This post will go live on Good Friday, while I’ll be away on retreat and not actually writing it. However, since I know some of you aren’t Christians and would be reading this (remember on this special day: Jesus loves you too), I thought I’d just stick to schedule and set it live on Friday as it’s the case with all of Rory’s topics for the April Blogging Challenge. I can’t believe this is already the end of Week 2!
So, today’s topic is why our biggest passion is our passion, so I was given history to talk about. My first reaction was: “I don’t know, it just is. Like breathing”. I can’t remember a time in my life when history wasn’t my passion. I had a book that opened into a carton version of a real Medieval castle. And one about mummies as tall as me as a child. And more stuff because I’ve never had to suffer from the lack of things. I used to play with dinosaurs and dress up as a princess and I was obsessed with Disney’s Robin Hood. Like, proper obsessed. I’m moving to England when I grow up kind of obsessed (and guess where I am now, although the grown up bit is disputable).
However, I have just been thinking about the topic because I’m in the process of convincing people that I should study at post-graduate level, although it seems a lot of people think that without my making a case for it.
I have an inner antiquarian with a serious case of nostalgia about a golden age.
Mind you, I love being able to vote, attend uni and write books in my own female name. I also love my rose gold iPhone, Twitter and driving a car. I’m grateful for modern medicine. Even acknowledging this, I long for an age when things were simpler, society was codified and courtship was a thing.
In Austenland one of the characters is a history professor and he says exactly this about why he was there. It’s a bit of a novelist trope because usually people like this make very bad historians (see the following points), but it is one that happens to have some truth to it.
History is an art and the most successful attribute of a historian is imagination
Hugh Trevor-Roper viewed history as full of contingency, with the past neither a story of continuous advance nor of continuous decline, but the consequence of choices made by individuals at the time. For this reason he believed historians should be able to understand that there could be multiple outcomes and nothing was necessarily going to go the way it went. Having as vivid an imagination as I’ve always had, it comes easily for me to imagine the “what if?”. I’m no fan of counterfactual history, but I still believe in challenging our accepted explanations for the things of the past to see if they are strong enough, or they need better understanding.
I love to get to know people, argue different perspectives and come to understand things
I don’t know, I just like when things make sense and I can find a fil rouge among different sources of the time. I love getting to know historical figures and their writings and being able to tell their unique voices and opinions apart. I also love how all this comes together to make one thing come alive in front of your eyes.
Writing about history is just amazing
Following from the making things come alive and imagination points, it’s just amazing to write about history and present this picture to someone else. Academia suffers from a lack of good, readable writing and most people really appreciate the few historians who read like a historical novel while really they are telling you facts as close to reality as our sources and biases allow.
The past teaches you about the present
As the saying goes, historia magistra vitae. As someone deeply engaged with the politics of the age I can’t help but seeing the past as a source of insight on how to deal with present challenges.
So I hope this answers the question. Happy Easter!