A good many years ago, George Santayana said something to the effect
of “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” My
high school history teacher said the same thing during a half-hearted
attempt to inspire the class to pay attention to his long, senseless
ramblings. Not a great introduction to history, but I will admit to you:
I’m a history geek.
My high school history teacher did nothing to
enhance this. But I love the study of times gone by. Don’t get me wrong
though, I’m very glad I’m not living as a settler in the Northwest
Territory in the 1830s, scooping up a dinner of fatback and wearing a
dead animal on my head. But I do love to read and learn about days gone
In college I took history classes just to accumulate hours
toward my degree. I could have taken anything, but history is what I
wanted to learn. Political history, military history, economic history,
architectural history, whatever. I use to watch a lot of the History
Channel until half the programming turned into American Pickers, which
has a limited focus on history.
The reason I am fascinated with
history simply is that kind of life will never be back. We can’t watch
the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln or study what life was like on a
southern plantation during slavery. I can stare at the old picture
postcards of small midwestern cities and try to imagine what those
places actually looked like in person, what they smelled like, and what
they sounded like.
I think studying history is beneficial, not
just so we know who John Quincy Adams was. Although that’s not a bad
idea. Even today we are being pushed back into history. I saw an article
about how valuable toys from the 1990s are today. I’ve gotten used to
being pushed back to the point where the toys I played with, the close
and play record player, the Spirograph, and Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots,
are now valuable antiques.
What is getting strange is that the
toys I bought for my kids are now being sought as antiques. Like Tickle
Me Elmo. This little shaking red furry dude is now a collector’s item.
Same for Mr. Bucket and Chicken Limbo. I bought these things for the
kids… I mean, Santa brought them to my kids. Now they are a celebrated
part of history. Since even my kids are a part of history, why shouldn’t I love it all? Read the books? Play the music? Think about it.
Bible is not only a living revelatory book for those who believe, but
it’s also a book of history. There are four biographies of Jesus,
written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And they all differ a little
bit since everybody’s witness accounts are usually a little bit
different. Of course, what some people claim is really history, others
will counter that it’s all wrong.
History is written by the
victors, right? An American history book written by a Cherokee will
probably read differently than what you are used to hearing. And we’re
even told lies about history. The whole bit about George Washington and
the cherry tree was all made up. But we were taught that at an early
age, probably so we’d have an example in never telling a lie.
Governmental leaders, like presidents, worry about their legacy —
what the writers of history will say about them. Well, what history
writers will say depends on whether they agreed with that president. If
he believed and did what the writers liked, it will be a good president
story. If he was on the other side of most issues, writers will take him
to task. That’s wrong to do, but easy to do.
Many people don’t
learn the lessons of history, they remember whether or not they liked
that president — Nixon, F.D.R., J.F.K. We are stuck with the memory of
whether a person was well-liked instead of what he did. He could have
been the stupidest things for four years, but if he made people happy or
comfortable, he’ll get a good review.
But when you study history,
you learn more about a guy’s smile. You study facts, and you learn from
them. For those who don’t learn, well Santayana will tell you the rest.