Past and Futurists

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?

4 thoughts on “Past and Futurists

  1. Interesting if a little narrow minded.We all like to be entertained but each generation seems to put more value on it. I guess that’s why I read historical fiction. If well written it puts flesh on the bones of the facts. I’ve learned more about the Irish potato famine, the Russian revolution. and yes pioneer life (from the little house books). How did they do it?The 2 oldest girls used to wake up with snow on their covers that had sifted though the cracks between the boards on the roof! That’s the kind of details about life at the time that I find interesting. It’s those details of life that are so different from ours that makes history come alive, and why I enjoy historical fiction about any time period. It makes me think about what it would be like to live then and usually very grateful I don’t!

    • Ah, but you read historical FICTION. Nothing wrong with that, the setting and era is all educational, but you’re given a narrative and characters to relate to. You’re not reading dry text books for kicks.

      As for your second sentence, I couldn’t disagree more strongly. For one, you just admitted you read fiction that is by it’s nature entertainment. For two, my continuing rambling was about real historical figures, like Henry Ford.

      It’s not about entertainment. It’s about relating the information in a way that’s not dry and makes the people REAL instead of just another text book followed by a quiz.

  2. I love History. I look at pyramids & castles & cliff dwellings & mammoth huts from the ice age & all of those things blow my mind! I imagine & wonder about the people who built them, who lived in a time so different from our own & it amazes me. I wonder about their passions & their interests & their quirks & their dreams & their search for truth, and I wish I could talk to them for just 10 minutes.

    It bothers me more than I can say that boring textbook writers & history teachers have turned the most fascinating subject in the world into the driest!

  3. History is no different than math, in that forced memorization is not the same as learning. Memorizing the multiplication tables might be the easiest way for the teacher to get everyone to pass the test, but it is of little practical use as a foundation for further learning. I have always been a history buff (I blame the Disney movies “Johnny Tremain” and “Davy Crockett” for getting me hooked as a kid), but It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I had a history class that really ‘taught’ history. My AP US History class was built around the concept of examining actual source material and as many first hand accounts of events as possible and then developing an understanding of the events and how they shaped the world around them. While this might take a lot longer than just memorizing what year the Spanish American War was, it actually develops critical thinking skills, and a somewhat better tuned bullshit detector. If there was only one thing I took away from that class, or dare I say my entire public school education, it was “always consider the source.”

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