I’m being lazy today. This is a copy/paste of some thoughts I had and typed into the Notes app on my iPhone, 23 Sept 2011.
I’m sitting on the tarmac of McCarran airport, looking out the window of the plane at the Las Vegas strip when it occurs to me how little I care for history. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but also not sure I care. Let me explain.
I like the way the Luxor looks because it’s a very modern take on a pyramid- sleek, black, and with a great light show. But the sphinx out front just reminds me how I detested studying ancient Egypt in school. I had to force my way through Raiders of the Lost Ark, and didn’t like Serious Sam.
Next to the Luxor is Excalibur, a hotel styled after a castle. This is when it occurs to me that while I’ve always hated fantasy involving sorcerers and dragons and the like, I’ve just plain never much cared for medieval crap like knights or anything else that actually existed either.
My interest in history really doesn’t begin until 1920’s America, when we’re already basically in the modern age. I love art deco and modern design, and the age where the Wright brothers have already flown, internal combustion engines exist, and messages can be sent cross-country by wire, however primitive.
The only thing of interest further in the past is the people, and the only people of interest were arguably futurists. Davinci may be a renowned artist, but he was also a man of science with advanced designs working toward flight. Tesla, Edison, Benjamin Franklin, John Moses Browning, and even William S. Harley and the Davidson brothers… The men who moved humanity forward didn’t look back on the way things were done in the past. (One notable exception would be Henry Ford, who became fixated on the Model T as the end of automotive progress. For all the advances he introduced, if he’d not been cajoled for years and forced to produce the Model A, FoMoCo would likely be only a memory.)
Maybe this is the real problem, and my underlying issue with really disliking history. We’re taught about dates, and papers, and names, and things but never told good stories about people. How much more fascinating would history be if it were relayed by a good storyteller? If Garrison Keiller were talking about the Magna Carta, I might’ve cared and remembered what the hell it was. (I’ll google it in a bit, but for right now it’s that very important paperwork thingy that I suspect was French.)
We’re told there are different methods people learn through, but ultimately I suspect real learning has less to do with any particular method and more to do with a subject being relatable. I can’t relate with Little House on the Prarie, nor do I want to. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a young girl in America’s westward expansion; not a boy raised on Nintendo. But Dances With Wolves makes that time period come alive and interests me. And it’s not that it’s told with a male in the lead; it’s the theme of seeing the frontier before it’s gone, and making the difference between cities and country matter. Costner’s character has been trapped by “civilization” his entire life and needs to escape- and that is a story a person of today can relate with.
What if I hate ancient history because the only good teachers I had were in English and Auto Shop (which I subsequently love)? What if standup comics, who have to connect with a room on the spot, were teachers instead?