS.) assuming the level of technology was there to create them. You can probably see where this is going, but I am gonna spell it out anyway. I told her to take it a step further. What if there were no way to print books/comic books. She said handwritten manuscript. Okay, what if there were no ink and paper? She said chalk and slate. And I said BINGO. Cave paintings were our ancestors way of entertaining themselves or recording something they thought was important. She considered that a moment, for the first time in her life (so far as I know) considering the actual ramifications of what that ment.
“So,” she said, slowly looking more and more intrigued. “People have been writing down stories for 45 thousand years.”
“Give or take,” I replied.
“Are any of the cave paintings pornographic?” she asked.
I will let that alone – rule 34 is alive and well. (Google that, but with your safesearch on and with your children far away from the computer.)
Since the beginning of humanities self-awareness, men and women have felt that certain deeds and ideas were worth remembering. Be it lessons we learned, monsters we’ve slain, cave-women we’ve bedded… and we’ve written it down using whatever technology was available, be it on the walls of caves with blood or berry-juice; slate and chalk; chiseled into stone; recorded on papyrus; written on paper; printed on a printing press; word processed; or digitized; all history is recorded somewhere by someone at some point. OUR job as historians, professional or amateur is to sift through it all and paint the best picture of the truth as we can based on the evidence we gathered. Every mistake made today was probably made before (though in potentially drastically different circumstances) and the more we know about these previously made the mistakes, the better prepared we are to avoid them. HISTORY IS SEXY BECAUSE IT IS A DIY GUIDE TO HOW TO NOT LIVE YOUR LIFE! It’s all there. You just have to know how to interpret it, which is why a complete education is so important. But it is also important to keep an open mind. SO MANY staunch academics find themselves mired in the traditional ways of thinking, but science and our understanding of the universe is growing rapidly beyond the traditional way of thinking about time and the past. The idea that time might not be a straight line from point A to point B but a circle, or even happening all at once is rapidly gaining popularity in quantum physics circles and to look at history through that lens certainly changes how we view our past and, more importantly, how it will impact the future.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.