Look, let us be straight with each other: History, as it is taught in the United States (I cannot speak for other countries) is dry as toast and boring as hell. And to be perfectly honest, most history is not taught as a means of reflecting on the past, but as a method to teach other concepts, such as how to write a paper, how to create a bibliography, how to cite your sources, etc. (I cringed when one student referred to the Celts as the SELTS, soft “C” sound. I blame basketball!) It is because of this that I didn’t really get into history until later in life when my spouse pointed out that I knew more about fictional histories than I did about our own history. I took that as a challenge and since I am an irrepressible competitionist, I began at the beginning.
I went to Google and I typed in “Father of History.” I got a lot of results pertaining to Father Time, several German pornographic websites, three fictional titles, a tabletop role-playing game about playing deities, and a single name.
Herodotus grew up in Halicarnassus, Caria (now Bodrum, Turkey) sometime in the 5th century BCE. At the time, Halicarnassus was under Persian rule. As Halicarnassus was a port city, it was a jumping off point for a Persian invasion of Greek-held territory, but was also a bustling center of trade and knowledge. According to his own writings, Herodotus traveled to Egypt, Tyre, and Babylon. For a person who was neither merchant nor sailor to travel so widely in these times was positively unheard of, and on these merits when Herodotus landed in Periclean Athens, he was granted a financial reward for his historical writing. He also attempted to gain citizenship, but this was an honor rarely bestowed and he was denied. He then traveled to Thurium as a part of a colony that was paid for and supplied by the Athenian government. Exactly where it was he died is a mystery. Some say he returned to Athens (due to his rather accurate first-hand accounts of the Peloponnesian War), but it is just as probably that he passed away in Thurium.
But I can hear some of you in the back of my head, rumbling about dryness and names and dates and wondering why the heck this guy is so bloody important?
Herodotus is the first person (that we know of) to ORGANIZE HIS WORK. Sounds crazy, right? But yeah, he is the first guy in all of recorded history to critically organize his writings in a historiographic narrative. Crazy right? Here, some 2,500 years later and we totally take that for granted, but back then, that was cutting edge organization. That’s like organizing everything in the bookstore by the color of the color until one day, somebody was like… We can’t find anything! Let’s organize by author!
Herodotus isn’t the first historian, but he sure was the guy who taught us how to organize our work. And what good is having the information when you can’t find it among all the other noise?