In many ways, history is a vast and elusive subject: a seemingly endless flow of time we may try to come to grips with, drawing out the threads to understand how exactly we got to where we are; countless generations, cultures and individuals who made their way through life and left some kind of mark. Does that help us live our own lives?
With education, it seems it’s hard to do justice to history. How can vast arcs of time be conveyed to young minds so they become meaningful and alive? It’s easier to focus on a distinct period or key facts, but seeing how that sits and relates to everything around it is so much harder to get at. We might draw out a single thread and try to see how that’s woven through time, but doing so may distort its importance or oversimplify the paths toward change.
It takes imagination and effort to put ourselves in the shoes of other people in other times, to try and see how things looked through their eyes. And while modern historical retellings might help us visualise and relate in that way, can we be confident in the truth of these powerful and compelling stories? They often seem to place a modern way of being into a very different time, assuming the human mind itself hasn’t been changed by the process (see Note One).
It really does seem that we shape the world, which in turn shapes us by what’s been created: the ideas of individuals and civilisations serving those coming next (Notes Two). For me, history is very much this picture of a chain of events and discoveries that inform what follows; although sometimes lying dormant for a while, to be picked up again later. People living then must’ve been influenced by ideas and the systems they give rise to, all shaping what they then passed onto others.
Connecting all that with modern times: does it matter? Does it matter if we don’t fully understand our history, but focus instead on a few of the lessons it offers? Is it sufficient to detach ourselves from the weight of the past and self-confidently move forward with the ideas left in our hands and a loose sense of history as portrayed through modern culture or learning? Is that all we really need?
Personally, it seems important to understand what’s passed before and what we’re left with in order that we make wise choices about what comes next. History’s main teaching must be that things change, and we seem in the slightly unique position of being aware of that: we’ve conquered the world; connected its diverse cultures; explored its artefacts; and drawn together the vast wealth of history and the wisdom it offers.
That’s undoubtedly a lot of information to hold in mind, and a weighty inheritance in terms of the power now placed in our hands (Notes Three); which leaves us with the question of how we might best rise to the challenge.
Notes and References:
Then there’s People wanting change which spoke a little of how we might place ourselves within the processes of change.